Archbishop Chaput in Mexico City 3

Archbishop ChaputRocco posted the text of Archbishop Charles Chaput’s talk to the bishops of the Americas. This is the third and last in a brief series analyzing his address and looking to points of affirmation and criticism.

I do know that Mass attendance and sacramental practice have been declining for decades in many North American dioceses, well before the clergy abuse crisis of recent years. And I do know that millions of Catholics in my country and Canada are baptized and even catechized, but they don’t know Jesus Christ — and therefore, for many of them, the language of Catholic Scripture, Catholic worship and Catholic moral reasoning is incomprehensible.

Sacramental practice declines had probably leveled off by the turn of the century. Some particularly scandal-ridden dioceses have seen precipitous dropoffs since 2001. That’s a necessary fine-tuning of the diagnosis.

I would agree with the archbishop’s assessment on many Catholics. That’s less a modern development, I would wager, than a continuation of an unfortunate state of affairs. A solid cultural and ethnic Catholicism masked the lack of depth. More Catholics are more aware of Scripture these days. The apologetics movement is probably misplaced, attempting to give key answers in key areas, but not really providing the necessary grounding in Scripture, liturgy, and moral actions.

Catholic awareness and competency has probably seen a small uptick. More recently, the internet has likely helped.

But the work (of evangelization) belongs to us, now. And it needs to involve more than passing along good doctrine. It needs to lead our people – including the well-catechized – to embrace Jesus Christ and his teaching in a new, more personal way.

Amen to this.

The archbishop cites Augustine:

Whoever does not want to fear, let him probe his inmost self. Do not just touch the surface; go down into yourself; reach into the farthest corner of your heart.

Not a bad start.  If only bishops and clergy, and lay leaders would lead the way. If Archbishop Chaput had looked to his brother bishops and explored this a bit, it would have been a good start. But he spoiled a perfectly good insight with a wail on someone else.

(S)ome Catholic universities and colleges, and some Catholic charitable ministries, seem to be “Catholic” in name only. Are we willing to admit this? And are we willing to do something about it?

I think many places and people under the umbrella of “Catholic” struggle with Catholic identity. I also think that some Catholic bishops struggle under the misperception that uniformity is some sort of hallmark of Catholic identity. It has to be their way. But that’s not at all true.

It may very well be that the Church’s missionary outreach at secular institutions is now more fruitful and a better use of resources than her presence on the campuses of many self-described “Catholic” universities. And I find that curious and sad.

I think I might be a bit insulted at this. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the Catholics who engage in our ministries on public and non-Catholic private campuses are coming to us because they want to maintain and engage their faith. The archbishop also admitted once in my presence that he was surprised at the non-Catholic numbers at many Catholic universities.

Toward the end of his talk, Archbishop Chaput offered a litany I very much liked:

  • (W)e need to grasp that the “new” evangelization is finally very much like the “old” evangelization.
  • We need to understand the hopes and fears of today’s world, and especially its young adults.
  • (W)e need to master the new technologies and methods to reach people as they are today. But programs and techniques don’t convert the human heart. Only the witness of other people can do that.

A frank admission:

We can’t give what we don’t have. If we as bishops don’t have a passion for Jesus Christ, a zeal for his Church and humility about our own weaknesses, then we’ll never be able to set others on fire with the Gospel. Our own tepid hearts and pride will block the way.

And a hint at what he faces in Philadelphia, as compared to the younger churches of the US West where he served:

We also need to see that the longer our history is as a local Church, and the greater our Catholic legacy and institutions might be as a diocese, then the more encumbered we are by nostalgia, and the harder it is to think creatively about the future. The past is important. We need to remember and revere it. It anchors us in the on-going story of the Church and gives us our identity. But the past cannot be allowed to capture us. The past too easily becomes a kind of aerodynamic drag; an enemy of the nimbleness and radicalism we need in touching the lives of other people with our Christian witness.

I think there are some good gems in this presentation. I think it’s worthwhile reading. I think Archbishop Chaput is serious in trying to engage the current situation. It seems as if some thing puzzle him. His diagnosis is a good bit off on some topics. Nimble and radical: these are excellent qualities for the 21st century Church that hopes to be fruitful in evangelizing and in faithfulness to the Great Commission.

What have you seen in these posts on the Archbishop of Philadelphia and his talk? Anything that surprises you? Any new insights?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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