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A Man for This Season, and All Seasons

In 03 Archbishop Charles Chaput on 2015/02/20 at 12:00 AM

 by  Charles J. Chaput

within Religion and the Public Square

December 19th, 2012 http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/12/7440/

There is only one Thomas More: A man of tender nobility, subtle intellect, and forceful conviction, all rooted in profound fidelity to the larger commonwealth of Christendom outside and above Tudor England.

A day after the 2012 Summer Olympics closed in London, Joseph Pearce wrote that he felt like his “body had been covered in slime. I also felt a great sense of gratitude that I had shaken the smut and dirt from my sandals and had left the sordid culture of which I was once a part.”

Given the grand sweep of British history, those are harsh words from a former Londoner. An English Catholic convert and author, Pearce is now a resident Fellow at Thomas More College in New Hampshire. But he merely said what many people thought: that the Olympic closing ceremony they watched on global television was one long liturgy of overripe vulgarity, a jamboree of cheesy and offensive pop culture. In effect, it showcased a nation grasping to reinvent itself by escaping back to adolescence while ignoring its own real past.

This shouldn’t surprise us. Europe’s work of reinvention, or self-delusion, has been going on for decades, not only in Britain but across the continent. One of the key obstacles to the process is the depth of Europe’s Christian roots. As recent popes and many others have pointed out, there really is no “Europe” without its historic Christian grounding. Anyone wanting a new Britain, or a new Europe, needs to get rid of the old one first. So diminishing Christianity and its influence becomes a priority. And that includes rewriting the narrative on many of Christianity’s achievements and heroes.

By way of evidence: Consider the case of Thomas More, lawyer, humanist, statesman and saint; martyred by England’s King Henry VIII in 1535; canonized in 1935; celebrated in Robert Bolt’s brilliant 1960 play A Man for All Seasons; and more recently trashed as proud, intolerant, and devious in Hilary Mantel’s best-selling 2009 novel, Wolf Hall, now set for release as a 2013 BBC2 miniseries.

Critics of More are not new. His detractors had a voice well before his beheading. As Henry VIII’s chancellor, he earned a reputation as a hammer of heretics and a fierce opponent of Martin Luther and William Tyndale. Yet Erasmus of Rotterdam revered More as a scholar and friend. Jonathan Swift, the great Anglo-Irish writer, described him as “a person of the greatest virtue this kingdom [of England] ever produced.” When Pope John Paul II named Thomas More as patron saint of statesmen in 2000, he cited More’s witness to the “primacy of truth over power” at the cost of his life. He noted  that even outside the Church, More “is acknowledged as a source of inspiration for a political system which has as its supreme goal the service of the human person.”

Ten years later, speaking to leaders of British society in Westminster Hall, Pope Benedict XVI returned to the same theme. Benedict noted that More “is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose ‘good servant’ he was, because he chose to serve God first.”

So which is it: More the saint or More the sinner? Was he the ruthless, sexually repressed rage addict suggested by historians like G.R. Elton, fearful of change and driven by helpless fury? Or was he the humble and generous “man for all seasons” praised by his friend Robert Whittinton and so many others among his contemporaries? Were there really twoThomas Mores: the young, open-minded humanist, and the older royal courtier, gripped by religious fanaticism?

The moral integrity of More’s life has been argued with persuasive skill in the various works of Gerard Wegemer, among many others. And Peter Ackroyd’s fine biography, The Life of Thomas More, vividly captures the whole extraordinary man–his virtues, his flaws, and the decisive nature of his moment in history. Travis Curtright has now added to the luster of the real More’s legacy with his excellent new book The One Thomas More

As the title suggests,Curtright sees Thomas More’s life as a consistent, organic record of Christian witness, start to finish; a thoroughly logical integration of humanism, piety, politics and polemical theology. There is only “one” Thomas More–a man of tender nobility, subtle intellect, and forceful conviction, all rooted in profound fidelity to the larger commonwealth of Christendom outside and above Tudor England. For Curtright, More embodied “the Erasmian ideal of wedding learning with virtue,” lived through a vigorous engagement with temporal affairs. He treats More’s scholarly critics with proper respect while methodically dismantling their arguments; and he does it by carefully unpacking and applying three of More’s most important written works: The Life of Pico Mirandola, The History of Richard III, and Utopia.

Curtright correctly sees that More’s real source of annoyance for many modern revisionist critics is his faith. If revisionists like Elton implicitly define “humanism” as excluding religious faith, then a man like Thomas More and the whole vast Christian tradition of integrating faith and reason become serious irritants. As Curtright observes:

The entire structures of the two Mores and real More theories congeal around [critics’] notions of a “true” humanism that excludes the possibility of faith and reason working together, a position transparently stated by [G.R.] Elton and one that influences contemporary condemnations of More as a “fanatic.”

Bickering over the “real” Thomas More has importance beyond the scholarly community. Why? Because just as the nutty premises of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code confused millions by reinventing the backstory of Christian belief, so too the novel Wolf Hall offers a revisionist Thomas More wrapped in popular melodrama. The author, Hilary Mantel, a lapsed Catholic whose disgust for the Church is a matter of public record, drew her portrait of More in part from the work of Elton. The “hero” of her novel is Thomas Cromwell–More’s tormentor, and in reality, a man widely loathed by his contemporaries as an administratively gifted but scheming and vindictive bully. Unlike the widespread European shock that greeted More’s judicial murder, few wept for Cromwell when he finally followed More to the scaffold.

The One Thomas More is not a book for beachside browsing. While it’s well-written, modest in size and rich in content, it is a scholarly effort. Some casual readers may find it heavier than they bargained for. But as a resource on Thomas More, it’s invaluable. Curtright’s final chapter, “Iconic Mores on Trial,” has special importance. It directly challenges Mantel’s loose treatment of facts, for which it deserves wide circulation.

Having said all this, Thomas More has been dead nearly 500 years. Why should his legacy matter today?

Barring relief from the courts, Christian entities, employers, and ministers in the coming year will face a range of unhappy choices. As the Affordable Care Act takes force and the HHS contraceptive mandate imposes itself on Christian life, Catholic and other Christian leaders can refuse to comply, either declining to pay the consequent fines in outright civil disobedience, or trying to pay them; they can divest themselves of their impacted Christian institutions; they can seek some unexplored compromise or way of circumventing the law; or they can simply give in and comply with the government coercion under protest.

Good people can obviously disagree on the strategy to deal with such serious matters. But the cost of choosing the last course–simply cooperating with the HHS mandate and its evil effects under protest–would be bitterly high and heavily damaging to the witness of the Church in the United States. Having fought loudly and hard for religious liberty over the past year, in part because of the HHS mandate, America’s Catholic bishops cannot simply grumble and shrug, and go along with the mandate now, without implicating themselves in cowardice. Their current resolve risks unraveling unless they reaffirm their opposition to the mandate forcefully and as a united body.  The past can be a useful teacher. One of its lessons is this: The passage of time can invite confusion and doubt–and both work against courage.

Again: Why does Thomas More still matter? Why does he matter right now? 

More’s final work, scribbled in the Tower of London and smuggled out before his death, was The Sadness of Christ. In it, he contrasts the focus and energy of Judas with the sleepiness of the Apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane. He then applies the parable to his own day and the abject surrender of England’s bishops to the will of Henry VIII: “Does not this contrast between the traitors and the Apostles present to us a clear and sharp mirror image . . . a sad and terrible view of what has happened through the ages from those times to our own? Why do not bishops contemplate in this scene their own somnolence?”

More urges the bishops not to fall asleep “while virtue and the faith are placed in jeopardy.” In the face of Tudor bullying, he begs them, “Do not be afraid”–this from a layman on the brink of his own execution.

Of course, that was then. This is now. America 2012 is a very long way, in so many different ways, from England 1535.

But readers might nonetheless profit in the coming months from some reflection on the life of Sir Thomas. We might also take a moment to remember More’s friend and fellow martyr, John Fisher, the only bishop who refused to bend to the king’s will; the man who shortly before his own arrest told his brother bishops: “. . . the fort has been betrayed even [by] them that should have defended it.”

Charles J. Chaput, a Capuchin Franciscan, is the archbishop of Philadelphia and the author of Render Unto Caesar.

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Copyright 2012 the Witherspoon Institute. All rights reserved.

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A Light to the Nations; The Meaning and Future of the Catholic Church – Part III

In 03 Archbishop Charles Chaput on 2013/11/22 at 1:03 AM
What does all this mean for those of us who serve as bishops in the early years of a new millennium?
I believe that being a good bishop requires, first, that we become simple again — and by that I mean gospel simple. Jesus loved simplicity because it allowed Him to immerse Himself in the essential things of His Father’s business. I often wonder whether bishops in the developed world are in danger of losing that Christ-like focus. The United States has become a culture of noise, confusion, and complication. Americans are a distracted people, and American Catholics are now also a distracted Church. We bishops have plans and committees and projects and staffs. All these things are important in their proper place. But at the end of the day, are we apostles, or are we executives? And what do our people really need: managers or pastors?
In effect, the structures of today’s diocesan life sometimes work to block the very thing they were meant to help: a bishop’s direct contact with his people. Obviously, good stewardship requires skilled management of our resources. But it is easy today for a bishop to delegate his missionary zeal to others, to become a captive of his own administrative machinery. This runs exactly counter to the example of Jesus and the first apostles.
In fact, many of the key problems bishops face as shepherds are not programmatic or resource-driven. They are problems of faith. Too often, those of us in the Church — and sometimes even those of us who are bishops — simply do not believe deeply and zealously enough.
The hunger for God persists in every human heart, even when it’s buried under a mountain of consumer goods. Too often, we’re not feeding that hunger as effectively as fundamentalists and other evangelical Christians. And the thousands of Catholics who leave the Church every year for rigorous sects of every sort testify to that.
Forty years after the council, the Church throughout the industrialized world urgently needs to recover her original spiritual fire. We need to lead people back to the fullness of Jesus Christ, which can only be found in sacramental community — especially in the Eucharist. But if we really want the conversion of the world, we who are bishops need to seek that same conversion first within and among ourselves.
I began this reflection with the Council of Nicaea. While all true ecumenical councils are important, some seemed to have failed in achieving their goals. The Council of Florence had disappointing results in the 15th century because the Western Church was badly divided, and the Greek Church rejected a reunion. Participants at the Fifth Lateran Council in the early 16th century focused haplessly on the wrong issues. They did too little, too late, to address the conditions that would lead to the Protestant Reformation.
In the years ahead, as we consider the goals that Vatican II set for itself, we must ask: Will history judge the council a success or a failure? It’s a vital question. In opening the event, Blessed John XXIII claimed that “the council now beginning rises in the Church like daybreak, a forerunner of most splendid light.” Pope John Paul II, who attended as a bishop, spoke many times about its vital role in a rebirth of Christian faith in the new millennium.
So far the results are mixed. One in every three children born in “Christian Europe” today is Muslim. Except for Islam, religious belief and practice are declining across the continent. So are fertility rates. Pope Benedict XVI told a gathering of Italian priests recently that the “so-called traditional Churches look like they’re dying.” In fact, in Europe’s wealth and selfishness and refusal to have children, an entire civilization ischoosing to die.
In September 2005, Pope Benedict told a group of new bishops to pray for “a humble trust in God and for the apostolic courage born of faith.” In 2002, then-Cardinal Ratzinger warned that “a bishop must do as Christ did: precede his flock, being the first to do what he calls others to do and, first of all, being the one who stands against the wolves who come to steal the sheep.”
Whether history judges Vatican II a success or failure will finally depend on us — bishops, clergy, religious, and laypeople alike — and how zealously we respond to God in living our Faith; how deeply we believe; and how much apostolic courage we show to an unbelieving world that urgently needs Jesus Christ.
We’ve been here before. By human standards, the Council of Nicaea could easily have failed. That council, and all the long history that followed it, may have turned out very differently. It didn’t, largely because of God’s actions through one man — a young deacon and scholar at Nicaea named Athanasius of Alexandria.
Athanasius fought for the true Catholic Faith at Nicaea and all the rest of his life. Arian bishops excommunicated him. Emperors resented him. His enemies falsely accused him of cruelty, sorcery — even murder. As a bishop, he was exiled five times. And in the face of it all, he became the single most articulate voice defending the orthodox Catholic Faith, which is why even today we remember him as Athanasius contra mundum: Athanasius against the world.
He never gave up. He had courage. He had the truth — and the truth won. He became one of history’s best-loved bishops and greatest Doctors of the Church, and the Faith we take for granted today we owe in large measure to him.
That’s the Catholic ideal of a bishop. That’s the Catholic ideal of a believer fully alive in Jesus Christ. And if bishops and their flock choose to live that same apostolic courage once again — starting now — then John XXIII’s hopes for the council as a new dawn for Christianity will rise in the Church as a light to the nations.

This article originally appeared in the January 2006 issue of 
Crisis Magazine.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is the archbishop of Philadelphia. Before his appointment to Philadelphia by Pope Benedict in 2011, he served as bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota and archbishop of Denver. He is the author of two books: Living the Catholic Faith: Rediscovering the Basics (2001) and Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (2008).

A Light to the Nations: The Meaning and Future of the Catholic Church – PART II

In 03 Archbishop Charles Chaput on 2013/11/22 at 1:02 AM
The Second Vatican Council didn’t correct a new heresy or define a new doctrine. Nor was it merely the idea of John XXIII. Several cardinals had privately urged Pope John to call a council — including Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, who later became the council’s leading conservative, a man whom some reformers loved to criticize.
John XXIII set the goal of Vatican II in his opening remarks: “The greatest concern of the ecumenical council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously.” To do that he wanted the council not to “reinvent” or “re-imagine” the Church, but to renew the methods, forms, and structures of the Church according to the needs of the modern world, always “recognizing that the substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way it is presented is another.”
In other words, the Church today has exactly the same goal as in 1956: the proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ for the conversion and salvation of the world, through the truth of the Catholic Faith. The methods and structures may differ, but the mission remains.
The genius of Vatican II was its scope. Over a three-year period, in 16 documents, it examined, purified, renewed, and reaffirmed nearly every aspect of Catholic life. In a very logical way, the council’s four major constitutions give us a catechesis on the whole Christian Faith.
For example, Catholics have always believed that lex orandi, lex credendi — in other words, we worship as we believe, and believe as we worship. So in 1963, the council issued the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy as its very first document, because our worship at the Eucharistic meal and sacrifice of the Mass is the cornerstone of our belief and of everything else that makes us distinctively Catholic.
In 1964, the council defined who and what the community of Faith is in Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Christ founded the Church before anyone wrote the first word of the first Gospel. The Church came first. The Holy Spirit inspired the Evangelists to write down God’s Word fully and truthfully, but it was the community of believers that reflected on it, organized it, and interpreted it. The Church precedes the Bible, not the other way around.
In the last weeks of Vatican II, the council issued the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. The council’s work was then complete.
Too many times over the past four decades, people have claimed to be the Church or to speak as the voice of the faithful and then acted or taught in ways that seemed to oppose what the Church actually believes.
When people say, “We are the Church,” of course that’s true. We’re all the Church, because the Church is the community of the faithful. But a “community of the faithful” implies that there’s someone and something we have the duty to be faithful to. We don’t invent the Catholic Faith, nor do we own it. We receive it; we live it in community; we witness it to others; and we pass it on fully — if we’re good stewards — to our children. That’s what life in the Church means. And that’s why it’s worth reflecting on the content of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
Blessed John XXIII often described the Catholic Church as the “mother and teacher of all nations.” In opening the Second Vatican Council, he said that “the Church, surrounded by divine light, spreads her rays over the entire earth.” That’s what the Latin words Lumen Gentium mean: “light to the nations.” That’s what God created us to be. That’s the reality of the Church we all belong to — not some religious corporation or the Elks Club at prayer; but the glory of Jesus Christ alive and risen, and God’s light to the world.
Not all of Lumen Gentium is easy reading, but it’s worth the effort, because this document does a wonderful job of teaching us who and what the Catholic Church is. The Dogmatic Constitution presents the Church in a range of beautiful images from Scripture and Catholic tradition. Each of the images is important and true, but none can stand alone outside the context of the others.
The Church is a sheepfold of safety, with Jesus as the only gate. It is also God’s flock, and also His tillage — the land He cultivates to bring new life to the world. The Church is God’s building, with Jesus as the foundation and each of us its living stones. The Church is the spotless spouse of Christ and the family of God. It is an exile and pilgrim in the world. The Church is also a sacrament — a sign and instrument of communion with God and unity among men and women.
Above all, the Church is the mystical Body of Christ and the new Israel; the new, messianic People of God with Jesus as our head. It is the new royal priesthood, with all Christians living in fundamental equality through baptism, but like a family, having a diversity of duties and organized in a hierarchy of roles.
Religious and consecrated persons bear witness to the Beatitudes by living poverty, chastity, and obedience in a radical way. Laypeople, because they live in the daily secular world, have the missionary task of humanizing society and converting it to Jesus Christ. And the ordained have the vocation of service to the Church; feeding the faithful through the Eucharist and other sacraments; and teaching, sanctifying, encouraging, and governing for the sake of God’s people. But all members of the Church have exactly the same call to holiness according to the circumstances of their lives.
Lumen Gentium reminds us that no one is saved except through Jesus Christ, and that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ, necessary for salvation. As a result, no one can be saved “who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it.”
But God is also a merciful Father; He seeks the salvation of all men and women. Therefore, Lumen Gentium also teaches that those “who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation.”
But perhaps the most moving quality of Lumen Gentium is the way it begins and ends with a person. It begins with the person of Jesus Christ as the savior of humanity and the meaning of history. And it ends with the person of Mary, His mother and our mother, and an icon of what we can all be — and what the Church will be — in her perfection. When we claim that “we are the Church,” Mary’s humility, obedience, fidelity, and love are what we should mean.
Last October marked the 43rd  anniversary of one of the final documents of the council, Christus Dominus (Christ the Lord), or the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church. The first line of the conciliar text reads, “Christ the Lord, the Son of the Living God, came to redeem His people from their sins, that all mankind might be sanctified.” It reminds bishops that our first duty is to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ — to give up our own lives and live as Jesus Christ for the service of the persons in our care.
Vatican II described the vocation of bishops as a call to serve rather than a call to power. When a bishop struggles to put on Jesus Christ over his own sins and weaknesses, he begins to understand why the council talks about the pastoral office of bishops in the Church, and not outside or above it. Bishops have the same need for redemption as the people to whom we belong. The only difference is that God will hold bishops even more accountable because of the leadership to which He ordained us, and because of the graces of the office we receive.
Christus Dominus is a curious mix of housekeeping and theology. Much of the document deals with very practical matters — redrawing diocesan boundaries, how long pastors should serve in parishes, when to ask for an auxiliary bishop, and the role of the diocesan staff. But all of the practical issues in Christus Dominus rest on the document’s spiritual foundation, which comes from Lumen Gentium and the ancient traditions of the Church.
The early Church Father St. Ignatius of Antioch, no stranger to Church controversy, reminded and cautioned Christians that “those [who] belong to God and to Jesus Christ — they are with the bishop.”
Every bishop is a successor to the apostles and a pastor of souls. He has the duty to safeguard the liturgical life of the local Church. He must proclaim the gospel and teach the true Catholic faith in his diocese. Every bishop should give an example of personal sanctity in charity, humility, and simplicity of life. He should help the poor and suffering. He has the obligation to sanctify, encourage, correct, and govern the local people of God. And above all, every bishop needs to do these things with fatherly love and fraternal charity, because the Church is a family — a family of faith — not a political party or an impersonal institution.
This is why bishops are always so reluctant to excommunicate anybody, even a grave public criminal or a Catholic public official who directly opposes Church teaching on a serious matter. A good father will do almost anything, and bear almost any insult or burden, to keep his daughter or son in the family.
And he owes that same fidelity to his priests. Vatican II commands bishops to support their priests, and to treat them as sons and brothers. In Catholic teaching, a priest shares intimately in the mission of his bishop through the Sacrament of Orders. A priest is never simply an “employee” of the Church, and the bishop is forbidden to treat him that way.
 

A Light to the Nations: The Meaning and Future of the Catholic Church – Part I

In 03 Archbishop Charles Chaput on 2013/11/22 at 1:01 AM

 by Archbishop Charles j. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father; God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; begotten, not made; of one Being with the Father. Through Him all things were made.

We’ve said those words thousands of times at Sunday Mass. We know them so well that sometimes we don’t think about them. But they’re vital to what it means to be Catholic.A man born of a Jewish mother is Jewish by virtue of his birth. He may be very religious, or lukewarm, or an atheist. But he’s still, in a real sense, a Jew. Being Catholic is a very different kind of experience. Baptism is necessary to be a Catholic, but it’s not enough as we grow in age. As Catholics, we become defined by what we believe, how we worship, and how actively we live our faith in public and in private.
It’s not possible to be what some people call a “cultural” Catholic. Catholic culture comes from an active Catholic faith. Unless we truly believe and practice that faith, “Catholic culture” very quickly becomes a dead skin of nostalgia and comfortable habits.
When Catholics say that Jesus is eternally begotten of the Father and of one Being with the Father, we’re joining ourselves to 17 centuries of Christian Faith. Those words come to us from the very first ecumenical council of the Church, the Council of Nicaea in 325. The Nicene Creed settled a long and important dispute over the identity of Jesus Christ and shaped the course of Western history.
Catholics have always struggled to understand the mystery of what it means for Jesus to be both fully human and fully divine. That mystery is the creative tension at the heart of Christianity. In the fourth century, a gifted priest named Arius tried to relieve that tension by claiming that “God begat [the Son], and before [the Son] was begotten, [the Son] did not exist.” In other words, for Arius, Jesus might have a uniquely intimate relationship with God, but He was a creature like you and me.
Arius had a brilliant mind, and many bishops and scholars supported him. But in the end, the Council Fathers saw that if Jesus were created by the Father, He couldn’t be eternally co-equal with the Father. And that means Christian revelation begins to fall apart. If God isn’t a Trinity of eternally equal persons, then the Incarnation is false, because God didn’t ultimately become man. And if the Incarnation is false, then so is the Redemption, because God didn’t die on the cross to deliver us from our sins. What Arius proposed would have actually destroyed the entire gospel message of salvation.
That’s why the Council of Nicaea described Jesus as one in being or one in substance with the Father. And that’s why we say those same words every Sunday. The Nicene Creed has helped shape Western civilization’s understanding of who God is and who man is. And over the centuries, it has had an impact on art, music, morality, ideas of justice and human dignity, our political institutions — everything. Faith drives culture. What we believe shapes how we think and what we do. That’s why what we believe — or don’t believe — matters.
The Council of Nicaea demonstrates just how important an ecumenical council can be — not just for the Church, but also for the world. Indeed, “ecumenical” comes from the Greek, oikoumene, meaning “the whole world.” The Church has had 21 ecumenical councils from Nicaea to Vatican II, and many have been hugely important for the course of history. This would be a different world without Nicaea or Chalcedon or Trent.
Or Vatican II
See Part II

Catholic Teachers

In 03 Archbishop Charles Chaput on 2013/08/16 at 12:00 AM

Who we are is what we give to others

All adult Catholics are teachers. That’s one of our mandates as believers. And like never before in history, we need to be people rooted in the Church and faithful to her teachings. In an age of confusion, the Church is our only reliable guide. Through her, it’s our job to form our children and ourselves in the truth that will make us genuinely free.

Most of us know C.S. Lewis as the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia” or “The Screwtape Letters.” But he was a teacher as well as a writer—and in his lectures, he often described God as a sculptor. For Lewis, the suffering in a person’s life has a special meaning, which is echoed again and again in Scripture.

Proverbs tells us, “Do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (3:11-12). And the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that in suffering, “God is treating you as sons, for what son is there whom a father does not discipline?” (12:7).

Suffering is a tool. God uses it to shape each of us into the saints he wants us to be. God sees the shape of our holiness in the marble of our humanity. Then He cuts away the stone of sin to free us.

It’s a great metaphor. Anyone who has seen Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Pieta knows exactly what Lewis meant. The figures of Jesus and Mary have a living humanity. The smoothness of the skin, the elegance of the limbs, the sorrow on Mary’s face—these things are so real that we can forget they came from a slab of marble. The sculptor saw the beauty in the stone … and he set it free with a hammer and a chisel. Nobody remembers the hammer blow; that was over in an instant. They’re too moved by the beauty of the results. The beauty lasts forever.

Now, people aren’t blocks of stone. They’re living tissue, with the freedom and dignity of children of God. And teachers aren’t chisels and hammers. Or at least they shouldn’t be. They are active, cooperating agents in God’s plan, not merely his instruments. But we can still draw some lessons from the sculptor and his work.

First, the great sculptor is motivated by love, not merely technical skill. The sculptor loves the beauty and the truth he sees locked in the stone. In the same way, the great teacher loves the possibilities for beauty and truth—the hint of the image of God—she sees in the face of her students.

Next, the great sculptor has a passion for his work and a confidence in his vision. In like manner, no Catholic catechist, teacher or parent can form another person in the faith without a passion for the Gospel, a personal zeal for Jesus Christ, and an absolute confidence in the truth of the Church and her teaching. No teacher can give what she doesn’t have herself. If you yourself don’t believe, then you can only communicate unbelief. If I’m not faithful myself, then I will only communicate infidelity. Who we are, is part of the formation we give to others.

Remember: Who we are, is part of the formation we give to others. In deepening our own faith, the more effectively we can share it with others. That’s something we all need. So you can be sure I’ll be there. I hope you will be too.

Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap. WAS  the Archbishop of Denver AND IS NOW ARCHBISHOP OF PHILADELPHIA. To read more from Archbishop Chaput, click here.

Repair My House: Renewing the Roots of Religious Liberty

In 03 Archbishop Charles Chaput on 2012/07/05 at 9:11 AM

+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Indianapolis, 6.20.12

I’ve known Greg Erlandson as a friend for many years. So I was glad to accept his invitation to join you tonight. And I’m very glad to speak on the theme of religious liberty because events in our country have made it an urgent concern. I can sum up my remarks tonight in five simple points.

First, religious freedom is a cornerstone of the American experience. This is so obvious that once upon a time, nobody needed to say it. But times have changed. So it’s worth recalling that Madison, Adams, Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, Jefferson – in fact, nearly all the American Founders – saw religious faith as vital to the life of a free people. Liberty and happiness grow organically out of virtue. And virtue needs a grounding in religious faith.

Gertrude Himmelfarb, the historian, put it this way: The Founders knew that in a republic “virtue is intimately related to religion. However skeptical or deistic they may have been in their own beliefs, however determined they were to avoid anything like an established Church, they had no doubt that religion is an essential part of the social order because it is a vital part of the moral order.”1

Here’s my second point: Freedom of religion is more than freedom of worship. The right to worship is a necessary but not sufficient part of religious liberty. Christian faith requires community. It begins in worship, but it also demands preaching, teaching and service. It’s always personal but never private. And it involves more than prayer at home and Mass on Sunday – although these things are vitally important. Real faith always bears fruit in public witness and public action. Otherwise it’s just empty words.

The Founders saw the value of publicly engaged religious faith because they experienced its influence themselves. They created a nation designed in advance to depend on the moral convictions of religious believers, and to welcome their active role in public life.

Here’s my third point: Threats against religious freedom in our country are not imaginary. They’re happening right now. They’re immediate, serious and real. Earlier this year religious liberty advocates won a big Supreme Court victory in the 9-0 Hosanna- Tabor v EEOC decision. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news. What’s stunning in that case is the disregard for religious freedom shown by the government’s arguments against the Lutheran church and school. And Hosanna-Tabor is not an isolated case. It belongs to a pattern of government coercion that includes the current administration’s HHS mandate; interfering with the conscience rights of medical providers and private employers, as well as individual citizens; and attacks on the policies, hiring practices and tax statuses of religious charities and ministries.

Why is this hostility happening? A lot of it links to Catholic teaching on the dignity of life and human sexuality. Catholic moral convictions about abortion, contraception, the purpose of sexuality and the nature of marriage are rooted not just in revelation, but also in reason and natural law. Human beings have a nature that’s not just the product of accident or culture, but inherent, universal and rooted in permanent truths knowable to reason.

The problem, as Notre Dame law professor Gerry Bradley points out, is that critics of the Church reduce all these moral convictions to an expression of subjective religious beliefs. And if they’re purely religious beliefs, then – so the critics argue – they can’t be rationally defended. And because they’re rationally indefensible, they should be treated as a form of prejudice. In effect, 2,000 years of moral tradition and religious belief become a species of bias. Opposing same-sex “marriage” thus amounts to religiously blessed homophobia.2

There’s more though. When religious belief gets redefined downward to a kind of private bias, then the religious identity of institutional ministries has no public value — other than the utility of getting credulous people to do good things. So exempting Catholic adoption agencies, for example, from placing kids with gay couples becomes a concession to private prejudice. And concessions to private prejudice feed bigotry and hurt the public. Or so the reasoning goes. This is how moral teaching and religious belief end up getting hounded as hate speech.

Here’s my fourth point: Unless we work hard to keep our religious liberty, we’ll lose it. It’s already happening in other developed countries like Britain and Canada.3 The U.S. Constitution is a great document — historically unique for its fusion of high ideals with the realism of very practical checks and balances. But in the end, it’s just an elegant piece of paper. In practice, nothing guarantees our freedoms except our willingness to fight for them. That means fighting politically and through the courts, without tiring and without apologies. We need to realize that America’s founding documents assume an implicitly religious anthropology – an idea of human nature, nature’s God and natural rights that many of our leaders no longer really share. We ignore that unhappy fact at our own expense.

Here’s my fifth and final point: Politics and the courts are important. But our religious freedom ultimately depends on the vividness of our own Christian faith – in other words, how deeply we believe it, and how honestly we live it. Religious liberty is an empty shell if the spiritual core of a people is weak. Or to put it more bluntly, if people don’t believe in God, religious liberty isn’t a value. That’s the heart of the matter. It’s the reason Pope Benedict calls us to a Year of Faith this October. The worst enemies of religious freedom aren’t “out there” among the legion of critics who hate Christ or the Gospel or the Church, or all three. The worst enemies are in here, with us – all of us, clergy, religious and lay – when we live our faith with tepidness, routine and hypocrisy.

Religious liberty isn’t a privilege granted by the state. It’s our birthright as children of God. And even the worst bigotry can’t kill it in the face of a believing people. But if we value it and want to keep it, then we need to become people worthy of it. Which means we need to change the way we live – radically change, both as individual Catholics and as the Church. And that’s where I’d like to turn for the rest of these brief remarks.

A year ago I was serving happily in Denver, laughing at rumors I was getting moved anywhere. That turned out to be a mistake. Since then I’ve been asked many times how I like Philadelphia. The answer is pretty simple. I don’t “like” it. I love it – or rather, I love the people and clergy of Philadelphia because they’re easy to love. They’re now my family, an intimate part of my life. And I hope that each passing year will draw me deeper into the life of the community because Philadelphia is really more than just a great city. It’s the birthplace of our country and a jewel in our national legacy. It’s also an icon of the American Catholic experience. So it’s a joy and a blessing to serve there as bishop.

“Joy” may seem like an odd word to use, given events in Philadelphia over the past 16 months. Obviously the abuse tragedy has burdened the life of the local Church in a very painful way. Our laypeople are angry, and they should be. Their frustration shows in the pews. In Denver about 40 percent of registered Catholics attended Mass weekly. In Philadelphia, barely 18 percent do. The scandal has caused terrible suffering for victims, demoralized many of our clergy, crippled the witness of the Church and humiliated the whole Catholic community.

That’s the bad news — or at least some of it — and it’s not simply “bad,” but bitter and damaging for everyone involved, beginning with victims and their families, but rippling throughout the community. As a bishop, the only honest way I can talk about the abuse tragedy is to start by apologizing for the failure of the Church and her leaders — apologizing to victims, and apologizing to the Catholic community. And I do that again here, today.

There is also good news. Even now, after all the challenges of the past decade, the Church in Philadelphia plays a very large role in the life of the region, and in many quarters, she still draws — and still earns — great respect. I think the staff Cardinal Rigali assembled last year after the second grand jury report to reach out to victims and prevent abuse in the future is strong by any professional standard. And from what I’ve experienced over the past 10 months, the Church in Philadelphia today has a much deeper understanding of the gravity of sexual abuse and a sincere zeal for rooting it out of the life of the Church and helping anyone hurt in the past.

One reason the Church has survived at all in the current crisis is the extraordinary reservoir of good will and fidelity among the clergy and people of the diocese. Pennsylvania remains a largely faith-friendly environment. Our people have strong prolife and pro-family instincts, respect for religious ministries and a history of saints and excellent Catholic education. The habits of Catholic culture run very deep in the Philadelphia region. Our Catholic health and social services, and our Catholic school system, are among the largest and best in the United States. The Church contributes in a substantial way to the welfare of the general public, and most people on some level understand that.

But the abuse crisis, as grave as it is, masks other problems that also run very deep, and they belong to the same troubled Catholic culture. They began building decades ago. And while they may be especially sharp in Philadelphia, I’d wager that some version of these problems touches many of the dioceses across our country.

Here’s an example. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is currently owed about $60 million by our own parishes for insurance premiums, assessments and other expenses shared by the whole local Church. Much of this can’t be recovered because the parishes simply don’t have the money. More than two-thirds of our 267 parishes have operating deficits. About 100 are in some form of financial distress. More than 90 parishes minister to fewer than 400 families. And the archdiocese itself has struggled with frequent budget deficits for many years. We’ve reached a point where – if we did nothing to fix the problem – the gap between our projected expenses and our projected income in Fiscal 2013 would exceed $17 million.

That won’t happen. That will end. The Church is finally a family. No family can survive for long if it spends more than it takes in. In the first nine months of Fiscal 2012, the archdiocese spent more than $10 million on legal and other professional fees. But as crushing as that sounds – and it is – the real problems of the Church in Philadelphia are more subtle than money and more chronic than a habit of bad budgets. They’re not even financial. And they’re not at all unique to Philadelphia.

We need to look honestly at the arc of Catholic history in our country. The lessons may not be comforting. American Catholics began as an unwelcome minority. The Church built her credibility by defending and serving her people. She developed her influence with the resources her people entrusted to her. A vast amount of good was done in the process. We need to honor that. But two other things also happened. The Church in the United States became powerful and secure. And Catholics became less and less invested in the Church that their own parents and grandparents helped to build.

I think it’s fair, in part, to blame Church leaders for a spirit of complacency and inertia, clericalism, even arrogance, and for operating off a model of the Church – often for well- intentioned reasons — rooted in the past and out of touch with reality. But there’s plenty of blame to go around. Too many ordinary Catholics have been greedy to lose themselves in America’s culture of consumerism and success. Too many have been complicit in the dullness — the acedia — that has seeped into Church life, and the cynicism and resentment that naturally follow it.

These problems kill a Christian love of poverty and zeal. They choke off a real life of faith. They create the shadows that hide institutional and personal sins. And they encourage a paralysis that can burrow itself into every heart and every layer of the Church, right down to individual Catholics in the pews. The result is that Philadelphia, like so much of the Church in the rest of our country, is now really mission territory – again; for the second time.

My point is this. We live in a world of illusions when we lose sight of who Jesus Christ really is, and what he asks from each of us as disciples. One of novelist Ray Bradbury’s characters once said, “I wonder if God recognizes his own son the way we’ve dressed him up, or is it dressed him down? He’s a regular peppermint stick now, all sugar crystal and saccharine.”4 Father John Hugo, a friend and counselor to Dorothy Day, put it even more forcefully when he wrote of our “falsified picture of Jesus [with his] eyes perpetually raised to heaven, soft, even girlish in beauty, [the] very incarnation of impotence.”

The real Jesus, in Hugo’s words, “did not hesitate to condemn the rich, to warn the powerful, to denounce in vehement language the very leaders of the people. His love and goodness were chiefly for the poor, the simple, the needy. And his love for them was not a limp, indulgent love, like that of a silly, frivolous mother. To his friends he preached poverty of spirit, detachment, the carrying the cross. No more did the kindness of Jesus spare his followers, than the kindness of God the father spared his son. We are to drink of the same chalice that he drank of.”5

That’s our vocation. That’s the life of honesty, heroism and sacrifice God calls us to as a Church and as individual believers. And in our eagerness to escape it, to tame it, to reshape it in the mold of our own willful ideas, we’ve failed not only to convert our culture, but also to pass along the faith to many of our own children.

Emerging American adults – in other words, young people in the 18-23 age cohort – are not only skeptical of organized religion in general and Christianity in particular, but they often lack the vocabulary to engage in, or even identify, issues that require basic moral reasoning. As a group they have unusually high rates of intoxication, loneliness and sexual alienation. They also, contrary to popular belief, have very little interest in public affairs or political engagement, and a lopsided focus on materialistic consumption and financial security as the guiding stars of their lives.6

Of course, tens of thousands of exceptions to what I just said are walking around right now. We all know some of them. These are young adults of faith and strong moral character, determined to do something worthy with their lives. Just this week Our Sunday Visitor did a portrait of Catholic young adults who live the Gospel with reallywonderful passion and joy.7 Their lives will touch hundreds of other lives. And that should give us enormous hope. God never abandons his Church or his people.

But their good witness only brings us back to the conversion that you and I and the whole Church in the United States need to undergo.

Notre Dame scholar Christian Smith and his colleagues, whose research on emerging adults is so compelling, wrote that “most of the problems in the lives of youth have their origin in the larger adult world into which youth are being socialized . . . [One] way or the other, adults and the adult world are almost always complicit in the troubles, suffering and misguided living of youth, if not the direct source of them. The more adults can recognize and admit that fact, [the] sooner we will be able to address some of young people’s problems more constructively.”8

I suppose that’s obvious. But if it’s really so obvious, then who let it happen? And what are we going to do about it?

We’re becoming a nation where, as Ross Douthat describes it, “a growing number [of us] are inventing [our] own versions of what Christianity means, abandoning the nuances of traditional theology in favor of religions that stroke [our] egos and indulge, or even celebrate, [our] own worst impulses.”9 And it’s happening at a time when the Church is compromised by her own leaders and people from within, and pushed to the margins or attacked by critics without.

Tomorrow we start the Fortnight for Freedom. It’s a moment for each of us to be grateful to our bishops for doing the right thing – the important and urgent thing – at the right time. If we don’t press now and vigorously for our religious liberty in the public arena, we will lose it. Not overnight and not with a thunderclap, but step by step, inexorably. And each of you as a Catholic media professional plays a key role, a really vital role, in that effort because our prestige news media, with very few exceptions, simply will not cover this issue in a fair and comprehensive way.10

But we also need to remember with Pope Benedict that resistance is “part of the task of the Church,”11 and with Henri de Lubac that it’s “not our mission to make truth triumph, but to testify for it.”12

Scripture says, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6:33). We work best for religious freedom by first opening our hearts to God’s will instead of our own; and loving our country and our Church; and renewing the witness of the Church with the zeal and purity and obedience of our own lives. That freedom, that joy, no one can ever take from us.

From the cross at San Damiano, Jesus said to Francis: Repair my house, which is falling into ruin. Those same words fill this room tonight. How we respond is up to us.

© +Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Indianapolis, 6.20.12

1 Gertrude Himmelfarb, One Nation, Two Cultures, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1999, p. 85

2 Gerard V. Bradley, “What’s Behind the HHS Mandate?”, The Public Discourse (www.thepublicdiscourse.com), June 5, 2012
3 Ibid.
4 Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1951, 1995, p. 77
5 David Scott and Mike Aquila, editors, Weapons of the Spirit: Living a Holy Life in Unholy Times; Selected Writings of Father John Hugo, Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, IN, 1997, p. 108-109
6 Christian Smith, et al, Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, Oxford University Press, New York, 2011
7 Emily Stimpson, “The Next Generation,” OSV Newsweekly, June 17, 2012, p. 9-12
8 Smith, p. 11
9 Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Free Press, New York, 2012, p. 4
10 The website http://www.getreligion.org has done several analyses of the lopsided mainstream news coverage of the HHS mandate and related religious liberty disputes. See for example Mollie Hemingway, “Grading coverage of religious liberty,” May 4, 2012, and “Plotting about ‘religious liberty’,” May 30, 2012, among others
11 Joseph Ratzinger, God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2002, p. 357
12 Henri de Lubac, S.J., Paradoxes of Faith, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1987, p.72

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Being Human in an Age of Unbelief by Archbishop Chaput – Part I

In 03 Archbishop Charles Chaput on 2012/04/12 at 8:11 PM

+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.,Archbishop of Philadelphia, Penn for Life, University of Pennsylvania

In getting ready for tonight, Charles Gray asked me to keep two things in mind. First, he asked me to remember that we have a mixed audience here in Houston Hall, both Catholic and non-Catholic. Second, he asked me to explain what Catholics mean when we talk about the “sanctity” of human life, and why the Church deals with issues like abortion so vigorously in the public square.

As it turns out, most of my sources tonight are not Catholic. That shouldn’t be surprising. Catholics have no monopoly on respect for human dignity. Catholics do have a very long tradition of thinking about the nature of the human person and society, and I’ll be glad to talk about that in my remarks. But I’d like to begin by setting the proper framework for our discussion, which needs to be broader than abortion.

Last year I had the good fortune to read Eric Metaxas’ wonderful book, Bonhoeffer. It’s a biography of the great Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’ve quoted Bonhoeffer’s work many times over the years. The reason is simple. I admire him. He could have been a professor. Instead he chose to be a pastor. He could have had a sterling academic career of lecturing about his ideas and his faith. Instead he chose to put them into action and to immerse himself in people’s lives. He was a man not of “values” in the meager modern sense, but of virtues in the classical and religious sense — the virtues of justice, courage and love, all grounded in the deep virtue of faith in a loving God.

The Third Reich hanged Bonhoeffer for his resistance activities just a few weeks before the end of the Second World War. Today we see him – rightly — as one of the great moral witnesses of the last century; a man who fought for the good, in the face of very grave evil, at the cost of his life.

Another great moral witness of the 20th century was the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who began as an atheist but ended as a Russian Orthodox. His history of The Gulag Archipelago, in its indictment of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and the brutality of Soviet repression that grew naturally from their thought, is a masterpiece of modern literature.

Like Bonhoeffer, Solzhenitsyn wrote from direct experience of imprisonment and organized inhumanity. Unlike Bonhoeffer, Solzhenitsyn survived the war, survived years in prison camps and was eventually exiled to the West. And that’s where his story gets useful for our purposes tonight.

In 1978, four years after Solzhenitsyn left Russia, Harvard University asked him to speak to its graduating students. What Harvard may have expected was praise for Western abundance, freedom and diversity. What it got was very different.

Solzhenitsyn began by noting that Harvard’s motto is Veritas. This is the Latin word for “truth.” Then he added that “truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.” Then he spent the next 6,000 words saying what nobody wanted to hear. He methodically criticized Western cowardice and self-indulgence; the vanity and weakness of America’s intellectual classes; the “tilt of freedom in the direction of evil;” the right of people “not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense [and] vain talk” by the mass media; a pervasive Western atmosphere of legalism and moral mediocrity; and the rise of a destructive individualism that now forces decent people “to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.”

Some of Solzhenitsyn’s hard words came from his suffering. Some flowed from loneliness for his own country. But while Solzhenitsyn was harsh in his comments at Harvard, he was also accurate in at least some of what he said. Speaking of his Russian homeland he said, “After suffering decades of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer and purer” than anything offered by the practical atheism now common in the West.

The reason for the problems of the West, said Solzhenitsyn, is found “at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past [several] centuries.” Our culture has fallen away from our own biblically informed heritage. We’ve lost the foundation for our moral vocabulary. This loss has starved our spirit, debased our sense of any higher purpose to life, and destroyed our ability to defend or even to explain any special dignity we assigned to the human person in the past.i

Now I’ve said all of this to give a context for four simple points I’d like to share. I’ll be brief. Then we can discuss them together.

Here’s my first point. We remember Bonhoeffer, Solzhenitsyn and other men and women like them because of their moral witness. But the whole idea of “moral witness” comes from the assumption that good and evil are real, and that certain basic truths about humanity don’t change. These truths are knowable and worth defending. One of these truths is the notion of man’s special dignity as a creature of reason and will. Man is part of nature, but also distinct from it.

The philosopher Hans Jonas said that three things have distinguished human life from other animal experience since early prehistory: the tool, the image and the grave.ii The tool imposes man’s knowledge and will onto nature. The image – man’s paintings and other art – projects his imagination. It implies a sense of beauty and memory, and a desire to express them. But the greatest difference between humans and other animals is the grave. Only man buries his dead. Only man knows his own mortality. And knowing that he will die, only man can ask where he came from, what his life means and what comes after it.

The grave then is an expression of reverence and hope. When Christians and other people of good will talk about “the dignity of the human person” and “the sanctity of human life,” they’re putting into words what we all instinctively know – and have known for a very long time. Unique in nature, and unlike any other creature, something elevated and sacred in men and women demands our special respect. When we violate that human dignity, we do evil. When we serve it, we do good. And therein lies one of many ironies.

We live in a society that speaks persuasively about protecting the environment and rescuing species on the brink of extinction. But then it tolerates the killing of unborn children and the abuse of human fetal tissue as lab material.

Being Human in an Age of Unbelief by Archbishop Chaput – Part II

In 03 Archbishop Charles Chaput on 2012/04/12 at 11:11 AM

This leads me to my second point. The University of Pennsylvania is one our country’s premier research universities. That’s a great gift to the Philadelphia community. It’s also a great privilege for all of you as students, especially those specializing in the sciences.

Science and technology have expanded human horizons and improved human life in vital ways over the last century. They’ve also, at times, done the opposite. Part of a good education is learning the skill of appropriate skepticism. And that skepticism, that healthy wariness, should apply even to the methods and claims of science and technology. When a distinguished and thoroughly secular scholar like Neil Postman writes that “the uncontrolled growth of technology destroys the vital sources of our humanity. It creates a culture without a moral foundation. It undermines certain mental processes and social relations that make human life worth living” – then we need to be concerned.iii

There’s a proverb worth remembering here: “To a man with a hammer, every problem is a nail.” If modern man is scientific man, technology is his hammer. But every problem isn’t a nail. Knowledge without the virtues of wisdom, prudence and, above all, humility to guide it is not just unhelpful. It’s dangerous. Goethe’s poem, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – which some of us probably know from the Mickey Mouse cartoon based on it — sticks in our memories for a reason. We’re never as smart as we think we are, and we have a bad track record when it comes to preventing the worst uses of our own best discoveries.

Science involves the study of the material world. But human beings are more than the sum of their material processes. Trying to explain the human person with thinking that excludes the reality of the spiritual, the dignity of the religious and the possibility of God simply cripples both the scientist and the subject being studied – man himself. To put it another way, we can destroy what we mean by humanity while claiming, and even intending, to serve it.

We might wisely remember one other fact about science. Writer Eric Cohen observed that “From the beginning, science was driven both by democratic pity and aristocratic guile, by the promise to help humanity and the desire to be free from the constraints of the common man, with his many myths and superstitions and taboos.”iv In other words, scientists too often have a divided heart: a sincere desire to serve man’s knowledge, and a sincere disdain for what they see as the moral and religious delusions of real men and women. If this doesn’t make us just a little bit uneasy, it should. Both faith and science claim to teach with a special kind of authority. One of the differences is this. Most religious believers accept, at least in theory, that they’ll be judged by the God of justice for their actions. For science, God is absent from the courtroom.

This leads to my third point. God is also absent from the U.S. Constitution – but not because he’s unwelcome. In effect, God suffused the whole constitutional enterprise. Nearly all the Founders were religious believers, and some were quite devout. Theirwritings are heavily influenced by biblical language, morality and thought.  America could afford to be secular in the best sense, precisely because its people were so religious. The Founders saw religious faith as something separate from government but vital to the nation’s survival. In his Farewell Address, Washington famously stressed that “religion and morality are indispensable supports” for political prosperity. He added thatm“reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” For John Adams, John Jay, James Wilson, Alexander Hamilton, Charles Carroll, George Washington and most of the other Founders – including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin — religion created virtuous citizens.

And only virtuous citizens could sustain a country as delicately balanced in its institutions, moral instincts and laws as the United States.Here’s my purpose in mentioning this. The American Founders presumed the existence of natural law and natural rights. These rights are inalienable and guaranteed by a Creator; by “nature’s God,” to use the words of the Declaration of Independence. Such ideas may be out of fashion in much of legal theory today. But these same ideas are very much alive in the way we actually reason and behave in our daily lives.

Most of us here tonight believe that we have basic rights that come with the special dignity of being human. These rights are inherent to human nature. They’re part of who we are. Nobody can take them away. But if there is no Creator, and nothing fundamental and unchangeable about human nature, and if “nature’s God” is kicked out of the conversation, then our rights become the product of social convention. And social conventions can change. So can the definition of who is and who isn’t “human.”

The irony is that modern liberal democracy needs religion more than religion needs modern liberal democracy. American public life needs a framework friendly to religious belief because it can’t support its moral claims about freedom and rights with rational and secular arguments alone. In fact, to the degree that it encourages a culture of unbelief, liberal democracy undermines its own grounding. It causes its own decline by destroying the public square’s moral coherence.

Being Human in an Age of Unbelief by Archbishop Chaput – Part III

In 03 Archbishop Charles Chaput on 2012/04/12 at 9:11 AM

That leads to my fourth and final point. The prolife movement needs to be understood and respected for what it is: part of a much larger, consistent and morally worthy vision of the dignity of the human person. You don’t need to be Christian or even religious to  be “prolife.” Common sense alone is enough to make a reasonable person uneasy about what actually happens in an abortion. The natural reaction, the sane and healthy response, is repugnance.

What makes abortion so grievous is the intimacy of the violence and the innocence of the victim. Dietrich Bonhoeffer – and remember this is the same Lutheran pastor who helped smuggle Jews out of Germany and gave his life trying to overthrow Hitler – wrote that the “destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed on this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.”vi

Bonhoeffer’s words embody Christian belief about the sanctity of human life present from the earliest years of the Church. Rejection of abortion and infanticide was one of the key factors that set the early Christians apart from the pagan world. From the Didache in the First Century through the Early Fathers of the Church, down to our own day, Catholics – and until well into the 20th century all other Christians — have always seen abortion as gravely evil. As Bonhoeffer points out, arguing about whether abortion is homicide or only something close to homicide is irrelevant. In the Christian view of human dignity, intentionally killing a developing human life is always inexcusable and always gravely wrong.

Working against abortion doesn’t license us to ignore the needs of the homeless or the poor, the elderly or the immigrant. It doesn’t absolve us from supporting women who find themselves pregnant or abandoned. In Catholic belief, all human life, no matter how wounded, flawed, young or old, is sacred because it comes from God. The dignity of a human life and its right to exist are guaranteed by God. Catholic teaching on abortion and sexuality is part of the same integral vision of the human person that fuels Catholic teaching on economic justice, racism, war and peace.

These issues don’t all have the same content. They don’t all have the same weight. All of them are important, but some are more foundational than others. Without a right to life, all other rights are contingent. The heart of the matter is what Solzhenitsyn implied in his Harvard comments. Society is not just a collection of sovereign individuals with appetites moderated by the state. It’s a community of interdependent persons and communities of persons; persons who have human obligations to one another, along with their human rights. One of those obligations is to not intentionally kill the innocent. The two pillars of Catholic social teaching are respect for the sanctity of the individual and service to the common good. Abortion violates both.

In the American tradition, people have a right to bring their beliefs to bear on every social, economic and political problem facing their community. For Christians, that’s not just a privilege. It’s not just a right. It’s a demand of the Gospel. Obviously, we have an obligation to respect the dignity of other people. We’re always bound to treat other people with charity and justice. But that good will can never be an excuse for our own silence.

Believers can’t be silent in public life and be faithful to Jesus Christ at the same time. Actively witnessing to our convictions and advancing what we believe about key moral issues in public life is not “coercion.” It’s honesty. It’s an act of truth-telling. It’s vital,to the health of every democracy. And again, it’s also a duty — not only of our religious faith, but also of our citizenship.

The University of Pennsylvania’s motto, as most of you know, is Leges sine moribus vanae. It means “Laws without morals are useless.” All law has moral content. It’s an expression of what we “ought” to do. Therefore law teaches as well as regulates. Law always involves the imposition of somebody’s judgments about morality on everyone else. That’s the nature of law. But I think the meaning of Penn’s motto goes deeper than just trying to translate beliefs into legislation. Good laws can help make a nation more human; more just; more noble. But ultimately even good laws are useless if they govern a people who, by their choices, make themselves venal and callous, foolish and self-absorbed.

It’s important for our own integrity and the integrity of our country to fight for our prolife convictions in the public square. Anything less is a kind of cowardice. But it’s even more important to live what it means to be genuinely human and “prolife” by our actions – fidelity to God, love for spouse and children; loyalty to friends; generosity to the poor; honesty and mercy in dealing with others; trust in the goodness of people; discipline and humility in demanding the most from ourselves.

These things sound like pieties, and that’s all they are — until we try to live them. Then their cost and their difficulty remind us that we create a culture of life in the measure that we give our lives to others. The deepest kind of revolution never comes from violence.

Even politics, important as it is, is a poor tool for changing human hearts. Nations change when people change. And people change through the witness of other people –people like each of you here tonight. You make the future. You build it stone by stone with the choices you make. So choose life. Defend its dignity and witness its meaning and hope to others. And if you do, you’ll discover in your own life what it means to be fully human.

i Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “A World Split Apart,” Harvard Class Day Afternoon Exercises, June 8, 1978

ii Hans Jonas, “Tool, Image and Grave: On What is Beyond the Animal in Man,” 1985

iii Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Vintage Books/Random House, New York 1993; p. xii

iv Eric Cohen, In the Shadow of Progress: Being Human in the Age of Technology, Encounter Books, New York, 2008;

p. 15

v  See Colgate University political scientist Robert P. Kraynak, Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and

Politics in the Fallen World, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN, 2001; p xii and throughout

vi Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, Macmillan, New York 1978; p. 175-176

Politics and the Devil by Charles J. Chaput, Part I

In 03 Archbishop Charles Chaput on 2011/12/01 at 11:01 AM
Politics and the Devil  by Charles J. Chaput,  April 11, 2011
A healthy democracy depends on people of conviction working hard to advance their ideas in the public square—respectfully and peacefully, but vigorously and without apologies. We cannot simultaneously serve the poor and accept the legal killing of unborn children.

I have chosen to address the theme of “politics and the devil,” not because I plan to suggest that anyone in our national political life has made a pact with Lucifer—although, given the current environment, you never know; it’s not the sort of thing you’d put in a press release—but because it is the title of an essay by the late University of Chicago philosopher Leszek Kolakowski. Kolakowski was a former Marxist, a very gifted scholar, and a skeptic about many things—but not about the reality of evil or the nature of the devil. One of the disturbing things for Kolakowski’s secular colleagues was that he talked about Satan not as a metaphor or legend or the figment of neurotic imaginations, but as a living actor in history. That deserves some discussion, but let’s start at the beginning.

Politics often works like a virus. The simpler a political slogan is, the faster people absorb it, the faster they transmit it, and the less likely they are to really think about it—which means they don’t develop an immunity to its content.

For example, a theme we’ve heard from many of our cultural leaders over the past few years—at least when they’re not battling over the economy or health care—goes like this. America needs to return science to its “rightful place” in public life. And of course, who can argue with that? Science does an enormous amount of good. Obviously, science should have its rightful place alongside every other important human endeavor. But one thing that this theme often means, in practice, is that we need to spend a lot more money on research. Especially the controversial kind. And while we’re at it, we should stop asking so many annoying ethical questions, so that science can get on with its vital work.

I want to focus on those words “rightful place,” an interesting phrase. A “rightful” place suggests that there is also a wrongful place, a bad alternative. And words like right and wrong, good and bad, are loaded with moral judgment. A “good” law embodies what somebody thinks is right. A “bad” public policy embodies what somebody thinks is wrong, or at least inadequate.

All law in some sense teaches and forms us, while also regulating our behavior. The same applies to our public policies, including the ones that govern our scientific research. There is no such thing as morally neutral legislation or morally neutral public policy. Every law is the public expression of what somebody thinks we “ought” to do. The question that matters is this: Which moral convictions of which somebodies are going to shape our country’s political and cultural future—including the way we do our science?

The answer is pretty obvious: if you and I as citizens don’t do the shaping, then somebody else will. That is the nature of a democracy. A healthy democracy depends on people of conviction working hard to advance their ideas in the public square—respectfully and peacefully, but vigorously and without apologies. Politics always involves the exercise of power in the pursuit of somebody’s idea of the common good. And politics always and naturally involves the imposition of somebody’s values on the public at large. So if a citizen fails to bring his moral beliefs into our country’s political conversation, if he fails to work for them publicly and energetically, then the only thing he ensures is the defeat of his own beliefs.

We also need to remember that most people—not everyone, of course, but most of us—root our moral convictions in our religious beliefs. What we believe about God shapes what we think about the nature of men and women, the structure of good human relationships, and our idea of a just society. This has very practical consequences, including the political kind. We act on what we really believe. If we don’t act on our beliefs, then we don’t really believe them.

As a result, the idea that the “separation of Church and state” should force us to exclude our religious beliefs from guiding our political behavior makes no sense at all, even superficially. If we don’t remain true in our public actions to what we claim to believe in our personal lives, then we only deceive ourselves. Because God certainly isn’t fooled. He sees who and what we are. God sees that our duplicity is really a kind of cowardice, and our lack of courage does a lot more damage than simply wounding our own integrity. It also saps the courage of other good people who really do try to publicly witness what they believe. And that compounds a sin of dishonesty with a sin of injustice.

Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Denver and the author of Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life. This essay is adapted from the keynote address Archbishop Chaput delivered as part of the University of Notre Dame student-organized Right to Life lecture series.

Copyright 2011 the Witherspoon Institute.  All rights reserved. Re-printed on this blog with permission.