Letter to the Editor of Legatus Magazine on a "Catholic Work Ethic"
Updated: Sep 28, 2018
As someone who has been considering joining Legatus, I was pleasantly surprised to find a February 2018 copy of Legatus Magazine at my fitness club. The articles on marriage and kids in business strengthened my desire to join Legatus. Then on the third-to-last page I was startled by a message I wouldn’t expect from a keynote speaker for the world’s most prominent organization for Catholic business people. Dr. Paul Voss proposed an alternative to the well-known “Protestant Work Ethic.” He proposed a “Catholic Work Ethic” which, “sees work as a means to leisure.” Our Church has taught repeatedly that work is so much more than that.
While he makes several good points, he completely misses an opportunity to remind Catholics that holiness can be lived in the workplace. God gave us talents to develop this world and our time at work is one of the primary venues for doing that. Yes, as Dr. Voss says, many people are “fed up with the rat race, the burnout, the quest for material excess, and they’re looking more for meaning,” but that doesn’t mean that work itself makes up an empty segment of our lives.
Dr. Voss tells us that, “a Catholic perspective sees work as a means to leisure, which affords people the opportunity to spend time with family and reflect on life’s deeper meanings.” Yes, work does afford people leisure and can, through its remunerative function, provide compensation which allows more time with family and friends, but that is not its purpose.
We are reminded of our Catholic Church’s affirmation of the purpose of work in several places. Perhaps none more prominent than in Gaudium et Spes where Pope Paul VI reminds us that the mandate for man to “subject to himself the earth and all it contains, and to govern the world with justice and holiness…concerns the whole of everyday activity as well.” For, “while providing the substance of life for themselves and their families, men and women are performing their activities in a way which appropriately benefits society. They can justly consider that by their labor they are unfolding the Creator’s work, consulting the advantages of their brother men, and are contributing by their personal industry to the realization in history of the divine plan.”
After reading such a declaration it is difficult to relegate something our Church teaches as “unfolding the Creator’s work”, as something simply, “as a means to leisure.” It is so much more. It benefits both the workers and the communities they work in. In his encyclical Laborem Exercens, Pope St. John Paul II boldly tells us, “The ethical meaning for work is found in this truth: work is a good thing for man because, through work, man not only transforms nature and adapts it to his needs, but he achieves human fulfillment and becomes ‘more of a human being.’” Strong words.
I agree with Dr. Voss that many people are “looking for more meaning.” But I would argue that the answer to that quest doesn’t lie in sidelining and minimizing the purpose of our work life to maximizing leisure time. Rather it involves achieving holiness every day in both our work and family life by recognizing the talents God gave us and constantly striving to employ them in ways that build our communities. Without this perspective work does become simply, “a rat race” and “a quest for material excess.”
It is up to us in business to build cultures in our organizations that strengthen workers and their families and create an awareness of how our work benefits and builds up our customers, employees, vendors, and communities. For the thousands of Legatus members for whom a Calling to business has been given, I would think this core worldview would be of the utmost importance as they, “unfold the Creator’s work.”
I’m happy to expound on this and have articles and presentations I can provide to assist in Legatus’ mission to be, “Ambassadors for Christ in the Marketplace.” I pray for many decades of successful stewardship for Legatus members as they lead their organizations.