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Posted in Archbishop Chaput's column, Weekly column from Archbishop Chaput, on September 20th, 2013

Lessons we need to learn

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

Most Americans have immigrant roots. I’m no exception. While my mother’s family was Native American (Prairie Band Potawatomi), my father’s heritage was French Canadian. Growing up in the 1950s, I was very aware that French-speaking Canada – Quebec – was among the most deeply Catholic regions in the world. For more than 200 years, the Church in Quebec not only preached the Gospel, educated the young and ministered to the poor and infirm, but also sustained French language and culture in the face of Canada’s English-speaking Protestant majority.

Quebec’s “Quiet Revolution” destroyed all that in just a few decades. Starting in the mid-20th century and speeding up quickly after Vatican II, Quebeckers left the Church in droves. Today barely 5 percent of Quebeckers attend Mass regularly. The Church is often seen as an object of scorn. How did it happen? There’s no single reason. Church leaders brought some of the trouble on themselves through overconfidence, inertia and an inability to see the changing terrain of their people. Consumerism colonized the lay faithful. And the culture became dominated by new and highly secularized leaders in politics, education and mass media.

Quebec’s ruling party – the Parti Quebecois (PQ) – is now pressing for a “Charter of Quebec Values.” The charter seeks to solidify Quebec as a secularist state and, among other things, ban government employees from wearing religious dress and symbols in the name of social unity. Quebec’s bishops have voiced concern about the charter’s impact on religious freedom – not just for minorities like Muslims and Sikhs, but for Catholics as well. More broadly, critics have attacked the PQ for using liberal democracy and religious neutrality as alibis for hostility to any vigorous religious role in the public square. In the words of one Canadian political observer, “Quebec, for the purposes of its own ruling elites, has renounced its past.”

Of course, America has a very different history from Canada and especially from Quebec. Even in Quebec, support for the proposed charter has declined in recent weeks as criticism has grown. Religious freedom is embedded deeply in the U.S. Constitution. So why should any of this matter to American Catholics?

It matters because the impulse to muzzle religious faith as a public force, to confine religious witness to churches and private homes, to bully faith-related ministries into shedding their religious principles in order to do their public work, is now just as real in the United States as it is in Europe and Quebec. It merely takes different forms.

The lessons we can learn from events like those in Quebec are two.

Here’s the first lesson: Our faith needs to be more than a nostalgic habit; more than a sentimental exercise in good will; and the Church needs to be more than a religious institution. Christianity, as C.S. Lewis once famously wrote, is a “fighting religion” – not in the sense of belligerence or ill will, but as a struggle against our own sins and complacency; a struggle to give ourselves wholly to Jesus Christ, and then bring Jesus Christ to the world.

As individuals and as a Church, if we don’t have a restlessness for God, a passion for Jesus Christ and the poor and needy he loves, then we should stop telling ourselves that we’re Christians. A religion of words and habit, a religion without daily inner repentance and commitment, hollows out from the inside. And it can evaporate overnight.

Here’s the second lesson. If we don’t live our Catholic faith and defend our religious liberty vigorously, then sooner or later we’ll lose both. For more than a year, America’s bishops have repeatedly stressed the coercive – even vindictive – nature of the current administration’s HHS contraceptive mandate. No one “needs” this mandate as a matter of health. It’s purely an imposition of ideology on the freedom of religious communities and individuals to live their convictions in their public work. If Catholics fail to resist this coercion, then more coercion will follow. It’s that simple.

No one grasps the nature of this issue better than New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and we should consider his words in closing this week’s column:

“The Catholic Church in America has long been a leader in providing affordable health care, and in advocating for policies that advance that goal. The bishops on a national level have been at it for almost one hundred years, and our heroic women and men religious have done so even longer. Yet, instead of spending our time, energy, and treasure on increasing access to health care, as we have done for many decades, we’re now forced to spend those resources on determining how to respond to recently enacted government regulations that restrict and burden our religious freedom. Catholics – our parents and grandparents, religious sisters, brothers and priests – were among the first at the table to advance and provide health care, and now we are being burdened because of the same Catholic values that compel us into these ministries! All this in a country that puts religious liberty first on the list of its most cherished freedoms. As I’ve said before, this is a fight that we didn’t ask for, and would rather not be in, but it’s certainly one that we won’t run from.”



Readers are encouraged to voice their support for religious liberty at the website of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, https://www.votervoice.net/PACC/Campaigns/30694/Respond.


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15 Responses

  1. Your Excellency, are you not underplaying the “overconfidence [and] inertia?”

    When the Church was the dominant institution in Quebec, the province was a stultifying wreck. Granted, the financial poverty of the early part of the last century did not help matters. But the Church brooked no rivals as the center of culture. This certainly contributed to a high level of vocations, so I suppose that was nice. But as the institutional Church calcified into this overwhelming monolith, it risked shattering at the impact of the first serious threat against it. So when the Quiet Revolution came, the Church’s cultural primacy came crashing down.

    But even after the rise of the PQ, I do not think the cause is lost in Quebec. I was up there for the Eucharistic Conference in 2008 and found the people very welcoming. The procession through the streets of Quebec City remains one of the central spiritual experiences of my life.

    My point is this: if we come to people as friends, perhaps we will be — and certainly should be — treated as friends. But if we come to people as a bland authority figure, or alternatively, as a wounded lion savagely defending itself, then should we be surprised if we do not receive the reception we wish?

    By: lpydmblb on September 20, 2013 at 9:59 pm

  2. The Archbishop is astute enough to recognize that society changes and the Church MUST change “a bit” with it or face the risk of a repeated Quebec. I think Popes John XXIII and Francis recognized/recognize this reality and
    tried/are trying to reflect this reality in their decisions dispite the push back by conservatives (lead by Popes JP II and Benedict). In this regard, it might be best to “go underground” for a decare or so in order to better prepare the Church for the 2050 and beyond period. As crazy as this sounds, the strategy under Pope Benedict and the conservatives have resulted in Mass attendance of about 20% and almost no new ordinations to the Priesthood.

    By: Robert on September 21, 2013 at 7:25 am

  3. Many loyal church-going Catholics in this diocese will adamantly disagree with your characterization of the Obama administration as “coercive – even vindictive.” We just can’t agree with this paranoia.

    I suggest that you heed the wise words of Pope Francis in his amazing interview with the Jesuit America magazine where he said…

    “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” Francis argues. “The teaching of the church, is clear, and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time

    And later in that same interview he says…

    “If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists­—they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies.”

    Francis is clearly asking us to look at our faith not as a legal document with rules and regulations that will always give us some sort of “security” from reasonable thought, but instead, to look forward with a clear mind relying on Christ’s teachings and guidance.

    I ask you and the other leaders of the Catholic Church in America to listen to this wise Pope and spend more time teaching the faith and less time trying to appeal to the right-wing base with dire warnings of an approaching apocalypse like so many of our politicians in Washington.

    By: chris on September 21, 2013 at 4:30 pm

  4. God gave us free will, but when we exercised it we were castigated. The negativity, bullying, and intransigence of The Church regarding those who need support has caused us mere mortals to seek understanding and support from those willing and eager to help, the Democrats. The fall from popularity of The Church is due to its own pride, willfulness, and hypocrisy. This new world, where good deeds, love, and caring are cherished is more like what we were taught as Christian than the treatment we have been subject too by The Church. Taught from childhood that much of what comes naturally to us is SINFUL, I, for one, have felt as an outsider from elementary school age. Being browbeat instead of accepted has driven me from The Church.

    By: Dennis Walker on September 21, 2013 at 6:04 pm

  5. In the Communion of Saints, we are the Church Militant which means, we fight! However, as the Archbishop points out we first fight our own sinful self-satisfaction and our own sinful inertia. If we allow ourselves to be transformed by Christ, to hear and respond to the call to conversion, then we can begin to evangelize a blindly secular society. Let’s plant Christ crucified in our hearts and let’s build a truly Christocentric world before it’s too late. Live, Jesus, in our hearts forever and help us to be Your living body in a world so foolishly gone astray!

    By: Kevin Madison on September 22, 2013 at 3:47 pm

  6. Great insight into the Quebec situation.During the Premier M. Duplessis regime in Quebec(pre 1960) the Catholic bishops,priests,sisters et al supported and backed the Union National government.I recall sermons on Sunday when the priest would pray for the re-election of the provincial member. And in what was my parish (as happened in most of them) new carpets,sidewalks and paint jobs were done for the parishes by the government.Now in Canada we seem to have a lot of ‘airport bishops’ and few if any of them are taking any real leadership roles.They are afraid to raise their heads,attired as Middle Age rulers,above the walls of their forts.

    By: Charlie on September 25, 2013 at 9:49 am

  7. Open letter to Archbishop Chaput:-
    1. What a lovely person you are and an asset to Philly.
    2. I am far away but I have watched many of your homiles on videos and also your Witness interviews. Bravo. I know resources in your diocese are tight and staff have been cut but please get your staff to upload more of your homilies on http://www.youtube.com The latest ones that I can find are from 2011? The videos are key to evangelisation for peoples, Christian and non-Christian near and far.
    3. But perhaps you can do less books on politics and more on religion or scripture. Try not to be so political and concentrate more on religion – the word of God and spreading the faith. Though I understand that you must also stand up for Jesus in the public square!
    4. If the weekly collections of the archdiocese can afford it why not start up a soup kitchen at the cathedral for people of all faiths so that the poor, homeless and hungry can have an evening meal and no kid in your area goes to bed hungry. This will be a very noble act for any Capuchin and I am sure your founder St. Francis will be well pleased.
    6. Hope your knee surgery has healed well. Long Life and may God continue to Bless you sir,
    Man Far Away
    aspiring lay Capuchin

    By: aspiring lay capuchin on September 27, 2013 at 9:02 am

  8. Just one clarification- a Catholic Archbishop is generally referred to as Your Grace rather than Your Excellency (as one poster has it above)

    I like Archbishop Chaput very much. You guys are lucky to have him as your pastor in chief. Hope dear Sir, your knee surgery has been successful and you are completely healed. And that you will have a very long life and decades of preaching the GOOD NEWS ahead.

    I learn much from his homilies. Even though you have budget and staff cuts in your archdiocese I hope you will continue to upload the archbishop’s homilies on YOU TUBE. Its important for evangelisation for people near and far – Catholics and non-Christians alike. Philadelphia is also an important see. It is important to hear what its senior Catholic representative is saying!

    I hope from the weekly collections your diocese has or can start a soup kitchen so that the poor, homeless and hungry can have at least a decent dinner and especially no young kid in your diocese needs to go hungry. As the chief pastor is a Capuchin that would be a good Franciscan example for others to follow.

    Thank you.

    By: catholic optimist on September 30, 2013 at 1:49 am

    • To clarify the first sentence, an archbishop is generally referred to as Your Excellency in formal usage, not the archaic form Your Grace. In most cases, an archbishop is simply addressed as “Archbishop.” — Editor

      By: CatholicPhilly MG on September 30, 2013 at 11:45 am

  9. Catholic optimist is correct. A soup kitchen would be a lovely idea as would be stalls of showers for male and female where the homeless can take a shower and get a shave. The nuns, priests and seminarians can help in the soup kitchen dishing out the food and the Archbishop can volunteer to when he is not so busy. It can be funded by rich USA businesses particularly those in the Philadelphia area – like the Philly Stock Exchange, JP Morgan, Chevron etc to name a few.

    I know that Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles has been criticised for being “exhorbitant” “ostentatious” and “expensive” considering within a 5Km radius of that cathedral there are 88,000 homeless people walking around with no place for a bed even (echoes of Jesus in Bethlehem?)

    Its good if your church leads the way to the soup kitchen, showers, sinks and toilets for the homeless and the hungry.I am sure St. Francis will be well pleased by the capuchin example

    By: secular franciscan on October 13, 2013 at 9:03 am

  10. Soup kitchen yes, certainly. With about USD4,000 per week as a budget for food and drink you guys can certainly make it. Good idea and good luck. i think the poster is a rather decent person whose heart is on his sleeve. Because he did not forget that more than 4 million children go to bed hungry each night because they have no money for dinner.

    By: aspiring capuchin on October 13, 2013 at 9:10 am

  11. Archbishop Chaput is a wonderful asset to the Church and his teaching is very orthodox and unequivocal. He is the kind of strong leader that can and will stand up to the secular culture which is rapidly descending into decadence and evil. We would all do well to pay attention to what His Excellency has to say…

    … but, “Quebeckers”? “Quebeckers”? Yick! I’ve always heard the citizens of Quebec refered to as “Quebecois”. The first sounds awkward and goofy, and the second more elegant. ;-)

    By: Rick Gutleber on October 17, 2013 at 8:43 am

  12. With regard to His Excellency’s “second lesson”, I think he is right on the money, and perhaps even understating the issue. The constant antagonism of this Administration towards the Church and her teachings will only continue to grow and become more brazen. I foresee a time in the near future where it will not be possible to live in the United States without having to compromise your Faith or break the law. With the HHS Mandate, it’s basically here now. How long until we fall down the moral well that has Canada prosecuting Scripture itself as “hate speech”?

    Read your history, especially the French and Russian revolutions, because we are going to be living them again in one form or another. Gird your loins and strap on your sword and put away all notions of “it can’t happen here”. It can. It will. It has already started.

    St. Athanasius, pray for us.

    By: Rick Gutleber on October 17, 2013 at 8:54 am

  13. I am not in awe of Padre Pio, that Capuchin friar who faked his stigmata with carbolic acid. But I rather like Chaput who comes from the same congregation. Chaput is the real thing.

    Yes the soup kitchen its a good idea. Let Philly be different from other cities. I know the archdiocese has financial challenges, so go to the corporates to get their donations for the soup kitchen: The Bill and Melinda Foundation, The Philadelphia Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs etc.

    In LA they have a spectacular Catholic cathedral for worship I believe its called the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels but within 20km radius 80,000 people are documented as homeless and hungry.

    By: catholic observer on December 1, 2013 at 5:28 am

  14. Secular Franciscan is correct. I am far away but when your archdiocese has their FRANCISCAN KITCHEN(soup kitchen) up and running please publicise this and I will drop by to help out/volunteer. That is faith in action. Its a brilliant idea. I hope it will see the light of day with the corporate donations

    By: just a catholic on December 2, 2013 at 2:00 am

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