NCReg has a full text of Archbishop Chaput’s address at Notre Dame. This has been getting some notice in Catholic media online, aggregators, facebook, bloggers and such. One or another bit has been singled out, depending on where one surfs. I’d like to tackle his talk in two posts. In each of these, I’ll use the quotes as a springboard into something a bit different here and there. Bear with me, please.
For the record, I find Archbishop Chaput various parts refreshingly candid, somewhat myopic, and always ready with an opinion on something he knows something about. Some people think he and his culturewar mindset are about as passé as anything emerging from the 60s. But I think the man is earnest and sincere. Few others would tackle an eastern scandal-ridden archdiocese with as much vigor as he does.
Interesting that he prefaced nearly two-thousand words about politics from JFK to Trump v Clinton with a brief statement, “My focus today isn’t politics.” I would have preferred a deeper exploration of C.S. Lewis, Cyril of Jerusalem, or Flannery O’Connor, like his preface explained:
(Mary) reminds us of the great line from C.S. Lewis that Christianity is a “fighting religion” — not in the sense of hatred or violence directed at other persons, but rather in the spiritual struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us, where our weapons are love, justice, courage and self-giving.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem described our spiritual struggle this way: “There is a serpent [the devil] by the wayside watching those who pass by: Beware, lest he bite thee with unbelief. He sees so many receiving salvation and is seeking whom he may devour.” The great American writer Flannery O’Connor added that whatever form the serpent may take, “it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country,” not to turn away from God’s story or the storyteller.
Courage, indeed. Discipline as well, I would think. Ignatius of Loyola was a soldier in his first life, but he understood the real interior “fight” that takes place within the heart that aspires to God. Fighting other people strikes me as a large part distraction from the inner warfare that engaged so many saints.
On a friend’s fracebook feed, I was reading last week of the ill-feeling he and his friends got from the “scolding” frequently delivered to “faithful” Catholics by Pope Francis. Have these people not read Teresa of Avila, I thought: the notion that the deeper one goes into the mystical life and the closer one draws to Christ, the more aware we are of our sins, our failings, our unworthiness? Maybe feeling scolded is a good thing. At least is suggests a conscience that our culture would prefer be absent from our being.
I’m aware of the relentless attack on the so-called mainstream media from sources as varied as the radical Left (feel the Bern!) to Mr Trump, to Catholics online. And I always ask myself as a person who does not watch network news, nor reads American corporate print journalism, nor views the various cable outlets: If you are so opposed to this medium, why do you seem to spend so much time absorbing it? Just to discredit? From where do you get your real news?
I have no problem with an American archbishop waxing more or less eloquently on American politics. But I wonder if the messenger here has been a bit distracted from the storyteller. If I were at a Church symposium, I’d want to explore a bit more with Cyril of Jerusalem, a figure I haven’t journeyed with since my grad school thesis, or Ms O’Connor, a literary artist that embodies the Catholic imagination a good bit more than the man behind the face on the fifty-cent piece.
What interests me more coming from the archbishop’s mind is this:
Optimism and pessimism are twin forms of self-deception. We need, instead, to be a people of hope, which means we don’t have the luxury of whining.
When I do a self-check on this, I’d consider myself more of an optimist. But I also recognize a cynical streak. Hope is a tricky and elusive virtue. Saint Paul suggests it is at least as important as faith. What does it mean to have hope? Is it something we take action on, like love? Do we have to practice hope? To live life expecting someone or something greater, more powerful, infinitely more good is taking hold of us and folds us into some better plan?
Any comments on hope?
A key thing to remember about hope is that it is NOT expectation. Hope is related to faith (trust) and joy as a cosmic disposition.
I am not an optimist. I have a tragic sense of life in this world, which is not quite the same as pessimism. But I believe that Christ conquered death (and therefore the spiritual death that is sin) by death, and in his victory the New Creation begotten of the Paschal Mystery is sent out in the Holy Spirit over the old creation. And that is the reason for the hope I have (1 Peter 3:15).