Carolyn Woo
Our Global Family
June 11, 2020 // Perspective

Unused gifts of the Spirit in nonprofit Catholic business practices

Carolyn Woo
Our Global Family

Around the season of Pentecost, I try again to commit to memory the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.

While we may not be able to recite the full litany, we certainly recognize situations where the Holy Spirit has left its mark. Recently, a local Christian church stepped up to offer its grounds to a cluster of homeless campers who have been evicted multiple times within two weeks.

The pastor’s intent is not just to provide a space for these individuals, but to promote healing, build capacity and enable these guests to flourish.

The church’s grounds are no bigger than many other local churches; it is not better equipped with the infrastructure for these accommodations; and I would imagine its neighbors have similar concerns as other communities about safety and aesthetics. But it is the Gospel thing to do, and this commitment transcended the other issues.

In contrast, I have also served many Catholic organizations that seem to cower like the Apostles in the upper room before Pentecost. The leaders, staff and boards are all good people committed to doing their best for the people they serve. Yet, spoken or not, the prevailing orientation is “our hands are tied.”

There never seems to be a shortage of ropes. “We have limited resources”; “We need our reserves for our own rainy days”; “Peers are no better than we”; “Competition would strangle us”; “We already do our share of good”; “We need to be pragmatic”; “Our donors do not want us to take that position”; or “We have a full plate.”

For Catholic ministries that can afford or avail themselves of highly reputed consulting and executive search firms, they often become enamored of the rigorous analysis, the discipline and comprehensiveness of business tools, reassurances provided by benchmarks, accountability in quantitative scorecards and confidence in the recommended actions.  

As a prior business school dean, I stand behind the contributions that good business practices can offer nonprofits. These can raise the level of critical thinking, map out ways for effective implementation and stewardship of resources, achieve greater transparency and accountability, and focus attention on leadership responsibilities, sensibilities and skills.

Yet we must be mindful that the orientation of business insights is based on market dynamics, economic gains and competitive dominance.

Their calculus whether pertaining to staff structure, outsourcing, exits, rationalizations after consolidations, executive compensation, etc., are based on practices of large businesses without reference to what Christ calls us to do for love of neighbors and the Catholic social teaching espousing the preferential option for the poor.

At best, consultants could appreciate and even admire humanistic impulses, but not one has yet answered the question of the implication of our ministries being a sacrament. Unexamined, faith-based ministries begin to mimic the practices and internalize the values of large businesses.

As my friend, Holy Cross Father Dan G. Groody, reflects, “Is our job to build earthly empires or align our efforts with the work of the kingdom of God?”

But this deficit is not the consultants’ fault as they never boasted faith credentials. It is our abrogation.

Do we actively seek the Holy Spirit who is God in action, who breathes its Spirit to give us life, and endows us with God’s power? We have the gifts of the Holy Spirit, whether we can memorize them or not.

Do we actively invoke and deploy them beyond our opening prayer? How do we push back on the presumption that if we do not play by the market’s logic, we will be less?

Pope Francis, in his 2018 Pentecost homily, gave us a picture, “The Spirit blows, but we lower our sails.”

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