Well, it’s because you are, if you are really trying to live the gift of faith Jesus gave us in our Catholic Church.
That’s what brilliant Catholic leader, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, has laid out for us in his new book “Strangers in a Strange Land, Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World”.
I received the book last Friday and finished it on Monday. The book is that good and Chaput is wonderful at laying out the situation we’re confronted with, the history of Catholicism in America and providing a set of principles for us to survive this cultural decline.
By the way, “mature Catholics”, which is what Chaput calls some of us, will survive. Jesus guarantees that his followers will be with him for Eternity. I start there because Chaput has one chapter on hope, called Hope and its Daughters. He says: “First, hope is a virtue. That means that it’s not just a feeling, nor is it optimism.” In other words, we have hope which is based on God’s promises to us and our Church. But, we need open eyes and those eyes will tell us that we are in a world of hurt.
In the same chapter, he reviews Biblical passages about hope, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and what various spiritual writers have revealed about hope. Near the end, he concludes with what we’re supposed to do as evangelizers “That, in the end, is our calling as Christians, to make Christ known in the world. To hand on the hope that fills our hearts. To work for God’s justice in our nations, honoring all that remains beautiful and good in it.”
Chaput begins early on by pointing out the watershed Supreme Court decision in June of 2015, Obergefell vs. Hodges, requiring states to license same-sex unions. He says “…in redefining marriage and the family, the state implicitly claims authority to define what is and isn’t properly human.” He goes on “Biology is raw material. Gender is fluid. Both are free of any larger truth that might limit our actions.”
So, yes, this decision challenges us at the most basic level. If we share a belief on what humanity really is, consistent with what people have known since the beginning of time, we are now bigots in our own communities. Yet, Chaput reiterates our job as patriotic citizens to live in this “City of Man”, while we realize we will eventually be members of the “City of God”, where he draws on the beautiful writing of St. Augustine.
In fact, that’s where he ends up in the last chapter, City of Man. What he says we must do is “… live as a conscious minority in a nation whose beliefs, culture and politics are no long our own, yet still nourish our identity, witness our faith with zeal, and add to the common good as the prophet Jeremiah did. This demands humility. It also requires courage and a refusal to be digested and bleached out by the world around us. “
The early chapters lay it all out. We have to realize that we’ve always been outcasts here, because truly our Country was born as a Protestant Christian nation. We’ve been discriminated against and hated for most of our time here, but the Catholic Church has grown dramatically in our Nation. We do have a lot of influence and leadership. Observe the number of Catholics important to the Trump Administration.
However, the past several decades have been devastating to our Catholic/Christian culture and we have every reason to believe it will continue to get much worse. God is certainly sad about the struggles we’re seeing in the United States, but there are signs of growth and renewal many places. And, the Catholic Church is growing exponentially in places like Africa and China.
I was especially interested in the chapter, Nothing But The Truth. He starts with this quote from Romano Guardini, “True illness of the mind and spirit sets in when a man no longer cherishes the truth but despises it, when he uses it as a means to his own ends, when in the depths of his soul, truth ceases to be to him the primary, the most important concern. “
Our form of government and the era of progressivism tend to take us from the truth. There is an assumption that we always need to “progress” to something better, because there is something wrong with the past. Old truths can’t be real truth. We need to reach consensus, compromise and bi-partisanship with the result that people attack because we’re dug in on the truth that has been the truth since the beginning of time.
I know I’ve had people close to me say that “your truth and my truth aren’t necessarily the same.” “That’s just your opinion about what the truth is.” The new consensus or politically correct approach is now truth, at least until they attack that truth and make it a new truth. So, for those of us who do know and seek real, unalterable truth, we can feel very disconnected from our nation and those we live with.
Another interesting chapter is Rules for Radicals where he contrasts the Rules of Saul Alinsky published in 1971 against the other radical rules that Jesus delivered in the Sermon on the Mount, The Beatitudes.
Alinsky’s approach is all about power and how to attack those stuck in “truth”, with lying, manipulation, and demonizing those who oppose your agenda.
Opposed is the Beatitudes based on love and humility, which acknowledge we will be persecuted for following Jesus. Understanding that there are wonderful rewards for living by the Beatitudes gives a great perspective on what our battle plan should be. Chaput reviews each of the Beatitudes, showing how we can use them in our daily lives and the implications of living a love-filled life.
As I write this, the leader of the Democratic party has pronounced that anyone who believes that it is wrong to kill babies in the womb is not welcome in his party. Think of how this tide of liberalism has swept our Country, essentially in just a generation. John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, would probably be the most conservative Senator in Congress today. But, he would no longer be welcome in the Democratic party, nor Martin Luther King. And, you can be sure that Catholic politicians like Nancy Pelosi, Tim Kaine and Joe Biden will spin the truth every which way to tell us why the Democratic party is working for the little people. But, not little people in the womb.
If you think you’re a stranger and you’re uncomfortable, I’d recommend Archbishop Chaput’s book. It gives you a context for why we’re in the mess and confirms your own worst fears about whether it is really this bad. The book also affirms that there is a small Catholic community you should be drawing on for support.
Chaput thinks that our job is to be faithful and not hide. Withdrawal from society may be right for a select few, but most of us just need to live in this secular world and do our best. He cautions that there may be fewer of us in the short run in America. But those few are really catching fire. His opinion is that we really represent the soul of the nation (and the World), holding it up and saving it by the way we live.
I like one section in the last chapter, where Chaput talks about the relationship between faith and works. He affirms we’re called to both. Here’s what he says:
“The questions that determine everything else in our life as Christians are these: Do I really know God? Do I really love him? Do I seek him out? Do I study his word? Do I listen for his voice? Do I give my heart to him? Do I really believe he’s there? … We have a duty as Catholics to study and understand the world around us. We have a duty not just to penetrate and engage it, but to convert it to Jesus Christ.”
For those of us interested in the New Evangelization, I don’t think anything could be clearer. Do it.
©John S. Cohoat, 2017