Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap.

Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap. is the Archbishop of Philadelphia.

Articles by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap.

On Lenten films, and faith where it's least expected

Feb 19, 2016 / 00:00 am

Exactly 12 years ago this month (February 25) Mel Gibson released The Passion of the Christ.  Gibson set a new standard in religiously themed films by drawing together superior acting (Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci and talented unknowns), directing (Gibson himself) and other excellent production values, and combining them with a compelling story (Christ’s Passion) and ample financial resources.  Gibson’s film is one of the great biblical screen adaptations.  It’s as powerful now as when it was released.  It’s deeply moving, but it’s also free of the sentimentality that can often ruin movies that deal with saints or faith or Scripture.  Few biblically themed films come close to it in quality.  And some, like Ridley Scott’s bloated Exodus, have managed to be lavish, offensive to believers and ridiculous all at the same time. When I was young, before I joined the Capuchins, I dreamed about working on movies.  Life took a different turn, but I’ve had a keen interest in films ever since.  And so it’s a pleasure this Lent to suggest a few current or impending faith-friendly films that do have the quality to deserve our attention.  They can’t match the skill and resources of Gibson’s epic.  But they do have the kind of story appeal to make us think deeply about the meaning of our humanity and God’s love. The Man Who Saved the World actually isn’t “religious” at all.  Based on real events, the film (on the surface) is a documentary about a recent United Nations award for a man named Stanislav Petrov.  A former colonel in the Soviet military, Petrov is a largely unknown hero.  As a nuclear command officer in 1983, working purely on his instincts and under intense pressure, he refused to order a missile counterstrike on the United States when an error in Russian radar falsely reported an American ICBM attack.  The decision prevented a catastrophe -- but ironically, it ruined his career and worsened a bitter split with his family.  The film appears to be about Petrov’s courage and its cost on the brink of nuclear war.  But beneath that is something even more moving: a story of personal forgiveness and reconciliation. Full of Grace, now available in stores and through digital download, is a beautiful tale of Mary at the end of her earthly life.  And The Young Messiah, due out in March, is the film adaptation of Anne Rice’s best-selling novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.  Both films are well done and well worth seeing.  They approach the characters of Mary and the young Jesus before his public ministry in fresh and absorbing ways. Finally, and perhaps the best among these four films, is Risen, now in theaters.  Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love, Enemy at the Gates) plays the role of a Roman centurion tasked with finding the “stolen” body of Jesus after the crucifixion.  He gets much more than he bargained for.  Peter Firth (The Hunt for Red October, Amistad, Spooks), as Pontius Pilate, heads an excellent supporting cast, and the story is unusual, believable and gripping.  Risen is an outstanding piece of work. Piety isn’t the first word most of us associate with the film profession.  But that brings me to one last film anecdote worth sharing this Lent. Readers my age may remember the 1967 Peter Brooks film Marat/Sade, based on the stage play of the same name. (The play’s full title is The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton, Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.)  With a cast of then-young Shakespearean actors like Patrick Magee, Ian Richardson, Clifford Rose and Glenda Jackson, Marat/Sade is a work of dark genius set in the wake of the French Revolution -- riveting, disturbing and definitely not for the family or persons easily offended.  One of the strongest and most unsettling performances is delivered by a character known simply as The Herald, who serves as a kind of narrator.  The actor who played that role, and went on to a very successful career, was the late Michael Williams. What has that to do with Lent or piety or faith?  Just this:  Williams was a lifelong and committed Catholic.  As the BBC reported at his death in 2001, his marriage to (now Dame) Judi Dench spanned 30 years and “was regarded as one of the most enduring and endearing of show business couples.”  He chaired the British Catholic Stage Guild until illness forced him to step down, and he served as president of Britain’s Roman Catholic Actors’ Guild.  In the days just prior to Williams’ death from lung cancer, St. John Paul II knighted him in the Pontifical Order of St. Gregory. I suppose the lesson here is that grace comes in all shapes and sizes; and saints – or at least people trying to become saints -- show up in the least likely places and costumes, and even films.  What we see on the surface of other people is only a fraction of who they really are.  It’s worth remembering in a Year of Mercy.

The 'Joy of the Gospel' and the Gospel of Life

Sep 2, 2015 / 00:00 am

What do we hope Pope Francis will take away from his September visit to Philadelphia? I hope he realizes that American Catholics in general, and Philadelphia Catholics in a very special way, love and support him wholeheartedly. I hope he sees that there’s tremendous good in our country, and a lot of it began here in Philadelphia, where our nation was born. I hope he sees how deeply shaped we are – as a city and as a people – by the immigrant experience. I hope he sees that the Church here is alive and eager for a new spirit of life. I also hope he sees the gravity of the challenges we face in advancing a Christian approach to family life, marriage, human sexuality and religious freedom. And I hope he leaves with a sense of how the American Church really conducts her mission. What do I mean by that last sentence? Critics sometimes claim that America’s bishops talk too much about issues like abortion and religious freedom while they overlook the poor. And of course we do talk about those issues, and we’ll continue to do so – vigorously, and for as long as it takes – because the right to life and religious liberty are foundational to human dignity. Without the right to life, all other human rights are compromised. But consider this: In Philadelphia we spend less than $200,000 a year on the archdiocesan office that handles sanctity of life, family and laity issues. It has one full time employee. Most of our specifically “prolife” work is done by volunteers, and at the parish level. In comparison, we spend more than 4.2 million privately donated archdiocesan dollars each year — every year — on social services for the poor, the homeless, the disabled, troubled youths, battered women, immigration counseling, food pantries and nutritional programs. And we manage another $100 million in public funding for the same or similar efforts. We have 1,600 full time employees spread across these Catholic social ministries doing the works of mercy — and fewer than 200 of them are involved in parenting, family and pregnancy support services. What’s the lesson? If there’s anything “lopsided” about the real witness of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia, it’s weighted heavily in favor of the poor. It always has been. And that’s the reality in nearly every diocese in the United States. But it’s not a fact that fits comfortably into a storyline of “compassionate Pope Francis vs. conservative American bishops.” When Francis was an archbishop in Buenos Aires, Argentine political leaders reviled him publicly as “the leader of the opposition.” When he defended Church teaching on issues like sexuality and marriage, they accused him of conducting “an inquisition.” He wrote about his frustration with that ugly government and media narrative in his 2010 book, On Heaven and Earth. It’s worth taking to heart. So I hope that as he flies home on September 27, the Holy Father will understand that American Catholics share every ounce of his passion for Christian service and human dignity – beginning with the unborn child, but not ending there; including the poor and the immigrant, but reaching from conception to natural death and confirming that the “joy of the Gospel” comes from a Gospel of Life.”   Editor's note: This column is adapted from Archbishop Chaput’s Aug. 28 comments to the national Religion Newswriters Association. He took part in a panel, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, on the impending papal visit to the United States. It has been The  with permission.

There is no equivalence

Aug 11, 2015 / 00:00 am

Here’s a simple exercise in basic reasoning.  On a spectrum of bad things to do, theft is bad, assault is worse and murder is worst.  There’s a similar texture of ill will connecting all three crimes, but only a very confused conscience would equate thieving and homicide.  Both are serious matters.  But there is no equivalence.  The deliberate killing of innocent life is a uniquely wicked act.  No amount of contextualizing or deflecting our attention to other issues can obscure that. This is precisely why Cardinal John O’Connor, Bishop James McHugh and others pressed so hard for the passage of the U.S. bishops’ 1998 pastoral letter, Living the Gospel of Life.  As Cardinal Joseph Bernardin once wisely noted, Catholic social teaching is a seamless garment of respect for human life, from conception to natural death.  It makes no sense to champion the cause of unborn children if we ignore their basic needs once they’re born.  Thus it’s no surprise that – year in and year out – nearly all Catholic dioceses in the United States, including Philadelphia, devote far more time, personnel and material resources to providing social services to the poor and education to young people than to opposing abortion.   But of course, children need to survive the womb before they can have needs like food, shelter, immigration counseling and good health care.  Humanity’s priority right – the one that undergirds all other rights – is the right to life.  As the American bishops wrote in 1998: “Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice.  Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment.  Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care . . . But being 'right' in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life.   Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the 'rightness' of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community.  If we understand the human person as the ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’ -- the living house of God -- then these latter issues fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house.  All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house's foundation.   These directly and immediately violate the human person's most fundamental right -- the right to life.  Neglect of these issues is the equivalent of building our house on sand.  Such attacks cannot help but lull the social conscience in ways ultimately destructive of other human rights” (22).  A case is sometimes made that abortion is mainly a cultural and moral issue, and politics is a poor solution to the problem.  The curious thing is that some of the same voices that argue against political action on the abortion issue seem quite comfortable urging vigorous political engagement on issues like health care, homelessness and the environment.  In practice, politics is the application of moral conviction to public discourse and the process of lawmaking.  Law not only constrains and defends; it also teaches and forms.  Law not only reflects culture; it shapes and reshapes it.  That’s why Christians can’t avoid political engagement.  Politics is never the main content of Christian faith.  It can never provide perfect solutions.  But no Christian can avoid the duty to work for more justice and charity in our life as a nation, a task that inescapably involves politics.  Thus the recent Senate vote to defund Planned Parenthood was not only right and timely, but necessary.  And the failure of that measure involves a public failure of character by every Catholic senator who voted against it. Memory is important:  Two years ago Kermit Gosnell was stripped of his medical license and convicted of murdering three infants born alive from abortion procedures.  He operated a Philadelphia abortion center that more closely resembled a butcher shop than a medical clinic.  His clinic environment was uglier than the pleasant restaurants and offices captured on recent Center for Medical Progress (CMP) undercover videos.  Those videos show a face of Planned Parenthood – senior staffers chatting blithely about the dismemberment and sale of fetal body parts – that can only be called repugnant.  But it’s not surprising: If aborted children are simply lumps of potentially useful (and profitable) tissue, what’s the problem. Again, memory is important:  Thirty years ago “pro-choice” groups tried a strategy of using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act to shut down certain forms of prolife witness.  The strategy ultimately failed but – maybe it’s God’s sense of irony -- the word “racket” very quickly comes to mind in watching Planned Parenthood staff on the CMP videos. I’ll close with a word of thanks to Ruben Navarette, Jr.  Navarette is a veteran “pro-choice” voice, but his August 10 column at the Daily Beast is worth reading and sharing for its honest revulsion at the whole, ugly, system-wide barbarism of Planned Parenthood’s fetal trafficking.  And his column’s best lines come in quoting his prolife wife: “Those are babies that are being killed.  Millions of them. And you need to use your voice to protect them.  That’s what a man does.  He protects children – his own children, and other children.  That’s what it means to be a man.”  Amen.

What 'renewing the Church' really requires

Jun 12, 2015 / 00:00 am

Editor's note: The Archbishop’s following remarks, published by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, are a condensed and adapted version of comments he shared on May 27 with his brother Philadelphia priests at their annual convocation. The following post originally appeared at and is used with permission. Joseph Greaton, an English convert and Jesuit, was Philadelphia’s first resident priest.  In 1732, eleven persons attended his first Mass at old St. Joseph’s.  In September 2015, 300 years later, another Jesuit will celebrate Mass for us in Philadelphia at the World Meeting of Families. The congregation will be more than one million people. Pope Francis stirs the hearts of a great many Catholics, and his visit will create an opportunity to renew the local Church.  Over the past few years the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has struggled with serious financial and legal problems.  Thanks to a great deal of work by our people and priests, the material conditions of the local Church have improved.  But material health means nothing for a Church, unless it sets the stage for something more important:  renewing the heart and spirit. That is the issue before us in the months and years ahead:  How can we help that deeper renewal to happen? I’ll answer that in a roundabout way. Over the past year, the national Barna Research Group did a demographic and attitude study of Catholics across the five Pennsylvania counties of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  They interviewed — in depth — more than 400 parishioners.  Barna also talked with 30 key archdiocesan stakeholders; in other words, major contributors, senior pastors and key pastoral staff. The threshold for inclusion in the survey was simple.  To qualify, a person needed to attend Mass at least once a month and confession once or twice a year.  For self-described Catholics who were contacted but did not meet that threshold, Barna tried to get as much information as possible about why they left or were alienated from the Church. Barna is still working on the data.  But here is what Catholics in the Greater Philadelphia region think of their pastors.  Nearly 80 percent feel their pastor is hard-working; 74 percent see their pastor as a genuine spiritual leader; 73 percent see him as caring and generous; 69 percent see the pastor as widely available to his people; and 63 percent rate him as “excellent” in his priestly service.  Along with Catholic education and the social services of the Church, our priests are admired and genuinely loved by our laypeople. In the wake of a very painful decade for Philadelphia’s Catholic community — a decade of clergy abuse cases, negative media and fiscal troubles — these positive views say a great many good things about the vast majority of priests who minister in our parishes. On the other hand, a much lower number of parishioners see their parish as a welcoming place; or as spiritually healthy; or as offering strong homilies; or as having good financial management and transparency.  Many parishioners feel their loyalty is not reciprocated.  There is no contradiction in these data.  Philadelphia laypeople want to love their priests.  But they are much more candid when they talk about parish policies and structures.  And they are far more critical of the archdiocese than their local parish — which should surprise no one. Practicing Philadelphia Catholics tend to be better educated than the general public.  More than two-thirds have at least some college education.  Nearly three-quarters attended Catholic schools at some point, and a very high percentage rate their experience of Catholic education as good.  Most attend Mass weekly.  Most give generously to charity.  And most continue to express an overall trust in the Church. Having said that, we need to consider two more facts.  Philadelphia Catholics are heavily “white” in a national culture that’s rapidly growing more diverse.  They are also heavily concentrated in the Baby-Boomer and Elderly age cohorts — in other words, they’re aging out.  Very few of our active Catholic population are Millennials. And one other reality is worth noting.  Even among Catholics who practice their faith and generally trust in the Church, nearly 40 percent feel alienated from one or more core Catholic teachings.  This implies a significant number of former or lapsed Catholics who simply don’t show up on the survey. If we combine these data with national U.S. studies done by University of Notre Dame social researcher Christian Smith on religion among teen-agers and young adults, and with the Pew Research Center’s data on the sharp growth of the religiously unaffiliated in the United States, the lesson is clear. The Church of most U.S. priests’ childhood — the parish life we all once fell in love with — is ending.  And it is not coming back, at least not in our lifetimes.  American culture has changed drastically in the years since many of my brother clergy were ordained.  But the thinking of those of us who are pastors, both bishops and priests, often has not. It is an odd moment for U.S. Catholics.  Compared to the past, we still have ample material resources; more people and more infrastructure than St. John Neumann, the fourth bishop of Philadelphia who created the American parish school system, could ever have imagined.  But the moral riptide in today’s daily life – the secularized culture that shapes all of us – is also something that Neumann could never foresee. So, what is to be done?  We can start by understanding that the Church 20 years from now — even here in Philadelphia, which values tradition so highly — will be smaller, less wealthy, less influential and probably less free to do her work than at any time in the last century.  For believers, our job, starting now, is to make sure she is also more zealous, more faithful and better led. This is a moment that requires candor.  Philadelphia has a legacy of Catholic faith and social service unrivaled anywhere in the United States.  That legacy is worth all of our energy and all our best efforts to sustain.  But we need to see the world as it really is.  A lot of Americans love Pope Francis because he embodies a spirit of humility and joy.  And they should, because he does. But at least as many people — and maybe quite a few more — love a “Pope Francis” of their own creation; a Pope who will dispense with all of the most inconvenient Catholic moral demands.  When that does not happen — and it finally cannot happen — a lot of people may not be happy, and “tolerance” for the Church may get very scarce, very quickly. Professor Gerard Bradley of the University of Notre Dame School of Law is a constitutional scholar and a longtime friend of mine.  Recently he shared with me his belief that “the most perilous [developing challenge that U.S. Catholics face] has to do with the establishment of ‘sexual health,’ ‘gender identity’ and ‘sexual self-determination’ as paramount goods even for children and minors — such that their parents and the Church become serious threats to these minors’ alleged well-being.  In other words, Catholic parenting is in jeopardy of being branded, in relatively short order, as a kind of child abuse, a calumny against which our diminishing religious liberty protections will be thin shields.” That may sound excessive, but Prof. Bradley is not alone in his views.  I have heard the same or similar concerns from other Catholic attorneys and law scholars across the United States.  So have other bishops.  The Church in my country is heading into a very ambiguous moment.  And most of our people, and many of my brother priests and deacons, really do not understand what the future may look like. If the U.S. Supreme Court establishes a constitutional right to same-sex “marriage” this summer — and it likely will — the legislative, judicial and administrative implications for American public life are very broad.  Civil marriage is not just about allowing same-sex couples to “marry.”  It also implies the right to force others to give the marital relationship special treatment in many different contexts.  And since terms like “marriage,” “family” and “spouse” appear everywhere in U.S. law, the legal conflicts arising from marriage redefinition will become much more frequent. The Church will be very vulnerable to government interference in those of her ministries which fall outside of her core worship functions, such as her social service agencies and educational institutions. These are sobering facts.  But if we priests are who we claim to be – men ordained to serve our people in the person of Jesus Christ – they really should not distress us.  This is what priests were called by God to do: to lead, to serve and to strengthen God’s people.  If the task were easy, anybody could do it.  But God called us.  And that brings me to a final point for thought. Russell Shaw, one of the finest Catholic laymen I have known in my lifetime, recently turned 80.  For decades, he was an eloquent spokesman for the U.S. bishops and later for the Knights of Columbus, and he remains a wonderful scholar and writer. Over the years Shaw has had two great passions: a love for the Church and her priests; and an intense dislike for clericalism.  By “clericalism” he means not just the wrongful pride and misuse of authority that can creep into priestly life – though there can be plenty of that. He also means the enabling behavior that too many laypersons develop to avoid the obligations of their own baptism.  If “Father,” in the person of the priest, always knows best, or thinks he knows best, then Father is always responsible for everything, and the spirit of a parish swings between adolescent piety and resentment.  And that is never healthy for a priest or his people. A good priest loves his parishioners.  He listens to their counsel, respects their abilities and adjusts his life to the needs of those he serves.  He treats them as equals.  He keeps them fully and honestly informed.  And he also learns to live with their criticism, and to genuinely share his leadership without giving up his authority as a pastor.  It can be done.  Many priests already do it. But in loving his people, a priest also needs to lead them to “own” their lay vocation as full partners with equal dignity in the work of the Church.  And that involves much more than being a lector or usher or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion — as important as those tasks are.  It also means that committed laymen should not automatically need to become permanent deacons; although again, the permanent diaconate is a great gift to the Church. For 50 years the Church has talked about the dignity and urgency of the lay Catholic vocation.  And yet, as we stand on the brink of a cultural and moral eclipse in the United States, obviously very few people in my country really got the message. In speaking to Rome’s pastoral convention in 2009, Benedict XVI had some words that I have tried to brand into my memory.  He said that “[The Church needs] a change of mindset, particularly concerning laypeople.  They must no longer be viewed as ‘collaborators’ of the clergy, but truly recognized as ‘co-responsible’ for the Church’s being and action — thereby fostering the consolidation of a mature and committed laity.” If we priests want to be true shepherds, we need to form active Catholic apostles in our people.  That means shaping real lay leaders.  If we’re not zealous, they won’t be.  If we’re not faithful and courageous in what the Church teaches, they won’t be. The task facing pastors is simple and difficult at the same time: simple, because all it takes is encouragement, patience and attention in cultivating lay leaders; and difficult, for all the same reasons. The Church will endure and thrive in the years ahead because God wills it so.  But a renewal of spirit in the Church of Philadelphia, and elsewhere, depends not on money, or legacy, or buildings, or even a wonderful visit from the Pope — but on the ability of our priests and people to change the way Catholics think about the mandate and the privilege of baptism.  If we achieve that as a Church, the rest will follow.

A gathering that needs our support

Apr 3, 2014 / 00:00 am

This week's column is brief. But the subject matter warrants all our attention.Again this June, our nation's bishops have asked Catholics across the country to observe a "Fortnight for Freedom." The theme this year is "Freedom to Serve." It highlights the many Catholic social and charitable ministries that serve the poor, the homeless and other vulnerable groups in our country, but that now face growing government interference. Details on the Fortnight will be made available throughout the archdiocese in the coming weeks.Americans tend to take their religious liberty for granted. Religious freedom in the Founders' sense was, and remains, far more robust than a mere "freedom to worship." That makes sense because religious believers played a key role in founding and building the United States, and for Christians, faith is always personal but never private. Faith requires public engagement and expression - not just by individuals, but by communities as well.This year's Fortnight for Freedom has special urgency because the U.S. Supreme Court will likely rule on cases involving the HHS mandate. The outcome of those cases will have very significant religious liberty implications.To ready ourselves for this year's Fortnight, I want to focus our attention on a gathering in early May that needs our involvement and support.In 2009, Catholic and other national religious leaders came together to draft the Manhattan Declaration. The Declaration sought to address growing debates over the sanctity of life, the integrity of marriage and the future of religious freedom in the public square, and to provide the latest news and helpful commentary on these issues.Since then, Manhattan Declaration supporters have stayed active on all these vital matters, with discussions, action alerts and educational meetings around the country. This year -- on Friday, May 2 -- the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) will sponsor "The Manhattan Declaration in Philadelphia," an interfaith prayer service and religious liberty forum. Speakers and panelists will include Ryan Anderson, editor of The Public Discourse; Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List; author Sherif Girgis; Robert George of Princeton University; Patrick Brennan, Scarpa Chair at the Villanova University School of Law; Alan Sears of the Alliance Defending Freedom, and others.The May 2 forum will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the F.M. Kirby Auditorium of the National Constitution Center. The Center is located just steps from Philadelphia's Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The event is free of charge but advance registration is required.I know the demands on everyone's time are very heavy. But I'll be taking an active part in this gathering. And if your schedule allows, I ask you to please join me for this vitally important event. Religious freedom is our first freedom and a fundamental right -- but it can only remain so if we work to protect it.For additional information and to register, please visit the webpage for "The Manhattan Declaration in Philadelphia."Posted with permission from Catholic Philly, official publication of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Pope Francis and 'The Interview'

Sep 25, 2013 / 00:00 am

I had the gift of two unusual blessings last week. The first was a moment to greet Pope Francis in Rome after his Wednesday, September 18, general audience. We had met and served as delegates to the 1997 Special Assembly for America. Sixteen years have passed, but this Pope has a remarkable memory to match his generous spirit. He recalled a friendly conversation we’d had in great detail, and the events of those days that helped shape both of us as young bishops.The second blessing was being away from the United States on September 19 when Jesuit magazines around the world released the Pope’s remarks to Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J. Thanks to my schedule, I couldn’t read the full interview until I was on the plane home, four days after it appeared. But the emails I received about it – some of them happy; some of them angry; some of them gloating; some of them from Catholics feeling confused or even betrayed – were instructive.Some people grasped at the interview like a lifeline – or a vindication. One person praised the Holy Father for stressing that the “Church must focus on compassion and mercy, not on enforcing small-minded rules.” She added that “we’re at last free from the chains of hatred that have ruled the Catholic Church for so many years and led to my unease in bringing my own children into that Church.”More common though were emails from catechists, parents and everyday Catholics who felt confused by media headlines suggesting that the Church had somehow changed her teaching on a variety of moral issues.  I heard from a mother of four children – one adopted, another disabled from birth -- who’d spent years counseling pregnant girls and opening prolife clinics. She wanted to know why the Pope seemed to dismiss her sacrifices. A priest said the Pope “has implicitly accused brother priests who are serious about moral issues of being small minded,” and that “[if you’re a priest,] being morally serious is now likely to get you publicly cast as a problem.” Another priest wrote that “the problem is that [the Holy Father] makes all of the wrong people happy, people who will never believe in the Gospel and who will continue to persecute the Church.”We can draw some useful lessons from these reactions. First, we need to be very careful in taking mass media coverage of the Catholic Church at face value. Second, we need to actually read the Holy Father’s interview for ourselves, and pray over it, and then read it again, especially in light of the Year of Faith. A priest here in Philadelphia asked for a show of hands at a Mass last Sunday, and nearly everyone in the church, which was full, had heard about the Pope’s interview. But only five persons had actually read it.  Third and finally, we need to open our hearts – all of us – and let God lead us where he needs us to go through the words of the Holy Father.  Pope Francis does not at all turn away from Catholic teaching on matters such as sexuality and the sanctity of human life. How could he? We should remember that Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day – two women with an intimate, passionate devotion to the poor – also saw abortion as a brutal crime against the poorest and most defenseless of the poor: the unborn child.Among the many vital things the Pope reminds us of in his interview is the new and drastically different condition of the modern world that God seeks to save. It’s one thing to argue about abortion and sexuality when both disputants in the debate share the same basic moral framework and language; the same meaning to words like “justice;” the same set of beliefs about the nature of the human person.  But it’s quite another thing when we no longer have that common vocabulary. The modern world is mission territory. It’s morally fractured. Our politics, as Alasdair MacIntyre once famously wrote, is civil war pursued by other means. The modern heart can only be won back by a radical witness of Christian discipleship – a renewed kind of shared community life obedient to God’s Commandments, but also on fire with the Beatitudes lived more personally and joyfully by all of us.There’s a passage from the Pope’s interview we need to remember in a special way in the weeks and years ahead:“Proclamation of [Jesus Christ] in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things:  This is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn as it did for the disciples at Emmaus.  We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel … The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.”The Holy Father asks none of us to abandon the task of bringing the world to Jesus Christ. Our witness matters. Every unborn child saved, every marriage strengthened, every immigrant helped, every poor person served, matters. God calls on us to help him sanctify every aspect of our shared lives – at home, at work and in the public square.But if, as the Pope describes her, the Church is a “field hospital” for the wounded in a cruel world, then the goal of our witness is to create a space of beauty and mercy; to accompany those who suffer; to understand the nature of their lives; to care for and heal even those who reject us. We need to speak the truth, and work for the truth, with love. And we need to realize that nothing we do – either as individuals or parish communities – will bear fruit unless we give ourselves to the whole Gospel with our whole heart.Reprinted with permission from the Catholic Philly, official newspaper for the diocese of Philadelphia.

Security, immigration reform and human dignity

Aug 15, 2013 / 00:00 am

Americans have a right to secure borders, especially in an era of anti-American violence. We have a right to reasonably regulate our immigration policies. We have a right to exclude criminals from our country and to protect the financial health of our public institutions and services. We have a right to verify foreign visitors and guest workers, and to expect their compliance with the law.But most undocumented immigrants in the United States – the vast majority – never commit a violent act, have no desire to undermine the common good and contribute productively to American prosperity. Thousands of farmers and businessmen rely on their services. The life many of us enjoy depends, in part, on the labor of “illegals.” Taking advantage of their work, and then blaming them for being here, is a uniquely unworthy form of doublethink.For Catholics – who belong to a Church that supports the fundamental right of every person to migrate to seek a better life for his or her family, and who themselves were disdained as “outsiders” for much of American history – anti-immigrant resentment is especially wrong.The United States has a right to press for the kind of legal and economic reforms in Latin America and elsewhere that would help stabilize the flow of workers back and forth across our borders. Hypocrisy in the immigration debate is not a monopoly of the north side of the Rio Grande.But we’re not licensed to mistreat anyone in our midst, whether they have papers or not. People derive their human dignity and their rights from the God who created us all – whether others find their presence convenient or not. We need to remember that in the months ahead.The U.S. Catholic bishops, along with millions of fellow American Catholics, seek reasonable legislation that will offer undocumented persons a path to citizenship and promote family unity. Specifically, the bishops hope for the following elements in any immigration reform bill:First, a path to citizenship for undocumented workers that’s fair, accessible and achievable in a reasonable timeframe. Second, reform of the family-based immigration system to reunite husbands, wives and children in a more rapid manner. Third, a program that would allow low-skilled migrant workers to enter the United States legally as needed labor. Fourth, due process protections for immigrants. And fifth, policies which at least begin to address the root causes of migration, such as economic inequities and persecution.Congress adjourned for summer recess on August 2. It won’t reconvene until September 9. The Senate passed a major immigration reform bill (S. 744) on June 27, by a vote of 68-32. The House of Representatives will likely take up the issue in September or October.  Unfortunately, some House members have committed themselves to blocking almost any serious new reform legislation. That would be more than a political error. It would be a bitter human tragedy.Immigration is an issue where committed Catholics can legitimately disagree. But real reform of our immigration laws is long overdue. We need to act now. And the five key legislative elements sought by America’s bishops make good economic, political and human sense.During these weeks of summer recess, I ask Catholics across our archdiocese to consider and pray about the immigration issue. And I hope many of us will contact our federal representatives to press them to vote for the kind of deep immigration reform we so urgently need.Reprinted with permission from the Catholic Philly, official newspaper for the diocese of Philadelphia.

The evidential power of beauty

Jun 11, 2013 / 00:00 am

"Beauty is the battlefield where God and Satan contend for the hearts of men."– Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov"Late have I loved thee, Beauty so old and so new; late have I loved thee. Lo, you were within, but I was outside, seeking there for you, and upon the shapely things you have made I rushed headlong – I, misshapen. You were with me, but I was not with you. They held me back far from you, those things which would have no being, were they not in you."– Augustine, The ConfessionsA friend once told me the story of how she first met God. She doesn't remember her age; it must have been about 4 or 5. Her family lived in the countryside on the rim of one of our big eastern cities. And one June evening, cloudless, moonless, with just the hint of a humid breeze, her father took her out into the back yard in the dark and told her to look up at the sky. From one horizon to the other, all across the black carpet of the night, were the stars – thousands of them, tens of thousands, in clusters and rivers of light. And in the quiet, her father said, "God made the world beautiful because he loves us."That was more than 50 years ago. My friend grew up and learned all about entropy and supernovae and colliding galaxies and quantum mechanics and the general theory of relativity. But still, when she closes her eyes, she can see that carpet of stars and hear her father's voice. God made the world beautiful because he loves us.Creation is more than an accident of dead matter. It's a romance. It has purpose. It sings of the Living God. It bears his signature.The story of my friend offers several lessons we might consider this week as summer begins and life starts to briefly slow down.First, the most powerful kind of witness doesn't come from a classroom or pulpit. It doesn't need an academic degree or special techniques. Instead, it grows naturally out of the lives of ordinary people – parents and spouses and friends; people confident in the love that God bears for them and eager to share it with others; people who know the world not as a collection of confused facts but as a symphony of truth and meaning.Second, nature is sacramental. It points to things outside itself. God speaks and creation sings in silence. We can't hear either if we're cocooned in a web of manufactured distraction, anxiety and noise. We can't see the heavens if our faces are buried in technologies that turn us inward on ourselves. Yet that's exactly what modern American life seems to promote: a restless and relentless material appetite for "more," that gradually feeds selfishness and separates each of us from everyone else.Third and finally, every experience of real beauty leads us closer to three key virtues: humility, because the grandeur of creation invites awe and lifts us outside ourselves; love, because the human heart was made for glory and joy, and only the Author of life can satisfy its longings; and hope, because no sadness, no despair, can ultimately survive the evidence of divine meaning that beauty provides.If the world we see taking shape around us today in the name of a false freedom often seems filled with cynicism, ugliness, little blasphemies and sadness, we need to ask why. And then we need to turn our hearts again to the God of beauty – Augustine's "Beauty so old and so new" – who created us, who sings his longing for us in the grandeur of the world he made, and who renews our souls. God lives in the summer rain, the stars in the night sky, the wind in the leaves of the trees. He speaks to us through a creation alive with his love. We need to be silent, and watch and listen. And then we need to join in nature's symphony of praise. Reprinted with permission from the Catholic Philly, official newspaper for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The birthday of the Church and the path we choose

May 23, 2013 / 00:00 am

Anything without heart, anything without love – and I mean politics, music, law, art, even religion – anything without love, no matter how brilliant, is finally inadequate and weak. At the end of the day, the human soul yearns to be loved, and to love in return.  And it won’t settle for anything less.God loves us so deeply that he sent his only son to live, suffer, die and rise again for our salvation. That’s the message of Easter. The message of Pentecost – the “birthday of the Church” that we celebrate this Sunday – builds on Easter.In sending his Holy Spirit to the Apostles in the upper room, God invites each of us to join him in a passion for evangelizing the world. We are Christ’s witnesses. Our mission is to respond to the fire of God’s love. But desire alone won’t remake the world. So how do we accomplish the work God sets before us?First, we need to wake up, shake off the cocoon of the world’s narcotic noise, and recover our clarity about right and wrong. We do this by praying, and we need to pray every day. Praying, no matter how unfocused we might be at first, clears the head and the heart. It also clears the ears, so we can hear God’s quiet voice.Setting aside some silent time with God each day plants the first seed of sanity. It sends down deep roots, and the soul grows a little stronger every day. If we listen well enough and long enough, God will tell us what he wants uniquely from each of us.Second, we need to seek out confession regularly and stay close to the Eucharist. We can’t lose hope when we know we’re forgiven. We can’t starve to death when we’re being fed with the Bread of Life. And the stronger we get in the Lord, the more we have to give to others. The sacraments are literally rivers of grace. They bring us new life. They have real power.Third, we need to share Jesus Christ consciously with someone every day. We need to make a deliberate point of it. And we don’t have to hit people over the head with the Bible to do it. Life naturally presents us with opportunities to talk about our faith with friends or colleagues. Nothing is more attractive than a sincere, personal witness to the truth. And remember that what we give away in faith, we get back a hundredfold.Fourth, we need to show a little courage. In the same Scripture passage where Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations, he also tells us that he’ll be with us always, even to the end of the age. If that’s so – and of course, it is so – then what can we really worry about? What better friend can we have in the struggle for the soul of the world, than the God who created it and us?Fifth and finally, we need to be faithful to those who love us, and to those whom God calls us to love. So often we overlook the simple fabric of daily life and the persons who inhabit it. But that’s where real love begins. That’s where all discipleship starts. It’s why Augustine wrote that “to be faithful in little things is a big thing.”God made each of us to make a difference. Whether we seem to succeed or fail is not the point. We may never see how God uses us to achieve his will. But it’s enough that we try – and then profound things can happen.Readers my age may remember that Dag Hammarskjold was secretary general of the United Nations many years ago, during the Congo crisis in the early 1960s. He was also a Christian serious about his faith. Hammarskjold died when his plane crashed on a peace mission in Africa in September 1961. After his death, his diary was found and published under the title, Markings. This is a prayer he wrote in his diary shortly before his death:[Oh God,]Have mercyUpon us.Have mercyUpon our efforts,That weBefore TheeIn love and in faithRighteousness and humility,May follow Thee,With self-denial, steadfastness and courage,And meet TheeIn the silence.Give usA pure heartThat we may see Thee,A humble heartThat we may hear Thee,A heart of loveThat we may serve Thee,A heart of faithThat we may live Thee,ThouWhom I do not knowBut Whose I am.ThouWhom I do not comprehendBut Who hast dedicated meTo my fate.Thou –We live in an era wounded by sadness and cynicism, but also ennobled by men and women of grace; people not so very different from you and me. This year, on this Pentecost, we get to choose which path to follow, because while God’s Holy Spirit calls each of us by name to his service, we have the freedom to say yes or no.If we really want to preach the Gospel, renew the Church and give glory to God in the years ahead, the only means that will work is to speak the truth in love through the witness of our lives. And it’s always been so.Lord, make us instruments of your peace – now and always.Reprinted with permission from the Catholic Philly, official newspaper for the diocese of Philadelphia.

The Boston bombings and their aftermath

Apr 25, 2013 / 00:00 am

Violence and grief in the Boston area have rightly dominated our news media for the past week. The latest terrorist bloodshed is not at all senseless. It’s the work of calculated malice. Innocent people, including children, have paid the price for other people’s hatred. Our most important task right now is to pray for the victims and their families.God exists, and God can heal even the worst suffering, despite every human attempt to ignore him and every terrible sin that seems to “disprove” his presence. And yet it’s fair to ask: How can a good God allow this kind of evil to happen?The answer is both simple and hard. There’s nothing soft-focus or saccharine about real Christianity. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for the brave; not the complacent, and not cowards. The world and its beauty give glory to God; but we live in it with divided hearts, and so the world is also a field of conflict. God’s son died on a cross and rose from the dead to deliver us from our sins. He didn’t take away our freedom to choose evil. Until this world ends, some people will do vile and inhuman things to others.The irony of human dignity is that it requires our freedom. It depends on our free will. We own our actions. And free persons can freely choose to do wicked things. Spend an hour browsing through Scripture: It’s the story of a struggle between good and evil that cuts bloodily through every generation in history. And the story is made bearable, and given meaning, only by the fidelity of God – the constancy of his justice, his mercy, his solace, his love.Within hours of the Boston bombings, public officials were telling the nation that terrorists would not be allowed to destroy “our way of life.” It’s the duty of leaders – an important duty – to reassure and strengthen their people in times of tragedy. Our country has a vast reservoir of goodness built up by generations of good people. America’s best ideals are well worth fighting for. But we also need to remember that our way of life is as mortal as every other great power; and sooner or later, America will be a footnote in history. Only God is forever.In the coming weeks, in the wake of the Boston tragedy, we’d do well to ponder what “our way of life” is beginning to mean. No one deserved to die in Boston. Terrorism isn’t washed clean by claims of psychological instability or U.S. policy sins abroad. And no one should be eager to see in the carnage of innocent spectators God’s judgment on a morally confused culture here at home.And yet, something is wrong with our way of life, and millions of people can feel it; something selfish, cynical, empty and mean. Something that acts like a magnet to the worst impulses of the human heart. We’re no longer the nation of our founders, or even of our parents. Some of their greatness has been lost.The character of our way of life depends on the character of my way life, multiplied by the tens of millions. We shouldn’t waste time being shocked or baffled by the evil in the world. It has familiar roots. It begins in the little crevices of each human heart – especially our own.In the days ahead we need to pray for the dead and wounded in Boston, and their families. And then, with the help of God, we need to begin to change ourselves. That kind of conversion might seem like a small thing, an easy thing – until we try it. Then we understand why history turns on the witness of individual lives.Reprinted with permission from the Catholic Philly, official newspaper for the diocese of Philadephia.

A new holy Father and the legacy of a name

Mar 21, 2013 / 00:00 am

Francis is the name of several extraordinary saints. Francis Xavier, cofounder of the Jesuits, is one of history’s greatest missionaries. Francis Borgia, a member of one of the most famous (and infamous) families of the Renaissance, turned away from wealth and privilege, joined the Society of Jesus and rose to become its superior general. And Francis De Sales, the great mystical writer, ascetic and bishop, founded a religious order of women with St. Jane De Chantal. He also worked closely with the Capuchin Franciscans to preach a renewed Catholic faith in his diocese in the wake of the Reformation.But the Francis most people remember when they hear the name, including many non-Christians and non-believers, is the Poverello, “the poor one” – St. Francis of Assisi. This is the saint whose name our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, has chosen. So it’s good to know a little bit about him.St. Francis once said that “the saints lived lives of heroic virtue, [but] we are satisfied to talk about them.” Francis himself wasn’t satisfied with pious words. He wanted to act on the things he believed. He called his brothers to live the Gospel with simplicity and honesty. And that’s why he used the words sine glossa – “without gloss” – in his Testament. He saw that the Gospel wasn’t complicated, but it was demanding and difficult. The scholars and Church lawyers of his day in the 13th century had written commentaries called glosses. And these glosses were very good at either explaining away the hard parts of the Gospel, or diminishing our need to follow Christ’s demands. Francis wanted none of that. He was a radical in the truest sense. He wanted to experience discipleship at its root.Francis lived in a time as troubled as our own. It was an age of Christians killing Christians, Muslims and Christians killing each other, wars between cities and states, and corruption both within and outside the Church. Views of society and the Church were changing. The feudal system was falling apart. For much of his life, Francis was lost in the confusion. But in his experience of faith and prayer, he came to some basic insights that gave him a very powerful inner freedom. And this enabled him to live the Gospel with simplicity and clarity in such a way that he not only was converted himself, but also became the leader of a movement of conversion in the Church and society at large.Today the Church seems to be in similar disarray. We have all sorts of factions fighting each other, among priests, among bishops, and certainly among our laypeople. We’re humiliated and shaken by the criminal sexual behavior of some of our clergy. And this has led, even for some who are deeply loyal to the Church, to a lack of confidence in our bishops, in the Church and her future, and even sometimes to a lack of confidence in Jesus Christ. We wonder if the Gospel is really true or if the Church is just another fraud.Francis felt many of the same sentiments, and he faced many of the same questions. And yet a very clear part of his spirituality was his love for the Church, his obedience to her pastors, his unwillingness to be critical of the Church. Instead of tearing her down because of the sins of her leaders, Francis chose to love the Church and serve her – and because of that love and by his simple living of the Gospel without compromise, he became the means God used for the renewal of a whole age of faith.When God spoke to Francis from the cross of San Damiano – “Repair my house, which is falling into ruin” – Francis heard it literally. He thought he was supposed to repair the chapel of San Damiano near Assisi. But of course the real call was to repair the larger Church with an interior revolution, by the personal witness of a pure and basic living of the Gospel.The Franciscan tradition tells us that often in his life, Francis would meet with his community, and this man who was one of history’s greatest saints would say to them, “Brothers, up to now we have done nothing. Let us begin.” And I think that even though we’ve accomplished many wonderful things in the Church in Philadelphia and throughout the United States, if we want to be what God calls us to be in the years that lie ahead, we need to be like St. Francis.Francis wasn’t the only Church reformer of his day. Plenty of other men and women saw the problems in the Church and tried to do something about it. Francis wasn’t even the smartest or the most talented – but he was almost certainly the most faithful, the most honest, the most humble, the most single-minded in his mission, and the most zealous in his love for Jesus Christ. And I’d argue that these marks of authentic Church renewal haven’t really changed at all in 800 years.Throughout my life, I’ve often turned to the Prayer of St. Francis before the Crucifix. It goes like this:Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, sense and knowledge, Lord, so that I may carry out your holy and true command.It’s always easier to talk about reform when the target of the reform is “out there,” rather than in here. The Church does need reform. She always needs reform, which means she needs scholars and committed laypeople to help guide her, and pastors who know how to lead with humility, courage and love. But what she needs more than anything else is holiness – holy priests and holy people who love Jesus Christ and love His Church more than they love their own ideas.Today, just like 800 years ago, the structures of the Church are so much easier to tinker with than a stubborn heart, or an empty hole where our faith should be. Reforming the Church, renewing the Church, begins with our own repentance, our own humility and willingness to serve – and that’s the really hard work, which is why sometimes so little of it seems to get done. But as our new Holy Father understands so well, it can be done. Francis showed us how. Now it’s up to us to do something about it.Reprinted with permission from the Catholic Philly, official newpaper for the diocese of Philadelphia.

Making sense of another ambiguous ‘compromise’

Feb 7, 2013 / 00:00 am

To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only [God] (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence).– Augustine The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that prudence is the auriga virtutum, the “charioteer of virtues.” It’s “right reason in action,” the guide to correctly applying all other virtues. Rash action, no matter how well intended, violates prudence and usually does more harm than good. God gave us brains. He expects us to use them to judiciously pursue the highest moral good for others and for ourselves.At the same time, the Catechism warns that prudence should never be used as an alibi for “timidity or fear, duplicity or dissimulation.” Real prudence has a spine called fortitude, the virtue we more commonly know as courage. And courage, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”Here’s why both these virtues are vital in the weeks ahead. On Friday, February 1, the Obama administration issued for public comment a set of revised regulations governing the HHS “contraceptive mandate.” At first glance, the new rules have struck some people as a modest improvement. They appear to expand, in a limited way, the kind of religiously-affiliated entities that can claim exemption from providing insurance coverage for contraceptive and abortion-related services under the new Affordable Care Act.White House apologists and supporters have welcomed the proposal. The New York Times called it “a good compromise.” Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and NARAL Prochoice America have praised it. And at least one Washington Post columnist implausibly called it a victory for America’s Catholic bishops.The trouble is, the new rules are very complex. And they may actually make things worse. In the words of Notre Dame Law Professor Gerard Bradley:“Gauging the net effect of the new administration proposal [is] hazardous. But one can say with confidence the following: (1) religious hospitals are, as before, not exempt ‘religious employers’; (2) religious charities are very likely not exempt either, unless they are run out of a church or are very tightly integrated with a church. So, a parish or even a diocese’s Saint Vincent De Paul operations would probably be an exempt ‘religious employer,’ whereas Catholic Charities would not be; (3) the new proposal may (or may not) make it more likely that parish grade schools are exempt ‘religious employers.’ But Catholic high schools are a different matter. Some might qualify as ‘religious employers.’ Most probably will not.“It is certain that Catholic colleges and universities do not qualify as exempt ‘religious employers.’ The new proposal includes, however, a revised ‘accommodation’ for at least some of these institutions, as well as some hospitals and charities. The proposal refines the administration’s earlier efforts to somehow insulate the colleges and universities from immoral complicity in contraception, mainly by shifting – at least nominally – the cost and administration of the immoral services to either the health insurance issuer (think Blue Cross) or to the plan administrator (for self-insured entities, such as Notre Dame). This proposal adds some additional layering to the earlier attempts to insulate the schools, but nothing of decisive moral significance is included.”The White House has made no concessions to the religious conscience claims of private businesses, and the whole spirit of the “compromise” is minimalist.As a result, the latest White House “compromise” already has a wave of critics, including respected national religious liberty law firms like the Becket Fund and the Alliance Defending Freedom. And many are far harsher than Professor Bradley in their analysis.The scholar Yuval Levin has stressed that the new HHS mandate proposal, “like the versions that have preceded it, betrays a complete lack of understanding of both religious liberty and religious conscience.” In reality, despite the appearance of compromise, “the government has forced a needless and completely avoidable confrontation and has knowingly put many religious believers in an impossible situation.”One of the issues America’s bishops now face is how best to respond to an HHS mandate that remains unnecessary, coercive and gravely flawed. In the weeks ahead the bishops of our country, myself included, will need both prudence and courage – the kind of courage that gives prudence spine and results in right action, whatever the cost. Please pray that God guides our discussions. Reprinted with permission from The Catholic Philly, official newspaper for the diocese of Philadelphia.

‘The only thing that matters is to be a saint’

Oct 30, 2012 / 00:00 am

A friend of mine quipped recently that the real religion of Americans has nothing to do with churches or synagogues. Our “real” religion is politics and the juggling for power it involves. He was being humorous. But as I write these words in late October, and we head into the final days of another, uniquely important, presidential election, his words don’t seem quite so funny.In the heat of ugly political conflicts, we can easily lose sight of our real vocation as Christians: holiness. We’re called to be in the world but not of the world. Powers and nations – including our own – sooner or later pass away. God’s word does not pass away. Neither does the witness of the holy men and women we call saints, and whose memory we celebrate on All Saints Day and throughout the month of November.Politics is important. But in the end, all of the passion, all of the egos and even all of the issues in this election will fade. In the end, as the great French Catholic writer Leon Bloy once said, the only thing that matters is to be a saint.I remembered Bloy’s words in a vivid way on October 21 as I took part in the canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. Kateri – known around the world as the “Lily of the Mohawks” and now our nation’s first Native American saint – was born in 1656 and orphaned soon after by smallpox. She was raised by relatives who hated Christianity because of the arrogance and brutality of French colonists and the diseases they brought with them. But something in the beauty of the Gospel touched Kateri’s heart.At the age of 18, she began instruction in the Catholic faith in secret. Her relatives eventually relented and allowed her to be baptized. But she suffered rough treatment and intense ridicule from her own people, and constant health problems. Throughout her short life she tended to the elderly and sick, taught the faith to children, and was known for her love of Mary and the Eucharist. She died at 24, in 1680. Her last words were “Jesus, Mary, I love you.”Kateri Tekakwitha’s canonization has been longed for by the American Indian community for many, many decades. As a member of the Potawatomi tribe myself, I grew up praying to her and asking for her intercession – and waiting for the Universal Church to someday celebrate the purity of her witness. Her life embodied a simple love for Jesus and his cross; a profound affection for her Native American community; and a heroic fidelity, humility and innocence.One of the greatest issues for Native Americans and other ethnic communities in the Church today is inculturation, the process by which the Gospel becomes an integral part of a people’s soul and way of life. Blessed Pope John Paul II once said that whenever a new culture meets the Gospel in an authentic way, three things happen: The culture itself is purified; the gifts of the culture are brought into the life of the Church; and, as a result, both the culture and the Church are made stronger and more beautiful.Kateri and saints like her are perfect examples of true inculturation. By their lives of holiness, their cultures are purified and enriched, and through their holiness, the Church is made stronger and more glorious in her diversity.Today, the Native American Catholic community and the whole Church thank God for the gift of Saint Kateri. Holiness is always God’s work before it’s our work. But in Saint Kateri we now have an example of the Church becoming ever more Catholic, ever more holy; and the naturally good qualities of Native American culture are enlivened by the gift of the Gospel.One final point is worth noting from my days in Rome. Kateri was canonized with six other new saints, among them Saint Marianne Cope, a Franciscan sister of the Diocese of Syracuse, New York. Saint Marianne died in service to the lepers of Hawaii. She belonged to a religious community that grew out of the Franciscan sisters founded by Saint John Neumann. So Philadelphia had a role – indirect and invisible, but real – in the development of yet another holy woman who became a saint.It’s not surprising. Philadelphia is the diocese of American saints. But we can’t ever be content with sainthood as part of our past. God made each of us to be saints. That means you and me. The hunger for holiness needs to animate every moment of our lives – today, right now, and into the future.The only thing that matters is to be a saint. Kateri understood that. More than 330 years later, what a joy and a glory it is to celebrate her memory. May she pray for all of us, and lead us on the same path of love she followed home to God.

The Year of Faith and how we’re called to live it

Oct 18, 2012 / 00:00 am

In leading us into the Year of Faith, which began October 11, Pope Benedict calls on each of us as believers to “rediscover (God’s) joy,” to “radiate (God’s) word,” and to make our Christian witness “frank and contagious.”Now those are wonderful words, but how do we actually live them? We need to begin by realizing that we’re not being asked to do the impossible – only the uncomfortable and inconvenient.Benedict is asking us to examine our hearts and our habits of life without excuses or alibis. 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. If you think that sounds easy or pious, try it this week.In every generation, Christians yearn to get back to the “purity of the early Church,” and of course that seems like an admirable goal. But the Church has never been pristine. She’s never been without scandals and sinners, apostates and critics and persecutors. St. Paul was run out of town more than once; he was rejected by his brothers more than once; and when he writes his Epistle to the Ephesians, he’s writing from a jail cell.In reality, sin is part of the human terrain and a daily challenge to our discipleship. And 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 wither. It’s happened before in other times and places, and it can happen here. We can’t change the world by ourselves. And we can’t reinvent the Church. But we can help God change us. We can live our faith with zeal and conviction – and then God will take care of the rest.Benedict has some concrete suggestions for the Year of Faith that deserve our close attention.  Three of them stand out:First, the Holy Father urges parishes and other church groups to study the Creed and the Catechism. The Creed is the definition of who we are. It’s a fundamental declaration of Catholic faith, identity and belonging.Second, the Pope asks us “to intensify [our] witness of charity.” The Pope stresses that faith and charity depend on one another. Faith without charity “bears no fruit.”Third and finally, Benedict urges us study the history of our faith and see the way in which “holiness and sin” are so often woven together.Henri de Lubac, the great Jesuit theologian, once said that when the world insinuates itself into the heart of the Church, the Church becomes worse than the world — not just a caricature of the world, but the world in greater mediocrity and even greater ugliness.Real faith – the kind our Holy Father calls us to — demands a keen awareness of our failures as Christians and a spirit of repentance. It requires us to seek out who Jesus Christ really is, and what he asks from each of us as disciples.  And that always involves the cross.Does that sound anything like the actual tone of Catholic life in our country today? Too often, probably not. Yet that’s the life of honesty, holiness, heroism and sacrifice that God asks from all of us as a Church and each of us as individual believers in the Year of Faith.Human beings make history, not the other way around. God made us to be happy with him; to be loved by him; and to bring others to know his love. That’s the glory of being alive. That’s the grandeur of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.The task of preaching and teaching, growing and living the Catholic faith in our time, in this country, belongs to you and me. No one else can do it. The future depends on God, but he builds it with the living stones we give him by the example of our lives.

'We have no king but Caesar:' Some thoughts on Catholic faith and public life

Sep 15, 2012 / 00:00 am

A priest I know does a lot of spiritual direction. Two of the men he was helping died suddenly this past year, one of a heart attack and one of a stroke.  In both cases they were relatively young men and quite successful.  In both cases they watched Fox News. And in both cases they had gotten into the nightly habit of shouting at President Obama whenever he came on the TV.  In both cases, the wives believed – and they still believe – that politics killed their husbands.Now that’s a true story. And it’s a good place to begin our time together today. Henri de Lubac, the great Jesuit theologian, once said that if heretics no longer horrify us, it’s not because we have more charity in our hearts. (i) We just find it a lot more satisfying to despise our political opponents. We’ve transferred our passion to politics.My theme today is living the Catholic faith in public life, including our political life. But in talking about it, I need to make a few preliminary points.Here’s my first point. It’s very simple. We’re mortal. We’re going to die.American culture spends a huge amount of energy ignoring death, delaying it and distracting us from thinking about it. But our time in this world is very limited; science can’t fix the problem; and there’s no government bailout program. Life is precious. Time matters. So does the way we use it. And as all of the great saints understood, thinking a little about our death can have a wonderfully medicinal effect on human behavior.  The reason is obvious. If we believe in an afterlife where we’re held accountable for our actions, then that belief has very practical implications for our choices in this world. Obviously, some people don’t believe in God or an afterlife, and they need to act in a way that conforms to their convictions. But that doesn’t absolve us from following ours.  For Christians, the trinity of virtues we call faith, hope and charity should shape everything we do, both privately and in our public lives. Faith in God gives us hope in eternal life. Hope casts out fear and enables us to love.  And the love of God and other human persons – the virtue of charity – is the animating spirit of all authentically Christian political action. By love I don’t mean “love” in a sentimental or indulgent sense, the kind of empty love that offers “tolerance” as an alibi for inaction in the face of evil. I mean love in the Christian sense; love with a heart of courage, love determined to build justice in society and focused on the true good of the whole human person, body and soul.  Human progress means more than getting more stuff, more entitlements and more personal license. Real progress always includes man’s spiritual nature. Real progress satisfies the human hunger for solidarity and communion. So when our leaders and their slogans tell us to move “forward,” we need to take a very hard look at the road we’re on, where “forward” leads, and whether it ennobles the human soul, or just aggravates our selfishness and appetite for things.What all this means for our public life is this:  Catholics can live quite peacefully with the separation of Church and state, so long as the arrangement translates into real religious freedom. But we can never accept a separation of our religious faith and moral convictions from our public ministries or our political engagement. It’s impossible. And even trying is evil because it forces us to live two different lives, worshiping God at home and in our churches; and worshiping the latest version of Caesar everywhere else. That turns our private convictions into lies we tell ourselves and each other.Here’s my second point. Religious faith sincerely believed and humbly lived serves human dignity.  It fosters virtue, not conflict. Therefore it can be vital in building a humane society. This should be too obvious to mention. But one of the key assumptions of the modern secular state – in effect, secularism’s creation myth -- is that religion is naturally prone to violence because it’s irrational and divisive. Secular, non-religious authority, on the other hand, is allegedly rational and unitive. Therefore the job of secular authority is peacemaking; in other words, to keep religious fanatics from killing each other and everybody else.The problem with that line of thought is this: It’s an Enlightenment fantasy.  Plenty of violence -- terrible violence -- has been done in the name of God by believers from every major religious tradition. We’re seeing some of it play out right now in the Middle East. I have no desire to excuse any of it.  But as scholars like Brad Gregory and William Cavanaugh have shown, based on the historical record, there’s no persuasive evidence that religious belief is any more prone to provoking violence than secular politics and ideologies.(ii) The murder regimes of the last century were overwhelmingly secular, atheist and based on bizarre claims of being “scientific.” Cavanaugh notes that even in the so-called Wars of Religion in the 16th Century, “For the main instigators of the carnage, doctrinal loyalties were at best secondary to their stake in the rise or defeat of the centralized state.” (iii) For Cavanaugh, the rise of the sovereign state was a cause, not the solution, of Europe’s religious wars. (iv)  What’s really going on in much of today’s hand-wringing about religious extremism and looming theocracy is a pretty straightforward push by America’s secular leadership classes to get religion out of the way. God is a competitor in forming the public will. So God needs to go.Here’s my third point. Man is a moral and believing animal. Christian Smith, Notre Dame’s distinguished social research scholar, notes that all human beings seem to have a natural capacity for religious faith. That doesn’t imply that all people are “naturally religious,” if we mean by that an instinctive need to worship God in a Western sense.  Some cultures – Japan is among them -- seem to get along quite well without Western notions of religion. But all human beings, everywhere and always, have a need to believe something and behave according to a moral code that distinguishes right from wrong.Why is that important?  It’s important because any claim that atheists, agnostics and a secularized intelligentsia are naturally more “rational” than religious believers is nonsense.  There are no unbelievers.  Smith puts it this way:“All human beings are believers, not ‘knowers’ who know with certitude.  Everything we know is grounded on presupposed beliefs that cannot be verified with more fundamental proof or certainty that provides us with assurance they are true. That is just as true for atheists as for religious adherents. The quest for foundationalist certainty . . . is a distinctly modern project, one launched as a response to the instabilities and uncertainties of early modern Europe. But that modern project has failed.  There is no universal, rational foundation upon which indubitably certain knowledge can be built. All human knowing is built on believing.  That is the human condition." (v)To put it another way, atheists just worship a smaller and less forgiving god, at a different altar. And that means Christians should make no apologies – none at all -- for engaging public issues respectfully but vigorously, guided by their faith as well as their reason.That raises an obvious question: What would a proper Christian approach to politics look like?  John Courtney Murray, the Jesuit scholar who spoke so forcefully about the dignity of American democracy and religious freedom, once wrote: “The Holy Spirit does not descend into the City of Man in the form of a dove. He comes only in the endlessly energetic spirit of justice and love that dwells in the man of the City, the layman.” (vi)Here's what that means. Christianity is not mainly about politics. It's about living and sharing the love of God. And Christian political engagement, when it happens, is never mainly the task of the clergy. That work belongs to lay believers who live most intensely in the world. Christian faith is not a set of ethics or doctrines. It's not a group of theories about social and economic justice. All these things have their place. All of them can be important. But a Christian life begins in a relationship with Jesus Christ; and it bears fruit in the justice, mercy and love we show to others because of that relationship. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22:37-40).  That's the test of our faith. Without a passion for Jesus Christ in our hearts that reshapes our lives, Christianity is just a word game and a legend.  Relationships have consequences. A married man will commit himself to certain actions and behaviors, no matter what the cost, out of the love he bears for his wife. Our relationship with God is the same. We need to prove our love by our actions, not just in our personal and family lives, but also in the public square. And that includes our social and business relations, as well as our politics.  Christians individually, and the Church as a believing community, engage the political order as an obligation of the Word of God. Human law teaches and forms as well as regulates; and human politics is the exercise of power – which means that both law and politics have moral implications. Christians can’t ignore those implications and still remain faithful to their vocation as a light to the world and salt of the earth (Mt 5:14-16). Robert Dodaro, the Augustinian priest and scholar – who’s spoken here at Villanova in the past -- wrote a wonderful book a few years ago called Christ and the Just Society in the Thought of Augustine.  In his book and elsewhere, Dodaro makes four key points about Augustine's view of Christianity and politics. (vii)First, Augustine never really offers a political theory, and there's a reason.  He doesn't believe human beings can know or create perfect justice in this world.  Our judgment is always flawed by our sinfulness. Therefore, the right starting point for any Christian politics is humility, modesty and a very sober realism.  Second, no political order, no matter how seemingly good, can ever constitute a just society. Errors in moral judgment can't be avoided.  These errors grow in their complexity as they move from lower to higher levels of society and governance – which, by the way, shows the wisdom of the Catholic principle of subsidiarity. In practice, the Christian needs to be loyal to her nation and obedient to its legitimate rulers. But she also needs to cultivate a critical vigilance about both.  Third, despite these concerns, Christians still have a duty to take part in public life according to their God-given abilities, even when their faith brings them into conflict with public authority. We can’t simply ignore or withdraw from civic affairs. The reason is simple. The classic civic virtues named by Cicero – prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance – can be renewed and elevated, to the benefit of all citizens, by the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity.  Therefore, political engagement is a worthy Christian task, and public office is an honorable Christian vocation.  Fourth, in governing as best they can, while conforming their lives and their judgment to the content of the Gospel, Christian leaders in public life can accomplish real good. In other words, they can make a difference.  Their success will always be limited and mixed. It will never be ideal. But with the help of God they can improve the moral quality of society, which makes the effort invaluable.What Augustine believes about Christian leaders, we can extend to the vocation of all Christian citizens. The skills of the Christian citizen are finally very simple: a zeal for Jesus Christ and his Church; a conscience formed in humility, love for the truth, and rooted in Scripture and the believing community; the prudence to see which issues in public life are vital and foundational to human dignity, and which ones are not; and the courage to work for what's right.  We don't cultivate these skills alone. We develop them together as Christians, in prayer, on our knees, in the presence of Jesus Christ – and also in exchanges like our time together today.As I was gathering my thoughts for today, I listed all the urgent issues that demand our attention as Catholics: poverty; unemployment; crippling federal deficits; immigration; abortion; our obligations to the elderly and the disabled; questions of war and peace; our national confusion about sexual identity and human nature, and the attacks on marriage and family life that flow from this confusion; the growing disconnection of our science and technology from real moral reflection; the erosion of freedom of conscience in our national health-care debates; the quality of the schools that form our children.  The list is long. As I’ve said many times before and believe just as strongly today: Abortion is the foundational human rights issue of our lifetime. It can’t be ignored or alibied away. We need to do everything we can to support the dignity of women, especially women with broken families or under heavy emotional and financial stress. Our commitment needs to be real, and more than just words. But we can’t do it at the cost of more than 50 million legalized killings since Roe v Wade. We can’t do it with corrupt verbal gymnastics that reduce an unborn child to a non-person and a thing. And we can’t claim to be concerned about “the poor” when we tolerate – and even fund -- an abortion industry that kills the unborn children of poor people in disproportionate numbers, both here in the United States, and through government aid abroad. Working to give women the kind of material help they need so they can choose against abortion and for the life of their child is a good thing; a vital and necessary thing. But it’s not sufficient. It’s not a substitute for laws that protect developing unborn life – laws that restrict and one day end permissive abortion. Again, law teaches and forms, as well as regulates. It’s a moral exercise. It always embodies someone’s idea of what we ought or ought not to do. Obviously we can’t illegalize every sin and evil act in society. But we can at least try to stop killing the innocent, which is what every abortion involves.The abortion debate is important for another reason as well; one that’s less obvious but in a way just as troubling. The case for “reproductive rights” hinges on a politically pious and very American form of idolatry: the idolatry of choice, personal autonomy and an assertion of the self at the expense of others. This is ruinous for human community.Selfishness dressed up as individual freedom has always been part of American life. But now it infects the whole fabric of consumer society.  American life is becoming a cycle of manufactured appetites, illusions and licenses that turns people in on themselves and away from each other. As communities of common belief and action dissolve, the state fills in the void they leave. And that suits a lot of us just fine, because if the government takes responsibility for the poor, we don’t have to.  I’m using a broad brush here, obviously. In Catholic social thought, government has a legitimate role – sometimes a really crucial role -- in addressing social problems that are too big and too serious to be handled by anyone else. But Jesus didn’t bless higher taxes, deficit spending and more food stamps, any more than he endorsed the free market.The way we lead our public lives needs to embody what the Catholic faith teaches -- not what our personalized edition of Christianity feels comfortable with, but the real thing; the full package; what the Church actually holds to be true. In other words, we need to be Catholics first and political creatures second.  The more we transfer our passion for Jesus Christ to some political messiah or party platform, the more bitter we feel toward his Church when she speaks against the idols we set up in our own hearts. There’s no more damning moment in all of Scripture than John 19:15: “We have no king but Caesar.” The only king Christians have is Jesus Christ. The obligation to seek and serve the truth belongs to each of us personally. The duty to love and help our neighbor belongs to each of us personally. We can’t ignore or delegate away these personal duties to anyone else or any government agency.More than 1,600 years ago, St. Basil the Great warned his wealthy fellow Christians that “The bread you possess belongs to the hungry. The clothing you store in boxes belongs to the naked.” (viii)  St. John Chrysostom – whose feast we celebrated just yesterday – preached exactly the same message: “God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts,” and “for those who neglect their neighbor, a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire in the company of the demons.” (ix) What was true then is true now. Hell is not a metaphor. Hell is real. Jesus spoke about it many times and without any ambiguity. If we do not help the poor, we’ll go to hell. I’ll say it again: If we do not help the poor, we will go to hell.  And who are the poor? They’re the people we so often try to look away from -- people who are homeless or dying or unemployed or mentally disabled. They’re also the unborn child who has a right to God’s gift of life, and the single mother who looks to us for compassion and material support. Above all, they’re the persons in need that God presents to each of us not as a “policy issue,” but right here, right now, in our daily lives.  Thomas of Villanova, the great Augustinian saint for whom this university is named, is remembered for his skills as a scholar and reforming bishop.  But even more important was his passion for serving the poor; his zeal for penetrating the entire world around him with the virtues of justice and Christian love. It’s a privilege to stand here and speak in his shadow.Time matters. God will hold us accountable for the way we use it. Law and politics shape the course of a nation’s future. Very few vocations have more importance or more dignity when they’re lived with humility, honesty and love.  But all of us who call ourselves Christians share the same vocation to love God first and above all things; and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We’re citizens of heaven first; but we have obligations here. We’re Catholics and Christians first. And if we live that way -- zealously and selflessly in our public lives -- our country will be the better for it; and God will use us to help make the world new.(i) Henri de Lubac, S.J., Paradoxes, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1987; p. 226(ii) See William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict, Oxford University Press, New York, 2009; and Brad S. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society, Belknap/Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2012(iii) Cavanaugh, “A Fire Strong Enough to Consume the House: The Wars of Religion and the Rise of the State,” Modern Theology, 11:4 October 1995; p. 401(iv) Cavanaugh, “If You Render to God What is God’s, What is Left for Caesar?”, Review of Politics, 71, 2009; p. 610(v) Christian Smith, “Man the Religious Animal,” First Things, 222, April 2012; p. 30.  See also Smith’s Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture, Oxford University Press, New York, 2003(vi) John Courtney Murray, S.J., “The Role of Faith in the Renovation of the World,” 1948; Murray’s works are available online from the Woodstock Theological Center Library(vii) Robert Dodaro, O.S.A., private correspondence with the author, along with Christ and the Just Society in the Thought of Augustine, Cambridge University Press, 2008 (first published in 2004), and “Ecclesia and Res Publica: How Augustinian Are Neo-Augustinian Politics?,”  collected in Augustine and Post-Modern Thought: A New Alliance Against Modernity?, Peeters, editor, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium , 2009(viii) Basil, Homily on Avarice(ix) John Chrysostom, Homily on MatthewReprinted with permission from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Don't just know Christ: Love him

Oct 27, 2011 / 00:00 am

Scripture tells us that after the crushing sadness of the crucifixion, the joy felt by the disciples in recognizing Jesus at Emmaus was intense. But as deep and personal as their joy was, it also compelled them to act. Their joy was alive; it was restless; it made them run back to Jerusalem through the darkness to bring the Good News to other disciples. The Emmaus disciples embodied what the Prophet Jeremiah meant when he said: “(God’s) word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jer 20:9).That kind of joy is a foretaste of heaven. It’s what God intends for all of us. But we should also remember that in this world, feelings can be fickle. They’re hot and cold; they come and go. Ultimately, it’s not how we “feel” that shapes how genuine our encounter with Jesus is. Our relationship with Jesus Christ will be determined by how much we’re transformed into him and how much we burn to bring him to others—in other words, by our actions in sharing the Gospel with other people, by serving the poor and the needy, by defending the unborn child, by building a culture that supports and encourages the growth of Christian families.We can learn a vital lesson from the Emmaus story in the way great artists have portrayed Christ’s breaking of the bread with the two disciples in classic art.Rembrandt, the great Dutch painter, did two versions of the supper at Emmaus. In both, the two disciples are filled with joy and awe. Yet in both, a servant seems oblivious to what is taking place at the table.Another very famous painter, the Italian Caravaggio, also created a scene showing two amazed disciples with a serene Jesus. But his work was criticized by the people of his time for “lacking decorum” because the man serving the table in the painting seems bored and wears a hat—a sign of disrespect.The great French painter Delacroix showed a dark room lit by a golden halo that surrounds Jesus while he dramatically breaks the bread. But again, in a staircase just behind the scene, a woman in the painting is shown who completely ignores the miracle happening right in front of her.These famous paintings of Emmaus carry a warning: It doesn’t matter how close we are to the presence of Jesus. We can still completely ignore him, and therefore never experience the transforming power of his love.It’s not enough to be next to Jesus, or to approve of his teachings, or to know “about” him. We need to love him. We need to be with Jesus, and in Jesus. And no one can ever be fully “with” Jesus if she or he rejects the Catholic Church, the Church Jesus founded precisely to act in his name and fulfill his promise, so that he would remain with us until the end of time.The sacrament of the Eucharist that anchors our life as Christians comes to us through the power given to the Church by Jesus himself. In adoring Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, we celebrate the mystery of his Church as well.And when the Holy Father joins us at every World Youth Day, we welcome him not as a just another human leader or “superstar,” but as the Successor of Peter, the visible head of Christ’s Church—a Church defined not by the failures and sins of us, her children, but by being the sacrament of salvation that draws humanity to the experience of Emmaus every day.May God grant each one of us, on our personal road to Emmaus, the gift of acquiring, as Pope Benedict says, “a deeper faith … a faith robust because it is from the word of God and the Eucharist, not human ideas.”  This is the source of salvation and lasting joy.Reprinted with permission from the Denver Catholic Register.  Since this article was published, Archbishop Chaput has been installed as the new Archbishop of Philadelphia.