Guest Columnists

Business Is a Necessary Good, Not a Necessary Evil

by Carolyn Woo

Given my work in business education and particularly my last role as the dean of the business school in a Catholic university, I am often asked whether work in the business sector can be a vocation. The answer is simply, “Of course!” Business is a necessary good, not a necessary evil.

As such, it is worthy of the brightest mind, biggest heart and deepest faith. You would need to write a book to fully explore this topic but know that the potential benefits of business are recognized in papal encyclicals, including “Centesimus Annus” and “Caritas in Veritate.”

At the same time, these also point out the abuses, exploitation and idolatry that exist in business, free markets and globalization. The difference, as retired Pope Benedict XVI teaches, lies with the moral energies of leaders.

Despite authentic and encouraging actions undertaken by some businesses, there is a prevailing perception of the “real world” that renders the notion of vocation and sanctity in the workplace as a naive notion with limited applicability.

I can hear the skepticism in the unspoken but still screaming question of the audience when I talk about business as a vocation: Does she know the real world where I work? Where people do not tell the truth, do not share information, do not look out for one another and where life is a zero-sum game and scores are kept solely in profits?

I detect it in students who dread going into that “real world” when they are about to graduate. Their feeling reflects the fear of entering a world that, to different degrees, has shut its doors on goodness, generosity and godliness.

The new evangelization has focused on bringing Catholics back to the Church so that the word of God and his sacraments can take hold of us and join us to him. At the same time, there is much work to be done for Catholics to bring God into the world.

What does it say about our faith if God is only relevant in “God’s world” confined to church, families and communities where we play nice, act gracious, break bread and leave behind the “dirty” work of making a living?

Is “God’s world” a retreat, a bubble, an escape from what is real? Did Christ not come into the real world to dwell among us with all our frailties, hurts, failings, needs, fears and pride? Did God not charge us to go into the world and proclaim His good news? How can we do that if we do not believe He is there? What good news would we have to proclaim?

Did God not take the fruits of our work and convert these into His own body and blood? Why do we assume that this “real world” is impenetrable to God’s grace, His goodness, His wisdom, His power, His unbounded love and mercy?

Doesn’t “Lumen Gentium” tell us that it is in the expanse of our daily life (including work) that we are to be the light of the world? “Now the laity are called in a special way to make the church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. Thus every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the church itself according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal.”

Dr. Woo is the CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services.