In a series of catechetical speeches this week Archbishop Charles Chaput addressed some of the thousands of young people gathered for the week-long youth festival in Krakow, Poland. The outlines for his daily remarks from Wednesday July 27 to Friday, July 29 follow:
Wednesday, July 27, World Youth Day Catechesis
+ Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M Cap., bullet points for reflection
Theme: Now is the time of mercy.
- Time seems to flow like a river – a smooth and continuous stream of events. But it actually consists of thousands of separate moments every day when we’re thinking, feeling and choosing what to do next. Those moments, and the choices we make as we experience them, determine the course of the river, which is also the course of our lives.
- Time is the one resource that can’t be replenished. We have a limited amount of it, and it passes quickly. So how we use our time matters – and it matters not just here and now but eternally, because what we do in this world shapes the life we will have in the next. Our bodies die, but our spirits live on.
- Our time in the world is never really “ours.” Each day of life is a free gift. We didn’t earn it. We don’t own it. And we always share the time allotted to us with others, because all of our lives interlock. What we do with our time inevitably impacts the people around us for good or for ill. Each of us has the starring role in his or her life. But we’re also a supporting actor in the lives of everyone around us. And all of us are part of a much larger story which we’ll only fully understand in the next life – God’s story of creation and salvation. The point is this: None of us is a neutral visitor to the world. We’re not tourists. We’re co-authors and players. Each of us either adds to or subtracts from the great story of the world by our choices.
- The past is gone. The future isn’t here yet. So the decisive moment in our lives is always right now. We need to know the past and learn from it so we can understand why the world is the way it is. And we need to think about the future so we can make it a better place for the people who come after us. But we always do that, or fail to do that, now in our choices and actions. The past is memory. The future is good intentions. But now is real. Now is where we exercise our freedom.
- The irony is that much of modern life limits our freedom. Work, school, family, health, money or the lack of it – all of these things limit our freedom to do what we want. And meanwhile, every day, our lives “silt up” like a river clogging with dirt – in other words, we choke on all the hurts and injustices we inflict on other people, and all the hurts and injustices that other people inflict on us. The world becomes a tangle of debts we owe to others, and debts that others owe to us. Debts that can never be paid. And the result is suffering and conflict with everyone demanding their rights, everyone demanding justice, and no one really getting it.
- The only way to be free of our debts is to free others from the debts they owe us. Justice is part of the nature of God, and as free creatures we’re accountable to him for the good and the evil we do. But if we think of his justice purely as a math problem – who gets punished how much for what sins – we miss God’s deeper reality, which is fatherly love. And mercy is the expression of that fatherly love that allows us to free others and find real freedom ourselves.
- There’s a famous legend from the ancient world that involves the Gordian Knot. The Gordian Knot was a large and extremely complicated knot of powerful rope that allegedly could not be untied. Dozens of strong men had tried and failed to unravel it, but the knot was too complex. Alexander the Great solved the problem by simply slicing through the knot with his sword. In a sense, the demands of justice are the impossible knot we create with our interlocking sins and resentments. And mercy is God’s love that liberates his children by cutting through the knot like a sword.
Wednesday Mass (Eph 2:4-10; Jn 8:1-11):
A few observations from the readings:
- The “rich in mercy” line in Ephesians gives the title to John Paul 2’s great encyclical on mercy. The point: Mercy is not a dramatically new theme; Francis is expressing with fresh urgency a theme that the Church has always consistently preached.
- God’s love is personal and fatherly; the demands of his justice are tempered by that love. He wants joy for us, not punishment.
- Our lives don’t belong to us; we are all God’s “workmanship.” We are not sovereign individuals; we depend on a Creator. And we can’t earn our salvation by good works. It’s a free gift. Our good works are natural expressions of gratitude, worship, obedience and joy but they don’t buy heaven or God’s love. We already have his love. Our task is the share that love with others and bring them, in turn, to God.
- Re: the woman caught in adultery, two things: (1) The elders misunderstand and abuse the real meaning of justice by using it as a trap question for Jesus, an assertion of their own righteousness, and a means of scapegoating the adulteress (in the literal, Old Testament sense of the scapegoat assuming the community’s sins). But (2) mercy always comes with an implicit obligation. Adultery is evil and destructive. It has grave consequences for family and community peace. The woman has, in fact, sinned. And so Jesus is not simply being indulgent. His instruction is as real as his mercy and forgiveness – “go and do not sin again.”
Thursday, July 28, World Youth Day Catechesis
+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M Cap., bullet points for reflection
Theme: Let us allow ourselves to be touched by Christ’s mercy.
- We don’t create reality. We receive it. We didn’t make the world. It’s a gift. We can help or hurt the environment by our actions, but we humans can’t create anything genuinely “new” out of nothing. So knowing our limits, understanding the world as it really is, is part of being a healthy person. For example, we can’t see or touch or taste gravity, but’s it’s real, whether we like it or not. So we organize our lives accordingly. And if we don’t, life can get very painful very fast. This is common sense.
- Gravity is “true” and “real” in the sense of scientific fact. But science is only one way, and not the only way, of finding truth and discovering reality. Science deals with the material world and how it works. But the really big questions in life – why do we have a world at all; what do our lives mean; and where, if anywhere, do we go when we die – science can never answer. In fact, science is just one tool in a whole set of tools for understanding our world; tools that include art, music, literature philosophy and especially religious faith. Some things – like love and forgiveness, for example — we can’t measure with science. Love makes no mechanical sense. Forgiveness can’t be picked apart in a science lab. But that doesn’t make them less real or less true.
- Why is this important? More than 70 years ago, C.S. wrote a wonderful little novel called The Great Divorce. It’s the story of a group of souls in hell who get the opportunity to take a bus ride to heaven. And when they arrive at the entrance to heaven, they can leave hell behind and never go back. They can enter into paradise and experience its joy whenever they like. But there’s just one catch: They need to leave their sins behind at the gate. Most refuse to do that, because they love their sins to the point where their sins have become part of their identity. And since all sin is a rejection of God’s sovereignty and love, sin is also a rejection of reality. The souls hate heaven because heaven is too intensely real. For souls addicted to the unreality of sin, heaven is painful – the blades of grass cut their feet. So the damned souls get back on the bus and return to hell, not because anyone forces them to, but because they prefer it. God doesn’t damn them. They freely damn themselves.
- The lesson here today is this: God created us as free beings with intelligence and will. We’re not like any other of God’s creatures. That’s the special dignity of being human. But with our freedom comes our responsibility for our actions. God respects our freedom and will not force us to love him. He will accept our choices, good or bad. He will not intervene in our lives if we do not want him to.
- The biggest lies of the modern age are that we’re all basically good persons and don’t need redemption; that we’re all bound for heaven no matter what we do; that God is a sentimental grandfather who would never disapprove of our choices as long as we’re happy; that there’s no such thing as sin, no such thing as the devil; and that the most important thing in life is to be true to ourselves. All of these statements are lies. And all of these lies are invitations to be unreal; to choose the false over the true; and to put ourselves and our appetites before our obligations to each other and to God. And the result of these lies, if we believe them, is a separation from the God who loves us and choosing a path that leads to loss and unhappiness.
- Scripture says that “God so loved the world that he sent his only son.” Jesus Christ is God incarnate – fully divine but also fully human, with a profound understanding of our hopes and sufferings, not just from the outside as our Creator, but from the inside as one of us. God understands us. God loves us. God wants to save us and bring us to his joy. But he won’t do that against our will. We need to choose against our sins and for God. We need to choose to open ourselves to his love because he will never force himself on us or violate our freedom. We need God’s mercy, but the only way we can get it is to see reality as it really is, to see ourselves as we really are, and then to give ourselves to God so he can create us anew with his mercy and love.
Thursday Mass (2Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:1-3; 11-32):
A few observations from the readings:
- Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ is God’s instrument in creating us as real human persons from the nothingness, the unreality, of our delusions and sins. In our conversion to Jesus Christ, our eyes begin to see for the first time. We begin to see with faith — more clearly than with any science or technology — the essential things in life: love and forgiveness, truth and reality, as they really are.
- Our renewal is not meant to be a private affair. We have a mission as God’s ambassadors to the world through our recreation in Christ and life in his Church.
- The Gospel reading shows us two things: the vindictiveness of the self-consciously righteous; and the personality of God himself: generous, forgiving and always filled with love for the truly repentant.
Friday, July 29, World Youth Day Catechesis
+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M Cap., bullet points for reflection
Theme: Lord, make me an instrument of your mercy!
- The Holy Father has a great devotion to St. Francis. Today’s theme is a variant on the famous prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi and so much loved by Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” Peace is a beautiful word. But real peace is more than the absence of violence and conflict. Real peace only comes when people are reconciled with one another. Peace comes when people set aside their wounds and resentments; and when they forgive each other’s sins and debts. And forgiveness is above all an act of mercy. Lasting peace requires forgiving hearts, which means merciful hearts.
- The virtue of mercy is a letting go of our rights under justice, out of love for the person who has hurt us. But notice that mercy doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It requires a framework of justice to have any meaning. We can be “kind” to anyone, but we can’t really be “merciful” to persons who owe us nothing. We show mercy to people who have wrongly hurt us; to people who have acted unjustly toward us; to people who deserve punishment for their bad actions. So justice is a kind of foundation stone for mercy. At the same time, the idea of “justice” itself means nothing without an objective standard of right and wrong in the world, good and bad, truth and untruth, to establish what is “just” and what isn’t. Mercy requires a framework of justice, and justice requires a framework of truth.
- It follows that mercy disconnected from truth isn’t really mercy at all. We can tell the truth without being merciful, but we can’t be merciful without telling the truth. Mercy without truth is a form of indulging the sinner or indifference to sin, or even personal cowardice. Real mercy requires telling the truth to people – patiently, kindly, but honestly — to protect them from the damage of the lies and delusions of our culture. And not everyone wants to hear the truth about their behaviors and appetites. Which means that mercy can easily be misunderstood, and it can sometimes take great courage. Remember that we call mercy and justice “virtues” for good reason. The English word virtue comes from the Latin word virtus, which means manliness, courage, character or excellence. Leading a virtuous life is beautiful and rewarding, but it isn’t easy. It demands that we become people of maturity, bravery and substance. C.S. Lewis called Christianity a “fighting religion,” beginning with the struggle against our own pride and selfishness. It’s not a religion for the tepid or cowardly.
- The point of a Christian life is to become like Jesus Christ. And to do that, we need to let Jesus act through us, as his disciples. On our own, each of us is weak and prone to mistakes and sins. But with God in our hearts, and doing his will, not our own, anything is possible. To become instruments of God’s mercy we need to study the Word of God; we need to pray by quieting our hearts and minds and listening to God’s will; and we need to love and defend the Church Jesus founded, because the Church, as the community of believers, is our family, our mother, our teacher and our strength. The devil hates the Church, because without the Church, the individual Christian is alone and much easier to mislead and defeat. The devil fears the sincere Christian, but he hates and fears the spiritual power of Christ’s Church. And this is why we give the Church our love and fidelity. Together, Christians are strong; and not only strong but joyful because the courage and love we see in each other increases the courage and love – and spirit of mercy – in our own hearts.
Friday Mass (Col 3:12-17; Lk 1:39-55):
Two observations from the readings:
- In Ephesians, Paul tells us to put on the armor of God in fighting the devil. But what does that armor consist of? In this passage from Colossians, Paul describes the armor: compassion, lowliness, meekness, patience, habits of forgiveness, prayer and gratitude – the very opposite of the worldly power in which Satan exults.
- Mary is the model of humanity at its highest, free of sin, and filled with joy and trust in her life, exactly as she is filled with Jesus in her womb. She is intensely alive with the fertility of God’s presence. Her canticle is the great manifesto of human trust and joy and hope – uttered in a time of Roman oppression, by a very young woman with an entirely implausible story about her pregnancy. Which only proves yet again: All things are possible with God.
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It was very satisfying to read the Archbishop’s reflections. They have a very solid ring to them. In my priesthood during the tenures of four Archbishops, it is finally satisfying to labor with a shepherd who has something to say and says it convincingly. I shall also take this opportunity to thank His Excellency for his presentation on “Amoris Laetitia”. I had intended to thank him after reading it on the day of his appearance, but…. More recently, when I mentioned this to one of his close collaborators, he asked me to do so. Despite the reactions of even some who read neither “A.L.”, nor the Archbishop’s presentation, both pieces are highly encouraging.