Functioning as an apostolate in this world is relatively easy, Ong explains, for in the United States, there are many opportunities for dialogue between intellectuals, including religious intellectuals, and business people: the Harvard School of Business Administration is a good example of this, as are the various business lunch clubs (the Kiwanis Club, the Rotary Club, and so on). But the Catholic Church's involvement in the American business world is also a result of necessity: the fact that American Catholic schools receive no governmental support puts these institutions in a position where they must engage (even mirror) the business world in order to survive.
But the question still remains: Is the American business world worth redeeming or are its profit-driven motivations too strong to be influenced by Catholic theology? Ong argues that most Catholics think the business world is worth redeeming and that this redemption can occur by focusing on the concepts that the business world and Catholicism have in common: the ideal of service and a genuine sense of optimism. Although service in the business world focuses on getting a product from one person to another for a fee (in contrast, service in the religious sense does not involve a fee), Ong believes that both notions of service have as their foundations social interaction.
In terms of optimism, some in the Church perceive American optimism as shallow and coming out of a Protestant ethic (which often leads Catholics to reject it outright), but Ong believes that optimism actually has a more comfortable position in the Catholic Church than it does in Protestantism because the strict rules of Protestantism (concerning drinking, smoking, and entertainment) are incompatible with the spirit of this optimism. Still, Ong concludes, the Catholic concept that poverty rather than wealth is a blessing makes engaging the American business world difficult for many Catholics. When they are able to engage it, however, their drive to redeem this world is strong.
While most of what Ong argues in this article appears in previous pieces,
such as "Literature and Cultural Initiative,"
"Bogey Sticks for Pogo Men," "American
Catholicism and America," and "The
Mechanical Bride: Christen the Folklore of Industrial Man," here
Ong does discuss the place of the American Catholic specifically in the
business world rather than in American society in general.
Also, for the first time I am aware of, Ong uses the term "apostolate"
to refer to the work of Catholic intellectuals; this idea of the apostolate
is developed further in "The Catholic
Church's Interest in Knowledge and Research."