Archbishop Charles J. Chaput told the Los Angeles Catholic Prayer Breakfast Sept. 18 that Catholics must take responsibility for the evangelization of the country, and pursue this goal through humility and spiritual discipline.
“The task of preaching, teaching, growing and living the Catholic faith in our time, in this country, belongs to you and me. No one else can do it,” he told the crowd gathered outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
“The future depends on God, but he builds it with the living stones we give him by the example of our lives.”
During his remarks, he said Christians must rediscover God’s joy, “radiate” God’s word, and make their Christian witness “frank and contagious.”
He noted Christianity’s historical rise from a “fringe” religious group to become the official religion of the Roman Empire. However, he warned that Christianity can decline into corruption and has even become extinct in some regions, like some areas conquered by Islamic expansion.
“We need to discipline ourselves to be ready for God’s grace,” he said.
“If our hearts are cold, if our minds are closed, if our spirits are fat and acquisitive, curled up on a pile of our possessions, then the Church in this country will die. It’s happened before in other times and places, and it can happen here.”
Archbishop Chaput cited several negative trends in his own archdiocese: low Sunday Mass attendance and rare use of the confessional; a decline in church marriages, infant baptisms and priestly vocations; a clergy abuse crisis; and years of deficit spending.
Nationwide, he added, about ten percent of Americans say they are ex-Catholics.
“That’s our reality as disciples,” the archbishop said. “That’s the debris of failure we need to deal with if we want to repair God’s house.”
God is faithful, he continued, but God makes no guarantees that church infrastructure will endure.
“Jesus said the gates of hell would never prevail against his Church, and his word is good. But he didn’t promise anything about our local real estate and institutions,” the archbishop said.
Israel’s revivals began with grief over sins, praise for God’s faithfulness, and hopeful repentance, he added. However, there are no “shortcuts” and this path must include “humility and confession.”
He said Christians’ task of evangelization is not “impossible” but only “uncomfortable and inconvenient.”
Drawing on Pope Benedict XVI’s 2011 apostolic letter “Porta Fidei,” Archbishop Chaput said that modern life is often “isolating and even frightening.” A “profound crisis of faith” has resulted in a collapse of cultural unity, which means it is “very easy for people to develop habits that undermine virtue, character and moral judgment.”
“The Pope’s answer to this crisis doesn’t scold the culture,” Archbishop Chaput said. “Instead he turns to us, to the Church.”
“He’s asking us to tear down the cathedral we build to ourselves, the whole interior architecture of our vanities, our resentments and our endless appetites, and to channel all the restless fears and longings of modern life into a hunger for the Holy Spirit.”
Archbishop Chaput recounted the Pope’s suggestions for the upcoming Year of Faith, launching worldwide next month. Parishes and other church groups should study the creed and the Catechism of the Catholic Church because right doctrine unifies Catholics and “reorients our lives away from the idolatries of individualism and greed, and points us toward Jesus Christ.”
Christians should intensify their “witness of charity” because charitable acts help their neighbor and teach themselves the true meaning of their faith. They should also study Church history to find how holiness and sin are “so often woven together.”
Archbishop Chaput said this last point is relevant to responding to the clergy sex abuse scandal, which included “bitter suffering” for the innocent amid “failures in leadership” among U.S. bishops.
He warned against worldly attitudes that have established themselves in the Church and make the Church “worse than the world” through “greater mediocrity and even greater ugliness.”
God asks all Christians to live a life of “honesty, holiness, heroism and sacrifice,” the archbishop concluded.