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July 17, 2012

The contemporary, multicultural seminary - Ethical business leaders for the 21st century - How is "human dignity" defined? - Global interdependence and the poor

In this edition:
1. What a business leader should be.
2. The real worth of business.
3. The debate about human dignity.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Global interdependence and the poor.
b) Healing effects of upcoming canonization.
5. Today's multicultural seminaries.
6. New priestly vocations guidelines.

1. What a Business Leader Should Be

Business students who can answer "three final exam questions" proposed in June by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, have learned the "principles of Catholic social teaching that should underpin and guide business," he said.

The cardinal spoke to a June 18-20 international conference on Catholic social thought at the Marianist-run University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. The conference studied the basics of an ethical business education shaped by Catholic values. A business leader must be concerned about an entire network of relationships among owners, investors, employees, clients, suppliers and others, he proposed.

Business is essential for the human community, the cardinal made clear. He said, "Without the agency of businesses, human invention and energy would not be able to transform the world's resources into countless benefits."

Expanding upon that point, he said that in "producing products that are truly good and offering services that truly serve, and by doing so at a competitive price, a business benefits clients while providing just financial returns for investors, just wages for employees, just prices to suppliers and just tax revenues to the government."

Here are Cardinal Turkson's three "final exam questions," designed to demonstrate a student's proficiency in business, church social teaching and their interaction:

1. "In what ways can a business leader or manager call for work from a colleague or employee without objectifying that person (i.e., without offending or violating the image and likeness of God)?"

2. "What sorts of industries or business pursuits should a Catholic not engage in, and why not? Why would participation in such a business be a direct participation in evil or an exploitation or violation of the human person?"

3. "How should a Catholic CEO calibrate legitimate returns for investors and senior staff (including compensation for himself or herself) in relation to other considerations?"

Cardinal Turkson said that "every business enterprise is a unique and evolving cluster of relationships" and that "the role of the executive, manager or administrator is to care for and nurture the relationships among stakeholders."

Business activity inherently is oriented to the "other," Cardinal Turkson said. As a result, "it exercises the Christian ideal of serving others: serving stakeholders of all sorts and thereby contributing to the common good."

The business leader's task "is to make sure that communication between everyone is sufficient and constructive, that each participant has the opportunity to develop personally and professionally, and that the harmony of the whole cluster of relationships is not only safeguarded but enhanced," according to the cardinal. He said:

"Understanding what everyone's needs are, in order to be able to organize, evaluate and improve all the relationships, is the bread and butter of business education."

2. . . . The True Worth of Business

"If I were now to disparage business -- if I were to call it 'basically amoral' or 'a necessary evil' or 'just some means to an end' - you, my audience, would rightly be shocked," Cardinal Peter Turkson said in his Dayton University speech.

He noted, however, that "other gatherings have both sent and received such negative messages." Moreover, he said, "the church has at times said or at least hinted that business is less worthy than, for example, the state of priesthood or professions such as law and medicine."

But the cardinal vigorously stressed that "business is a noble pursuit!" He said that "at its best, and most true to its nature and potential, business serves the common good." He described business as "a genuine calling from God: a calling to be a co-creator in a responsible way, thereby contributing to the unfolding of God's design for the world."

For business "to do good," however, all involved in it must strive to do the good, "especially the leaders," Cardinal Turkson said. It thus is critically important "to have mature business leaders to ensure that businesses make good on their great opportunity to create wonderful benefits for human life."

He cautioned that a business leader "must not focus on any single dimension of business to the exclusion of others." Failing to understand this "has the potential to derail this noble pursuit," he warned, adding that this "has been the failure with the unilateral, indeed myopic, embrace of the profit motive."

In business, "profit is a useful measure of the efficient allocation of resources," Cardinal Turkson commented. It is "also an essential input" if a company is to be sustainable, "a bit like oxygen for a person: It is not the purpose of your life, but you would quickly die without it."

According to the cardinal, "Life is more than oxygen, and business is more than profit."

In discussing business and profit, he proposed yet another business school "exam question" to his audience, asking:

"How should a business inspired by Catholic social teaching combine making money and making a difference?"

3. The Debate About "Human Dignity"

Human dignity is a reality to protect, but also a goal to seek, British Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster said in a June 25 speech in London. Christians "hold in tension both what we are and what we are called to become," he told the Thomas More Society.

"In the Christian understanding human life is something of intrinsic worth and value, but it is also something we are called to fulfill, to realize in our own lives and to cherish in the lives of others," Archbishop Nichols said. He commented:

"You do not need to be a religious believer to affirm from reflection on experience as a fact about the world that other people matter and make a claim upon us, and that 'human dignity' is the idea which best encapsulates the universal truth of that claim, with the moral force that it carries."

In defining "human dignity," Archbishop Nichols proposed that it is "the inner kernel of transcendental value or worth that persons have simply because they are human and irrespective of whether they or others consider themselves to be thus valued."

But he noted that the meaning of "human dignity" increasingly is questioned, particularly "in ethics and law." This "is no mere academic debate," he said. It is a debate that "matters very much," especially because of the key role that "the notion of human dignity plays … in international conventions and in our understanding of the moral life."

Today "the underlying consensus about what 'human dignity' means or requires is increasingly in question" within society, the archbishop said. As a result, we witness "profound differences about what it means to be human and what it means to achieve human flourishing."

Reactions to the Holocaust at the time of the Second World War and to the sending of Russian dissidents to the gulag underscore basic issues of human dignity, Archbishop Nichols suggested. He explained:

"The moral force of our revulsion for such acts in which human dignity was crushed and violated comes precisely from our awareness that there is something intrinsically valuable in each person which is being crushed and violated." The dignity of the elderly and of sick people is a major consideration today, the archbishop said. "There is, rightly, great concern in society when cases in which vulnerable people have not been treated with dignity are uncovered. We sense an association between this undermining of dignity and people feeling that they are no more than a burden to others"

"Conversely," he added, "when people feel that their lives are meaningful to others, so that they feel respected and worthy, they can have a stronger sense" of their own dignity. He said: "This is why it is so vital to place the highest value on the quality of the care provided to the elderly and the dying. At the same time we must recognize the demands made on those offering such care and ensure that they are properly supported."

A society with "a strong sense that people matter has a bulwark against the temptation to devalue particular groups of people, such as those suffering from acute dementia or the elderly," Archbishop Nichols said.

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Global Interdependence and the Poor: "Today the destiny of people in the poor countries of this world is more closely linked than ever before to the success or failure of the rich developed national economies. To give just one example, in 2008, a few weeks after the American and European stock markets crashed, mobile phone orders in China collapsed. And again, just a few weeks later, the copper and cobalt mines in Africa started closing down. You need copper and cobalt to make mobile phones. In the Congo, 60 percent of all the copper and cobalt mines were put out of action. Three hundred thousand workers lost their jobs. We must keep on reminding ourselves of these interdependencies in the global economy of today. If we take irresponsible decisions, other people have to bear the consequences worldwide -- and that includes, in particular, the poorest of the poor." (Excerpted from a May 31 speech in Chicago by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany, to a Lumen Christi Institute conference on economics and Catholic social thought. The speech appeared in the July 19 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service)

Healing Effects of Upcoming Canonization: "The canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in October will be a celebration acknowledging the greatness and holiness of a young First Nations woman. Marking that tremendously important event in the life of our church will be a way of strengthening ties with aboriginal communities. Walking closely with our Catholic aboriginal brothers and sisters will open doors and teach us how to walk together with aboriginal communities as a whole. This will continue to call forth an ongoing exchange of cultural and spiritual gifts. There are also many ongoing issues beyond residential schools which our parishes and our dioceses are challenged to address. These needs impel us to walk with our aboriginal sisters and brothers in advocating for justice and healing in our society." (From a June 7 pastoral letter by the Catholic bishops of the Canadian Province of Saskatchewan reflecting on the Indian Residential Schools organized by Canada's government, "mostly run by Christian churches from the 1840s onward, with the last school closing in 1996" - schools in which "not everything that happened … was negative and where many people worked "with good will and generosity," but which "were a part of a policy of deliberate cultural assimilation of aboriginal peoples" and were places where "much abuse took place." The bishops said, "As the Catholic Church in Saskatchewan, we were involved in the residential schools, and we recognize a moral responsibility and obligation to be involved in healing and reconciliation efforts.")

5. Today's Multicultural Seminaries

Everywhere in the U.S. the church "is becoming more multicultural. That means that our formation of priests needs to become more multicultural also," Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said June 10 in an address at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia.

"We don't have separate seminaries for each nationality and immigrant group like we used to have national parishes in America," and "that's good," he commented. "It's better that we're studying together, and learning each other's languages and traditions."

Archbishop Gomez considered it important "that we don't impose in our seminaries a one-size-fits-all model of spiritual direction, formation and piety."

He affirmed an observation by Pope Benedict XVI, who wrote in 2010 that "the origins of a priestly vocation are nowadays more varied and disparate than in the past. Today the decision to become a priest often takes shape after one has already entered upon a secular profession." Thus, he said, "candidates for the priesthood often live on very different spiritual continents."

Archbishop Gomez said that, indeed, "our seminarians today are not only from different 'spiritual' continents. In many seminaries we have candidates from almost every geographical continent and from many ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds."

In every culture "the seeds of the Gospel have been sown," the archbishop said. And "every culture has yielded its own distinctive brand of popular Catholic literature and art, songs and customs, patron saints, pious devotions and feast days."

The challenge in the current context is "to learn together from all of our Catholic traditions," he said. "The challenge is to be open to take advantage of this rich variety, and to celebrate and share our traditions."

6. Priestly Vocations Guidelines Published

The decline of vocations to the ordained priesthood in traditionally Christian nations is worrisome, but evidence suggests that potential candidates are responding positively to the demands of the new evangelization, according to the "Pastoral Guidelines for Fostering Vocations to Priestly Ministry" published June 25 by the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education.

"When new evangelization initiatives are promoted in parishes, associations, ecclesial communities and movements, young people show themselves to be open to God's call and to offering their lives in the service of the church," the guidelines note.

They accent the need for priests who interact in positive ways with the laity and others in their communities. "So as to be able to lead and sustain a community, it is useful for young men called to the priesthood to learn to work together and dialogue with the whole Christian community, and to value every vocation," the guidelines state.

The point is made that "active participation in the life of a Christian community can contribute to avoiding new forms of clericalism, situations of inopportune pastoral centralism, merely part-time pastoral services, ministerial choices that revolve around one's own individual needs and the inability to see the bigger picture and the unity of the community."

The text cautions against "proposing a vocation . . . to persons who, even though they are praiseworthy in their journey of conversion, show signs of being profoundly fragile personalities."

Vocations are nurtured in various ways, the guidelines emphasize. In fostering priestly vocations the key elements "are those proposed by formation for Christian life: listening to the word of God, participation in the Eucharist and exercising charity," the text explains.

"Many priestly vocations are born in families," it says. Moreover, the "joyful witness of priests… has a strong vocational appeal for young men" - a witness by priests "united to Christ, happy in their ministry and united in brotherhood among themselves." The guidelines suggest that seminarians themselves often make excellent vocations promoters.

Schools are another of the places where a "process of vocational discernment" begins "in the life of boys and young men," perhaps because of "meeting a priest who is a teacher or taking part in events to deepen their understanding of the Christian faith."

Involvement with the church's charitable work also frequently plants the seeds of a priestly vocation, the guidelines observe, saying:

"Many young people discover the call to priesthood and to consecrated life after they have had an experience of doing voluntary work in charitable service toward those who suffer, the needy and the poor, or after they have taken part for some time in Catholic missions."

The guidelines hold that when vocations "grow up in an environment of a Christian witness of charity," they "are solid and genuine, motivated in earnest by service."

Attention is called in the guidelines to the environment of secularity in which vocations are promoted today - an environment that, unfortunately, discourages making "courageous and demanding Gospel choices."

Concern is expressed by the guidelines that however creative and well organized vocations ministry is in the Americas and Europe, "the results obtained do not correspond to the efforts made." The guidelines label the effort to foster priestly vocations "a constant challenge for the church."

At the same time, the guidelines observe that "along with the difficult situations which one must look at with courage and truth, there are some signs of recovery, above all where clear and challenging proposals of Christian life are offered."