On Wednesday, the Emmanuel Community's annual symposium in Rome was addressed by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, who spoke on the task of evangelizing the modern culture and what he called religious leaders' embarrassment to discuss the existence of Satan.
The American archbishop spoke for half an hour at the Pontifical Lateran University to an audience ranging from college students to people in their 70s. His speech, entitled, “The Prince of this World and the Evangelization of Culture,” was part of a symposium that lasted from Jan. 25-27 and was dedicated to looking at "Priests and Laity in the Mission."
Archbishop Chaput began his talk by reflecting on the human desire for beauty and transcendence.
“We are creatures made for heaven; but we are born of this earth. We love the beauty of this world; but we sense there is something more behind that beauty. Our longing for that 'something' pulls us outside of ourselves,” he said.
Examining what God enabled man to do when He created him, the Denver archbishop observed that “God licenses us to know, love and ennoble the world through the work of human genius. Our creativity as creatures is an echo of God's own creative glory.”
But “we live in a time when, despite all of our achievements, the brutality and indifference of the world have never been greater,” the archbishop underscored as he surveyed the modern culture that Christians are called to evangelize.
In his estimation, “God has never been more absent from the Western mind than he is today. We live in an age when almost every scientific advance seems to be matched by some increase of cruelty in our entertainment, cynicism in our politics, ignorance of the past, consumer greed, little genocides posing as 'rights' like the cult of abortion, and a basic confusion about what – if anything at all – it means to be 'human.'”
Archbishop Chaput then warned of the dangers of creative genius, saying that our human accomplishments can lure us into a “will to power” within politics and science and an “impulse to pride” within art and high culture.
“Genius breeds vanity. And vanity breeds suffering and conflict.”
The roots of this vanity, explained the archbishop, can be traced back to the very first “non serviam” that Satan uttered.
Reflecting on the hesitancy of religious leaders to speak about Satan, Archbishop Chaput said, “It is very odd that in the wake of the bloodiest century in history – a century when tens of millions of human beings were shot, starved, gassed and incinerated with superhuman ingenuity – even many religious leaders are embarrassed to talk about the devil.”
“In fact,” he observed, “it is more than odd. It is revealing.”
“Mass murder and exquisitely organized cruelty are not just really big 'mental health' problems,” he continued. “They are sins that cry out to heaven for justice, and they carry the fingerprints of an Intelligence who is personal, gifted, calculating and powerful.”
The archbishop recalled that in the late 1920s, as “the great totalitarian murder-regimes began to rise up in Europe,” Raissa Maritain wrote an essay, “The Prince of This World,” in which she described Satan's works: “
“Lucifer has cast the strong though invisible net of illusion upon us. He makes one love the passing moment above eternity, uncertainty above truth. He persuades us that we can only love creatures by making Gods of them. He lulls us to sleep (and he interprets our dreams); he makes us work. Then does the spirit of man brood over stagnant waters. Not the least of the devil's victories is to have convinced artists and poets that he is their necessary, inevitable collaborator and the guardian of their greatness. Grant him that, and soon you will grant him that Christianity is unpracticable. Thus does he reign in this world.”
The archbishop added: “If we do not believe in the devil, sooner or later we will not believe in God.” The devil is “the first author of pride and rebellion, and the great seducer of man. Without him the Incarnation and Redemption do not make sense, and the cross is meaningless.”
“Satan is real. There is no way around this simple truth.”
Archbishop Chaput then praised Pope Benedict XVI for his commitment throughout the years to speak often and forcefully against the “culture of relativism” and called on the Catholic faithful to fulfill what he believes is their primary vocation.
“We have an obligation as Catholics to study and understand the world around us,” the archbishop said. “We have a duty not just to penetrate and engage it, but to convert it to Jesus Christ. That work belongs to all of us equally: clergy, laity and religious.”
“We are missionaries,” he continued. “That is our primary vocation; it is hardwired into our identity as Christians. God calls each of us to different forms of service in his Church. But we are all equal in baptism. And we all share the same mission of bringing the Gospel to the world, and bringing the world to the Gospel.”
Archbishop Chaput concluded his address by encouraging the faithful to have no fear in approaching what some may view as a daunting task.“We should not be afraid to believe and to love; it took even a great saint like Augustine half a lifetime to be able to admit, that 'late have I loved thee, Beauty so old and so new; late have I loved thee.'”
“God calls us to leave here today and make disciples of all nations,” exhorted the prelate. “But he calls us first to love him. If we do that, and do it zealously, with all our hearts – the rest will follow.”