Archbishop Chaput: Media culture and compromise undermining Christian life

Archbishop Chaput: Media culture and compromise undermining Christian life

Archbishop Charles Chaput
Archbishop Charles Chaput

.- Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput exhorted Catholics to follow the example of St. Paul by understanding their own times and being “possessed by the God of Truth.” Stressing the need to recognize the impact mass media has on thought and action, he warned that Catholics are losing the habits on which they have traditionally relied because of “vanity and compromise.”

The archbishop delivered his remarks to the American Bible Society in New York City on Wednesday. The Archbishop of Denver is in town to receive the Becket Fund’s Canterbury Medal, which is given to persons who “most resolutely refused to render to Caesar that which is God's.”

Beginning his remarks with a reflection on the life of St. Paul, Archbishop Chaput said Paul was “a determined man.”

“As even St. Peter discovered, Paul never let shallow courtesies interfere with his witness for Jesus Christ. In fact, by today’s standards, Paul’s passion for Jesus borders on the unseemly. But of course, that says more about us than about him.”

Paul would go to such extremes because he knew the truth not only as a “collection of doctrines” but was “possessed by the God of truth, who gives life to those doctrines,” the archbishop said.

“There has never been, and there never will be, a greater missionary for Jesus than St. Paul. Through Paul, the Gospel reached the world. And our job as believers today is to be Paul once again to the world around us.”

“If we’re serious when we claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, then we need to understand our own times as well as Paul did his,” he counseled the Bible Society members.

The archbishop said this can be a problem because “the tools we rely on to inform us are the same tools we use to delude ourselves about the real world.”

“The American news and entertainment media, which now so often overlap, are the largest catechetical syndicate in history,” he continued.

Saying the media has helped create a culture based on “immediacy, brevity, visual stimulation, celebrity and self-absorption,” he warned this has great implications for the Christian’s place in American society.

To know our times, he said, it is crucial that we understand how mass media works on us. We can learn to judge them “soberly and critically,” but if we do not the consequences may be “very unhappy.”

Noting that the United States was founded in a time of print-based patterns of thought, he warned:

“The more sensory, immediate and emotional our culture becomes, the farther it gets from the habits of serious thought that sustain its ideals.”

As a remedy, he advised Catholics to give up computers, televisions, cell phones, and iPods for “just one night” a week.

“One night a week spent reading, talking with each other, listening to each other and praying over Scripture. We can at least do that much. And if we do, we’ll discover that eventually we’re sober again and not drunk on technology and our own overheated appetites.”

Turning to questions of public life, the archbishop noted President Barack Obama’s comments about America not considering itself a Christian nation. Saying the president’s words should not be taken out of context, he remarked that his comments come at a time when American leaders’ attitude towards religion and Christianity is “very different from the past, and much less friendly.”

The archbishop said it would be “foolish and delusional” to deny the United States’ Christian roots. He quoted Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, who respectively said America was “born a Christian nation,” “founded on the principles of Christianity,” and firmly reliant on God’s providence.

Archbishop Chaput said that the public witness of many American Christians is “softening,” with some groups working “very vigorously” to secularize or de-Christianize public life and popular culture.

American Catholics have successfully fit themselves into American culture, so that “too many of us are happy with our complacency, vanity, compromises, comfort and bad formation.”

The habit of “vanity and compromise” is what is at work in the University of Notre Dame’s decision to honor President Obama at commencement, the archbishop remarked. Though “a sincere and able man,” the president’s views on life issues “run directly against Catholic belief.”

“And a Catholic institution should not honor that kind of behavior,” he said.

While human sinfulness is always present, the archbishop said, “What’s new about our current moment is that too many Christians have made peace with that sinfulness, baptized it with the language of personal conscience, and stopped trying to convert anybody -- including themselves.”

While a “post-Christian” society may seem similar to the world St. Paul confronted, it is in fact “much worse” because the old pagan world was ignorant of Christ, but today’s paganism involves “a specific choice against Jesus Christ.”

He denied there was such a thing as a “post-Christian” society, saying “The redemptive mission of Jesus Christ is unique, unrepeatable and forever. Christ is the center and meaning of history.

“There is nothing after Jesus Christ except a void.”

When Jesus commissioned the apostles to make disciples of all nations and baptize them, the archbishop said, “he was talking to you and me.”

“The lesson of St. Paul, now and for every generation, is that we need to engage the world with intelligence, a creative spirit and, most importantly, charity, which ‘bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.'”

Real charity depends on truth, not “shallow courtesies” and “false compromises.”

“Paul reminds us that charity ‘does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth’ (I Cor 13:6). In fact, no greater gift of love exists than sharing the truth with others. Only God’s truth sets us free.”

“Jesus himself did not claim to ‘preach’ the truth but to be the truth. That’s why a Christianity based only on technique or useful ideas or a system of good social principles will always fail. Christianity can only be anchored in a love for Jesus Christ.”

“The cross of Jesus Christ is not a ‘philosophy.’ It’s an instrument of killing stained with the blood of a Person who was once dead but is now alive.”

“Only if we really believe the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in our bones, only if we endure in proclaiming that truth,” he concluded, will we be able to share St. Paul’s relief and joy in “the crown of righteousness.”