Charles J. Chaput, the Archbishop of Denver, spoke in Sydney on Wednesday night at a Theology on Tap session as part of a World Youth Day Youth Festival Event. In a speech which will be broadcast on the Australian television station Channel Nine, he exhorted young Catholics to avoid living a double life of “part-time Christianity,” and to know and love Christ “like our lives depend on it.”
Addressing a crowd of young people in P.J. Gallagher’s Irish Pub in Sydney, Archbishop Chaput said that Christian believers are pressured to live a “double life,” that is, “to be one person when we’re in church or at prayer and somebody different when we’re with our friends or family, or at work, or when we talk about politics.” He said Catholics should not internalize the “old adage” to avoid talking about religion and politics.
“These are precisely the things we should be talking about,” the archbishop argued. “Nothing else really matters. What could be more important than religious faith, which deals with the ultimate meaning of life, and politics, which deals with how we should organize our lives together for the common good?”
The archbishop noted how Australian bishops’ opposition to a bill that would allow the cloning of embryonic stem cells, opposition which he called courageous, was greeted with talk about charging Catholic leaders with intimidating Ministers of Parliament and tampering with the legislative process.
“All because they had the audacity to voice a political opinion that was based on their religious convictions,” Archbishop Chaput said. He further noted that a Belgian bishop had even faced criminal charges, which were dismissed, for explaining Church teaching that homosexual activity is a sin.
The archbishop continued, “these cases have a very calculated ‘chilling effect.’ They reinforce, with the threat of jail and fines, the pressures that we Catholics already feel to keep our mouths shut. To obey the ‘double life’ rule. To define our faith as simply private prayer and personal piety.”
But Christians cannot “live a half-way Christianity.” “Every double life will inevitably self-destruct,” Archbishop Chaput insisted.
The way to lead a Christian life in a secular age, he said, rests on knowing what to think about Jesus despite popular misconceptions about him.
The archbishop quoted a statement from the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, who said an influential view of Jesus holds that he was someone “who demands nothing, never scolds, who accepts everyone and everything, who no longer does anything but affirm us.”
“We’ve remade him in the image and likeness of secular compassion,” Archbishop Chaput elaborated. “Today he’s not the Lord, the Son of God, but more like an enlightened humanist nice guy.”
“The problem is this: If Jesus isn’t Lord, if he isn’t the Son of God, then he can’t do anything for us. Then the Gospel is just one more or less interesting philosophy of life.”
The archbishop critiqued another misconception of Jesus, saying:
“Jesus didn’t come down from heaven to tell us to go to church on Sunday. He didn’t die on the cross and rise from the dead so that we would pray more at home and be a little nicer to our next-door neighbors. The fact that you smile when I say these things means we know intuitively how absurd it is to imagine a privatized, part-time Christianity.”
Rather than believe such false conceptions, he said, “we need to take Christ at his word. We need to love him like our lives depend on it. Right now. And without excuses.”
“Jesus wants all of us. And not just on Sundays. He wants us to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and all our mind. He wants us to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is, with a love that’s total.”
Being a follower of Christ is not just one part of life. “Being a Christian is who you are. Period. And being a Christian means your life has a mission. It means striving every day to be a better follower, to become more like Jesus in your thoughts and actions.”
Archbishop Chaput invoked as model Christians Blessed Charles de Foucauld and Blessed Franz Jagerstatter. The former, he said, asked himself what God wanted of him and how he should follow Christ. The latter man, an Austrian, refused to cooperate with the Nazi regime and was executed as what the archbishop described as “a martyr for the truth that a Catholic can never lead a double-life.”
He exhorted the audience to prayer, “talking to God, humbly and honestly,” to daily reading of the Gospels, and to study the teachings of the Church.
“Love the Church; love her as your mother and teacher,” he counseled. “Help to build her up, to purify her life and work. We all get angry when we see human weakness and sin in the Church. But we have to remember always that the Church is much, much more than the sum of her human parts.”
He asked the audience to explain and to defend Christian teaching at every level of society in the face of “inhuman trends.”
“The leaders of today’s secularized societies like to fancy themselves as true humanists and humanitarians,” Archbishop Chaput said. “But these same societies justify killing millions of babies in the womb and dismembering embryos in the laboratory. We dispatch the handicapped and the elderly and call it ‘death with dignity.’ Our very language has become distorted.”
Without the truth of Christ, he said, Christians living a double life will self-destruct or, worse, merely waste away.
“Only the truth can set people free. That truth is Jesus Christ. So if we truly love our neighbors we will want them to know the truth. The whole truth. Not just the parts of it that make them feel good, the parts that don’t challenge them to change.”