(Editor’s note: Archbishop Charles Chaput is giving a series of talks at World Youth Day, July 24-26. At the request of the Holy See, speakers have been asked not to read formal, prepared texts to the young people. The following are talking points of the archbishop’s informal talk.)
World Youth Day Catechesis/2
July 25, 2013, Rio de Janeiro
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Yesterday we spoke about thirsting for God and why we should never settle for anything less than his love. Today I want to turn our attention to how we should live as Christians. If we place our trust in God, then what does that mean for the way we think and act?
The first question we need to ask is “what is God like?” People have a lot of strange ideas about God. Some see him as a Big Santa Claus in the Sky, who makes a list, and checks it twice, and then rewards us for living well or punishes us for being bad. Some see him as a kind of heavenly accountant who audits our lives like a tax return; or a superhero who’s there to jump in whenever we need him — but has the good manners to leave before he becomes a nuisance.
The real God, the God of Jesus Christ, is none of these things.
Jesus came to tell us what God is like. And he didn’t just tell us; he showed us. He lived his entire life to show men and women who God is. Jesus destroys every foolish notion we have about his Father. God doesn’t treat us like robots. He relates to each one of us as persons who have a story and a face given to us by God himself. Jesus shares with us everything he knows about his Father like a good friend and a brother.
Jesus lived the fullest kind of life. He worked a tiring trade as a carpenter, and then journeyed all over Galilee and Judea preaching the reign of God. His strength came from constant prayer to his Father. He had no patience for sin and hypocrisy, but he never ceased to forgive those who came to him in humility. He loved his friends even when they didn’t deserve his love. He never asserted his own rights to anything, even though he could properly claim everything as Lord. For Jesus, the love of God trumped everything else.
In the novel The Catcher in the Rye, the main character, Holden Caulfield, always saves his worst complaints for people he calls “phonies.” “Phonies” like to project a self-important image of themselves. On the outside, they seem sophisticated and knowing. But on the inside, they’re small. They live a lie. They act out of fear and selfishness whenever they face a difficult decision.
Jesus was utterly real. There was nothing phony about him — which is why people loved being in his presence. They could open their hearts to Jesus without embarrassment or worry. People spent hours listening to him. Everyone in the Gospels — from Peter to Mary Magdalene to Herod — knew that there was something different and profoundly good about this man. None of them could put their finger on it, but Jesus moved them. He made them rethink their idea of God and their own place in the universe.
But there’s a subtle temptation here: Even as our love for Jesus grows, we can sometimes forget about the Church. And that’s a costly mistake, because in the end, you can’t have Jesus without the Church. That upsets some people. We all know persons who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” And a lot of people will claim they follow the teachings of Jesus, but “all that institutional stuff just isn’t for me. That’s not my Jesus.”
But there’s no such thing as “my Jesus.” There’s only our Jesus, the Jesus of the Gospels, the Jesus of the Church.
The Jesus of faith, the only Jesus worth a minute of our time, comes alive for us most fully in the community of believers Christ himself founded to carry on his work. Think about the Gospels: Jesus always seems to be eating with a group of people. He wants to be found in the community of disciples. In his first epistle, John the Evangelist tells his disciples to love one another, “for love is from God … since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4: 7, 11).
Maybe you’ve met a good friend at summer camp or a college seminar. You spend some time with him or her, you become fast friends, and you go home promising to meet up soon. Then you find out that this person already has a whole network of friends at home. Now you have to share this person with a lot of other people. And they aren’t nearly as interesting as your friend is. Who really wants to deal with that?
It sounds foolish, but that’s the reaction many people who call themselves Christians have to the Church. Some people don’t really want to be disciples; they want to be the disciple. But Jesus chose twelve apostles, not one. He welcomed many more to serve him, some of them quite eccentric or unusual, and many more gathered around to listen to him. And Jesus clearly traveled with some curious characters: tax collectors, Samaritans and prostitutes. Jesus is an equal opportunity redeemer. He’s unafraid to touch anyone with leprosy or to enter the house of a public sinner.
I don’t mean to paint over the real problems in our Catholic communities. We sometimes encounter a parish that doesn’t seem to be trying very hard. The homilies may be boring, the music dull, and the people lifeless. Don’t settle for the status quo. If a community doesn’t seem alive, then work unselfishly to bring it life; and if, despite your zeal, nothing seems to work, then find one that’s more on fire with the Gospel.
Many Catholic communities in parishes, schools and Newman Centers are full of passion. They’re alive with the presence of Jesus Christ. These are the places where loving marriages, faithful priests and religious, and zealous volunteers produce real fruit. Once you’ve found your community, take the good things you learn and make them bear fruit somewhere else.
To be Christ’s disciples means that we commit ourselves to learning how to love as Jesus did. And love shows itself more in deeds than in words. Think of a husband and wife. The husband can say “I love you” all he wants; but his wife will rightly demand that he prove it. He can prove it only through concrete actions: his willingness to listen and communicate, his hard work, his fidelity, his concern for her well-being. We can’t ever think of our love as abstract; it never just flows out from us into the air. Real love is always consciously given and received. Our love must be practical, tangible and directed toward the good of other people. Our actions need to have a real effect on the lives of other persons.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a little man named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus is a publican and an outcast reviled by the Jews; but he climbs a tree so he can see Jesus better. For all his faults, Zacchaeus has a hunger to be a better man, and he knows that his betterment somehow hinges on meeting Jesus. So sure enough, Jesus invites himself into Zacchaeus’ home and turns his life upside down in a way that works Zacchaeus’ salvation.
Jesus is never afraid of failure and evil. He treats Zacchaeus not as an anonymous “sinner” but with patience and respect. And Zacchaeus responds with repentance and love for God and the poor. The lesson is obvious. When we treat others with concrete love like Jesus, lives can change.
Our own lives are never the same if we really encounter Jesus. It’s precisely through the institutional Church so many try to avoid, that we encounter Jesus’ living presence in the Eucharist. We may be totally unworthy people like Zacchaeus, yet Jesus gives us the honor of stepping directly into our lives and our community.
We should be comforted by that fact. As you journey along as a disciple of Jesus, you may find – or rather, you will find — that you encounter suffering, and sometimes bitter hardship. Maybe you’ve encountered this already. You might experience unemployment or the death of a loved one. You might face sickness or loneliness or a moral crisis.
Jesus didn’t die to make us comfortable. He didn’t come to solve our problems. He died to make us free. Jesus went to the cross so that you and I could have the dignity of taking up our own crosses and joining him in the work of sanctifying the world.
That may seem strange to you. But this loving, profoundly attractive man we call Jesus lived a hard life and died a miserable death. Many who claim to have accepted Jesus often lose their faith when challenges come into their lives. But real Christians know what it means to suffer and to suffer with others.
There’s a family in my diocese with several children whose mother died very young and left the children to her husband. One of the children was just two months old. This man and his children faced the most difficult struggle of their lives as they tried to figure out how to carry on without the woman who was their wife and mother. How could this family possibly keep going in the midst of such sadness and confusion?
It was then that the family’s parish community stepped up to help. Other families in the parish volunteered to babysit the children and cook dinner so that the dad could continue working and supporting his family. Even now, several years later, the volunteers haven’t stopped. And they have no intention of stopping for a long time.
When suffering came to this family, they were embraced by the love of Jesus through the love of their fellow disciples. For these parishioners, to say “I’m sorry for your loss” was not nearly enough. They proved how seriously they took the call of Jesus.
Jesus tells his disciples that anyone who gives a thirsty person even a cup of water will not lose his or her reward. The parishioners of that parish gave far more than a cup of water. And stories like this aren’t uncommon. Real love has a cost. It requires us to give of ourselves. It might even involve suffering. But ask your parents about the sacrifices they made for you. Ask a priest about the sacrifices he makes for his parishioners. Love always requires suffering, but it’s always worth it. Jesus himself never hid from suffering; instead, he transformed it into redeeming love.
If we want to be disciples of Jesus Christ, we need to accept the challenge of authentic living. That means a life of daily conversion and sacrifice. But if we’re open to the Holy Spirit, nothing can separate us from the God for whom we thirst so deeply. Real discipleship demands the humility to be a part of a community of fellow believers. And that includes the imperfections that always come with a life in any family or community.
But it also includes experiencing the acts of heroic love that make life worth living. In this way, Jesus makes himself present in our lives. I pray that the communities of faith to which you belong will always be faithful to this authentic, living, profoundly lovable Jesus. The Jesus of the Church. The Jesus who shows us what God is like.