Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s new book examines the Church in the modern culture. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Comment: Archbishop Chaput has sound advice in troubled times

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  • March 23, 2017

At the end of the last millennium, gay marriage was not yet a reality and the idea of legalized euthanasia was considered ridiculous. Abortion was of course an issue, but there seemed some hope that the lawless practice would at least become regulated.

Today the reality is that all those social ills that Catholics and our orthodox Christian kin so feared are now firmly in place. That, however, does not mean we have no hope. Our true master is the Lord Jesus Christ. He always trumps a politician.

We are still free to live the way we want to and resist the temptations of a secular society that is turning more and more towards evil. To do that will mean arming ourselves with the best inspiration — the Eucharist. It also means obtaining the best information and putting those ideas into play. Finding guides to take us through these troubled times — for our sake and the sake of passing on wisdom to those we love — is essential.

For me, my go-to guide for dealing with the dominant culture has always been the 2009 book Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life by American Archbishop Charles Chaput. Now His Eminence has written Strangers in A Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World.

Chaput’s new book brings Render Unto Caesar into the current age of increased anti-religious hostility. It is a hard look at a world in which Christian views are treated as a form of treason.

“If the world taking shape around us today seems to make us strangers in a strange land — strangers in our own land — that’s because it does,” the archbishop of Philadelphia writes.

“If, while preaching freedom, the world seems filled with cynicism, ugliness, blasphemies big and small, and sadness, that’s because (too often) it is.”

What is important about this book is it recognizes that many of us have difficulty living out our vocation together as Catholics, which hinders our ability to fight back. Those elements that keep us from being true family members of our Holy Church are in fact the same issues that plague the broader secular society and have created such deep-seated, anti-religious bigotry and a pro-death culture.

Chaput points to three problems:

Individualism: “The idea we can find God adequately on our own.” This creates Catholics who develop an unhealthy autonomy in which Church tradition is seen “as baggage” or having “other people telling them what to do.”

Institutionalism: We are so awed by the size and structure of the Church “it’s easy to abdicate our personal sense of mission to the official religious machinery.”

This second point I have seen lived out during the debate on euthanasia.

A poll taken before the vote in Parliament found 70 per cent of Catholics supported euthanasia whereas 70 per cent of Evangelicals opposed it. These numbers were disturbing but I wanted to find out why Evangelicals — without bishops, a pope, formal hierarchy and encyclicals and other official writings — understood the dangers of euthanasia better than we did. I called a friend who used to work for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and this is what he said: You Catholics wait for someone to tell you what to do … your priests and bishops. And when they don’t, you keep waiting. Evangelicals meet all the time to discuss the Bible and the issues of the day on their own.

The third problem is clericalism: It ties neatly into the situation described above. “Clericalism is a peculiar kind of codependency. It distorts the roles of both priests and people. On the surface, clericalism is an excessive stress on the role of ordained leadership in the Church and a demeaning of the lay vocation.”

I know I have been guilty of criticizing the hierarchy for not moving fast enough on issues. But the reality is I cannot know what it takes to run a parish or a diocese. I do know that I am part of the body of Christ and that means I have a responsibility to at times act instead of wait.

In the end, Chaput writes, we must turn to the ultimate written guide we have: The Beatitudes.

“His rules are radical because they turn our human ideas of power upside down. The Beatitudes are meant for all Christians in the routines of their daily lives. … And their purpose is to help us live in a way that speaks the truth in love.”

In a world in which morality has turned upside down it is sage advice to turn to the One who turned the world on its head.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and a regular contributor to The Catholic Register.)

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