With election hysteria in full swing, Dr. Andrew Abela’s words that we are a society that is “disconnected from reality” could not have resonated more. Provost of Catholic University of America’s School of Business and Economics, Abela led the introductory session of a conference attended by some of the foremost leaders of the business and in the Church, on the issue of Human Ecology.
Human Ecology, if you’re not familiar with the term, is an attitude emphasized by both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis that focuses on the connection between the human person, our environment and our neighbor. This “ecosystem” does not center around environmental protection, but forget the dignity of the human person, nor does it do the opposite. Rather, it acknowledges what our society so often forgets—that there is a unified world, created by God, over whom we are stewards.
The men and women at this Human Ecology conference, sponsored by CUA as well as the Napa Institute, took a step back from political platforms and examined the responsibility we have towards our fellow man and towards the world in which we live. Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, of Ave Maria University, encouraged participants to think of Human Ecology in terms of dependence and interdependence. First, we must acknowledge our dependence on God and on reality, with all of its natural limitations. Secondly, we should recognize the interdependence of creation—humanity’s dependence on nature, society’s dependence on its fellow man, and nature’s dependence on our “care for our common home”.
An understanding of human ecology is all well and good, but what was fascinating about this particular conference is that the group of participants are people of action: CEOs of businesses, leaders of non-profits, men and women who serve our neighbors in disadvantaged areas. The goal of the conference was, to borrow the motto from CUA’s School of Business and Economics, to become a “force for good”.
In panel discussions as well as animated conversations during breaks and a dinner I’m still thinking of several days later, participants conversed with each other, trying to answer the question “what now?” George Weigel, papal biographer and personal friend of St. John Paul II, emphasized that we are in a particularly poignant time in our history. It is a time where, sadly, society is disconnected from reality, and the moral law—which, as Dr. Pakaluk pointed out, is no less real than the world of physics—is often abandoned.
Most speakers and participants agreed that the first thing that we can do to uphold Human Ecology is to practice virtue in our spheres of influence. Robert Kennedy spoke passionately about the need for business leaders to cultivate trust and virtue in our workplaces, showing empathy for employees and casting out fear and ignorance within our organizations. And, he argues, virtue often not only benefits the individuals who pursue it, but also the effectiveness of the business as a whole—leading to businesses being able to make a positive impact on the world.
In his introduction to the conference, Brian Engelland, Interim Dean of CUA’s School of Business and Economics, emphasized that we have the gift of faith to illuminate our reason and, he said, “When we look to Heaven for our inspiration, there are no earthly limits.”
I heard snippets of a variety of discussions—from how we could help disadvantaged people right there in our capital city to how, when people are faced with a real immediate need, the political red and blue divide often disappears when people join together to assist others.
Abela encouraged us to view the world not from the perspective of a political platform, but with a Catholic mind. That is, looking at the world with a recognition of transcendent truth. After all, he quipped, the “road to serfdom is paved with good intentions”—we must look at what actually benefits people, not just an ideology that sounds good on paper. It was St. John Paul II who said that totalitarianism rises out of rejection of transcendent truth (Centesimus Annus) and Dr. Pakaluk pointed out the Principles of Communism doesn’t include a single reference either to justice or to nature.
Fr. Martin Schlag reminded us that “freedom is a precious gift”, one that we can treasure through the way in which we practice business—with courage, temperance and conviction. It is in this way that we can truly answer God’s call to be salt of the earth and light to the world.