Greetings and peace.
As the chaplain for the new Catholic Business Journal, I would like to welcome you to this excellent online resource for timely and appropriate business information brought to you with a Catholic perspective. In my column I hope to provide thoughtful reflections from my own experience as a monk, priest, and CEO. The flavor will likely be some semblance of Andy Rooney meets Warren Buffet with commentary by Thomas Merton.
Growing up in the South, in a Methodist Church, I remember at about the age of 9 the kids were supposed to suggest a gift for a Secret Santa from our church. A bit of an entrepreneur and office organizer from a young age, all I really wanted for Christmas was one of those nifty money lock boxes that have all the little compartments for your change and dollars – and which you can lift out to put checks and secret papers underneath. I remember getting strange looks from the old ladies who were acting as Santa’s elves. I got that moneybox and used it for many years for everything from my lawn mowing business to being the top fundraiser in a Cancer Society drive when I was 12. Looking back, I think this was my first real moment of realizing that God and Mammon are not mutually exclusive – and that if we let God manage and organize our Mammon that He will help us double our 10 gold pieces.
Mammon is an Aramaic term that refers to all material resources: riches, treasure, etc., with linguistic cousins in Hebrew, matmon meaning “treasure,” and the Phoenician mommon, “benefit.” It was not until the Middle Ages that the Mammon generally became personified as a demon of avarice.
Unfortunately, this negative connotation seems to have carried through to the present day Christian understanding, and by affinity has often been applied by puritanical minds to any seeking of monetary gain. The tainted image of commercial enterprise still haunts us.
But lest those of us who are engaged in today’s market economy feel shamed and obliged to run off to confession, there are notable glimmers of rational respect from some ancient sources.
Consider this gem from Hugh of St. Victor from around the year 1127: “The pursuit of commerce reconciles nations, calms wars, strengthens peace, and transforms the private good of individuals into the common benefit of all… Commerce penetrates the secret places of the world, approaches shores unseen, explores fearful wildernesses, and in tongues unknown and with foreign peoples carries on the trade of mankind.”
My brother monks, Benedictines and Cistercians, have been leaders of commercial enterprise for over 1500 years. And I’m proud to follow in their footsteps. What sets us apart and makes us models for today’s world of business? By design all our enterprise is Commerce with Compassion. The Rule of St. Benedict, which is the guide for living the life of a monk, requires us to support ourselves with our own labor, and to use this income to support not only our life of prayer, but to provide almsgiving and charity to those in need.
Now is a good time to ask ourselves whether the work we do is infused with this same Compassion and Charity – seeking the good of others, whether it be our customers, our employees, or those we could help with our income. True charity is good business.