Voice of the laity needed in the public square, writes Archbishop Chaput

Archbishop Charles Chaput
Archbishop Charles Chaput


In a speech delivered today by his representative at the Becket Fund conference, “Voices: The Lay State and Religious Liberty” in Mexico City, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver addressed the necessity of  lay people living their faith conscientiously and truthfully in the public square. “Politics is the arena where the struggle between truth and lies, justice and injustice, takes place,” he stated.

Due to obligations in Denver, the archbishop was unable to attend the conference, but Luis Soto of the Office of Hispanic Ministry in the Archdiocese of Denver presented the archbishop’s remarks and acted as his representative.

The archbishop's remarks began by noting three important observations regarding the interplay of religious liberty and politics, garnered from the two terms he served as a Commissioner with the U. S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“First, most countries claim to respect religious freedom.  Second, many countries lie.  They actually restrict religious freedom, and many other nations don’t see it as an important issue.  And third, unless ordinary lay citizens work vigorously and without apologies in public life to protect their religious liberty, they lose it.”

Thus, Soto continued reading, “Catholics have a duty to bring their Catholic beliefs to bear on every social, economic and political problem facing their country.  That’s not just a privilege.  It’s not just a right.  It’s a demand of the Gospel.” 

And conveying the gospel message quickly loses status as a privilege and a right if it is not vigorously defended by the very people who are charged with that duty, he added.

“Cardinal Rivera, the Knights of Columbus and the Becket Fund all know this simple fact: Politics is the arena where the struggle between truth and lies, justice and injustice, takes place.  No country’s political life can be honest -- and no government can serve the needs of its people -- unless it welcomes the deepest convictions of its citizens into public debate,” Archbishop Chaput stated.

The archbishop's speech then noted that the evangelizing nature of the faith does not void Christians' obligation to treat others with charity, justice, and prudence. “In a democracy, the best gift any of us can give to our country is the public witness of our convictions… If we withhold our religious and moral beliefs from our nation’s political debates because of a misguided sense of good manners, we are not being ‘polite.’  On the contrary:  We’re stealing from the public conversation.”

Thus, the laity cannot simply sit back and expect the clergy and Church to defend their rights and privileges, or to craft a society in which religious freedom is permitted or encouraged. They must form themselves and their leaders in the faith so that they can faithfully embody the teachings of the Church.

Having recognized this important aspect of public life and private convictions, Soto turned to three “simple points” the archbishop addressed: the nature of the state; the nature of our Christian faith; and the nature of the lay vocation.

Christians, the archbishop wrote, “owe civil rulers their respect and obedience in all things that do not gravely violate the moral law.” But, he also pointed out, “the state is not god.  It’s not immortal.  It’s not infallible.”

The state, he explained, is necessary for the regulation of earthly life, but it must always be cautious of not infringing upon the rights inherent to each individual human being.

In talking about the nature of our Christian faith, the archbishop emphasized that a genuine Catholic faith is “always personal but never private.” Catholics believe that each human life has a unique but interrelated meaning, and that “we were made by God to receive love ourselves, and to show love to others.”

“This means our faith has social as well as personal implications.  And those social implications include the civil dimension of our shared life; in other words, the content of our politics,” the archbishop said in his talk.

Returning to the topic of the role of the laity, the archbishop’s remarks focused on a comment made by Pope Benedict XVI, who told a convention in Rome that the Church needs a change in mindset, particularly concerning laypeople. 

Summarizing the Pope's comments, Archbishop Chaput explained in his talk that the laity “must no longer be viewed as ‘collaborators’ of the clergy, but truly recognized as ‘co-responsible’ for the Church’s being and action.”  The laity, he said, “have exactly the same dignity as clergy and religious…They’re not second-class members of the Body of Christ.” They are charged with changing the world in the name of Jesus Christ, a change that can only be affected through a mature, intelligent, and faithful witness to Christ in every aspect of lay life.

Finally, the archbishop urged lay people to “never be embarrassed by your baptism.  Never be afraid of the consequences of your faith.  Take pride in your Catholic identity for the blessing and mandate it is.  Act on it.  Share it with others. We need to find in it once again the confidence to live and preach our faith – in everything we do -- without apologies or excuses.  And if we do that, then we won’t need to ask what the ‘new evangelization’ looks like.  We’ll know – because we’ll be incarnating it in our lives.”

To read Archbishop Chaput's full speech, visit: http://www.archden.org/index.cfm/ID/2637.

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