Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fr. P Gets It Wrong

The attack on "the businessman" continues, and this time it's "friendly fire". In a recent sermon Fr. P  recounted a discussion between "the businessmen" and a certain Cardinal of a major U.S. City about the closing of some the diocesan  schools.

"The businessmen" had advised the Cardinal to close the schools based on the realities of the "bottom line". The Cardinal countered with a short lecture on "service". The outcome of the dual was that the Cardinal overruled the advice of "the businessmen" and found a way to keep the schools open.

Fr. P's slam on "the businessman" is worth a discussion of its own. But the fact that it was most likely an unconscious slam is all the more worthy of discussion. Fr. P is not alone in his unconscious slams against "the businessman". This is a constant homiletic theme.

Sunday after Sunday, men and women who make an honest living and provide honest livings for others through employment, have to sit in their pews and hear their vocation impugned, maligned, and trivialized. According to most sermons, the only good businessman is one who gives away his money, and he is only good in proportion to the amount of money he gives away.

  • Never mind the fact that because they are in business, they have left a job that someone else was able to take.
  • Never mind the fact that their businesses provide employment for others. 
  • Never mind the fact that their businesses use goods and services that are purchased from other businesses that help those businesses prosper and grow their payrolls. 
  • Never mind the fact that the profits from those businesses enable the owners to purchase more goods which in turn stimulates other businesses which manufacture those goods and in turn employ more people. 
  • Never mind the fact that the service or product that those business people provide is desired and needed by others and in some way makes life better for others...or else it wouldn't get purchased or used.
  • And never mind the fact that "the businessmen" that advised the Cardinal were probably serving voluntarily on a finance council, taking time away from their businesses and their families to serve the Church, and probably were only giving the Cardinal the data he asked for in the capacity in which they served. 
It was not up to the businessmen whether the schools should be closed. It was up to them to provide the Cardinal with the numbers and their advice as businessmen. It is probably quite certain that those same businessmen, on a personal level, would have liked it to be otherwise. But to put their personal preferences ahead of their duty as tasked by the Church would have been uncharitable if not a lie.

The Cardinal, according to Fr. P's story, was able to take action and keep the schools. Wonderful. But he was only able to do so because he had in hand the financial picture provided to him by "the businessmen". And it is probably quite certain that those same businessmen were tasked with finding the finances to save the schools.

And it is also quite probable that "the businessmen", if not the ones on the finance council, then certainly other "businessmen", came up with a large amount of the money themselves to save those schools. For where else does money come from other than from Business, either as a direct donation from that business or from the employees of that business, who, through the profits of the business, receive a paycheck, and are therefore able to contribute to charitable causes.

Fr. P's unconscious attack on these servants of the Church, in particular, and, in general, all those who serve the Church by first following their vocation to grow a business, is a symptom of a disease that threatens the very work Fr. P is trying to do: save babies.

The number one reason people give for abortions is finances. Whether finances are the real issue or not is another matter. The fact is that whether it is abortion or contraception, what's in the bank usually determines whether one is "open to new life" or not. It's wrong of course, but it's a fact. The Church can preach at us all it wants about being "open to life" but to what effect if in the next sermon the means to sustain that life is ridiculed and belittled?

Money is neither good nor bad. Money is neutral. Business is neutral. There are good people in business and there are bad people in business. But "the businessman", with the unconscious help of sermons like Fr. P's, has come to mean greed, evil, selfishness, oppression, and "the only good businessman is the businessman who gives his money away".

My wife and I have 11 children. I'd like to say that we have 11 children because we are open to life. No. We have 11 children because after our 3rd child I saw the "balance sheet on the wall", and the bottom line said "no more children". Even 3 children was already one too many for our checkbook. So I started a side business just to survive. Once in business I realized something that as an employee I may never have realized: I was in control of my income (or at least more control than I had as an employee).

I realized that I didn't have to fear conceiving another child because my income wasn't limited by a pay scale. I could simply do more to make more and thus have more (children). I didn't set out to make money to have more children, but once money was no longer a limiting factor, my wife and I felt more free to be open to life. I began to see that my business was part of God's plan for providing for the children He wished to send me. At the time, I didn't realize it would be 11. But one thing is certain. If I didn't have a business and personal control of my income, I probably would have ended up like a lot of other Catholics who simply ignore the Church's teaching on contraception.

It's been said that the last accepted prejudice in America is the prejudice against Catholics. And within Catholicism, the most accepted prejudice seems to be the prejudice against those who are called to build a business. Church leaders can say all they want about the rights of the worker and the right to work and the right to a living wage, but unless someone starts a business, there will be no wages to have a right to.
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