Archbishop Chaput tells business leaders to ‘light the marketplace’

Archbishop Charles Chaput
Archbishop Charles Chaput


On Tuesday morning Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput addressed 100 business, banking and legal leaders in downtown Toronto. Noting the moral imperative to live for others, the archbishop urged them to “light the marketplace” with generosity, justice and honesty.

After a Mass presided over by Archbishop of Toronto Thomas Collins at St. Paul’s Basilica, Archbishop Chaput opened his talk at the business leaders' breakfast with some general comments on history:

“History is to a nation or people what memory is to individual persons: It roots us in reality. It gives us a context for the present. And it teaches us some of the lessons we need to build a better future,” he said.

He noted several historical facts united by the power of money: religious Muslims’ avoidance of interest as a financial tool; past Catholic opinion that interest charged on money is a sin; the Protestant countries’ general economic outperformance of Catholic nations; and Karl Marx’s inspiration of millions of people and a century of “revolutionary action” despite the “huge holes in his ideas.”

“Church leaders originally condemned interest because it allowed the rich to take even greater advantage of the poor, and it reduced the bonds of family, fealty and friendship to impersonal transactions,” the archbishop explained.

“Protestant individualism led to economic initiative.  Catholic distrust of the new economy tended toward heavy economic controls and conservatism.  If we compare the traditional economic assumptions of countries like the United States with those that were dominant in Latin America until very recently, the differences are pretty clear.”

The improper pursuit of capital should not lead people to misread Scripture to say that money is the root of all evil, he clarified, recalling that the Bible says that “the love of money is the root of all evils.”

“We can love people. We can’t love things. People are the subjects of history. Things are the objects and tools of history. When we treat things with the attention and reverence due to people, people suffer,” Archbishop Chaput continued.

Saying the increase of quality and length of life is an “astounding modern achievement” and an example of how the free market can be “a powerful force for good,” the archbishop recalled that it is also true that “more people are poor and suffering than at any time in history.”

“One of the lessons of history – and also the Christian and Jewish Scriptures -- is that the rich forget the poor.  Power, including economic power, can become a kind of addiction. The language of appetite subverts the language of ideals.  If we associate the idea of freedom with cars or cell phones or computers, as we relentlessly do in our advertising, pretty soon we lose the real vocabulary of freedom,” the Denver prelate warned.

The need for profit and the specialization of skills and interest narrows our horizons at work and also in our perceptions of others and our connections with the world, the archbishop argued.

Archbishop Chaput said that the economic marketplace exists for the benefit of everybody and must recognize the justice of economic success without shunning responsibility for those around us.

“And when we do lose sight of that responsibility -- when we reduce other people to statistics or impersonal social problems; when we ignore the moral implications of money; when we let greed, dishonesty and financial voodoo take over our economic life – then the bonds that hold a nation together begin to unravel.  And we end up in the train wreck we all find ourselves dealing with now.”

Emphasizing that the free person, like the saints, must live for others, he said true freedom comes from self-mastery and using our talents for others.

“We need to give to receive. And that makes sense, because God is love; his essence is charity,” the archbishop said.

God belongs “in the hearts and the actions of the people who make the market succeed. And that means you,” he told the Toronto audience.

“Business, like art, law, literature, music, and architecture, is a window on the soul of a culture -- and that puts a rather unflattering light on the soul of the past five months, doesn’t it. What we do, what we create, reveals who we are. And that's as true in the marketplace as it is in the painter's studio.  The rest of us need good leaders like you to change things; to light the marketplace with habits of generosity, justice, and honesty.”

He emphasized the necessity for personal conversion, saying:

“Devotion to family sounds like a simple thing, and it is. Gratitude, honesty, humility, faithfulness – these all are simple things. They’re also very difficult. It’s easy to talk about fixing the problems of society with big national programs and policies, because we can always blame somebody else when they don’t work.

“Personal change, personal moral integrity, personal fidelity to people and principles – that’s much harder work, because we’re stuck with the clay of who we are, and there’s nobody to blame but ourselves if we fail.”

Persistence in small virtues will result in change on a large scale, Archbishop Chaput concluded.

“One life, lived well, won’t change the world – but it’s a start.  That’s where revolutions start; with one life.

“So lead well, with honesty, generosity and vision; with moral character and unselfishness.  Lead well, not only with what you say, but with what you do – and in your example, that’s where the renewal of your nation’s public life will begin.”

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