This past August, the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought organized a follow-up seminar to the Bilbao, Spain, symposium on Business as a Calling, The Calling of Business (this symposium was reported on in the fall 2003 Perspectives). The seminar was held at the St. Paul Seminary, whose hospitality was second to none.
The purpose of the seminar was to gather a smaller number of scholars and practitioners (25) from the Bilbao symposium and begin to develop an integrated volume of essays that would better clarify the role of vocation to business life within the Catholic social tradition. Such a volume would serve to help business educators within Catholic and Christian universities to better fulfill their mission.
Conference participants included an interesting mix of theologians, philosophers, CEOs, accountants, economists, management scholars, lawyers and consultants. This interdisciplinary conversation presented challenges throughout the seminar, such as when CEOs in the seminar expressed frustration at what they saw as the lack of practicality of particular discussions, or when theologians expressed the need for great intellectual clarity. Despite the challenges, all the participants were committed to the importance of engaging the work of business in vocational understanding within the Catholic social tradition.
The first principal theme of the UST seminar (as well as of the Bilbao symposium) was Business as a Calling: Is there such a thing as a personal calling to business as a vocation? If so, what is the nature of this calling? What is the person being called to be or to do? While the history of these questions within the Catholic tradition is more complex than most think, there has been a popularized version in the history of the church that only priests and religious have vocations. Since Vatican II and especially the papacy of John Paul II, there has been significant reflection on the meaning of vocation for people’s work and especially for those in business.
One very important point that came up in the seminar concerning one’s personal calling is what John Haughey coined “receivement.” He explained that “Christ’s followers are called not first and foremost to do anything, but to make their own what has been done unto them [that Christ’s death and resurrection has saved us]. They are to make room in their minds and hearts for this foundational action done on their behalf and on behalf of all peoples and to pin whatever hopes they have for the whole human enterprise on this act of God in Christ — these are the primary activities of one who would respond to their calling.” In their pragmaticism and can-do attitude, Americans and especially American businesspeople will often find the idea of vocation only in terms of their achievements and lose this primacy of receptivity, which takes the habits of silence, contemplation, prayer and worship.
The other principal theme of the seminar is the The Calling of Business: Is there such a thing as a “calling” for the business enterprise itself? If so, what is the nature of this calling or mission? Can one speak of a corporate or organizational calling or mission? David Herrera took one organization, Mondragon Cooperatives, a multi-billion company, and explored the institutional implications of what a calling means. David Specht and Dick Broholm utilized what they called the Seeing Things Whole model to explore their claim that God loves institutions, including business institutions, and that people are called not just as individuals, but also as communities, especially communities of work.
Like all seminars, there were many questions left unanswered and half-answered, which is why all were comforted by Cardinal Newman’s insight on vocation:
God created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me that He has not committed to another. I have my mission — I never may know it fully in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow, I am necessary to His purposes … I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught.