NCReg has a full text of Archbishop Chaput’s address at Notre Dame. The smaller Church, whether purer or lighter or whatever has been getting some blowback and cheers, depending on where one sits in the bleachers.
Are we concerned about numbers? The archbishop says yes, and I share it:
Catholics today — and I’m one of them — feel a lot of unease about declining numbers and sacramental statistics. Obviously, we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the Church.
I find the assumption here interesting. Many people, Archbishop Chaput included, seem to assign inactive Catholics to the category of “tepid.” But that’s not been the experience of many people I know. I heard from people in Kansas City that they felt under the leadership of a certain bishop that the Church had left them. One man whom I particularly admire abandoned his parish–it was a matter of integrity. I didn’t get the notion at all he was abandoning his faith. It seemed to me he was leaving to preserve it.
“Ne timeas”–don’t be afraid! I get it. But …
But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter Church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness. Making sure that happens is the job of those of us who are bishops.
I think the concern–not a fear–many of us have had is that the smaller Church is purer only in terms of ideology. Not orthodoxy. Certainly not orthopraxy. We should be very concerned if a smaller Church is driven by cliques, in-crowds, what another Catholic friend once described as Country Club Catholicism: we accept people who think like us, and can afford the price we will extract. In other words, the cool kid table from high school. And an adolescent version of community (I hesitate to call it “church”) it is.
Losing people who are members of the Church in name only is an imaginary loss. It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay. We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight. We have nothing to be afraid of as long as we act with faith and courage.
And yet, losing people of integrity, commitment, and enough honesty to question their pope, bishop, pastor, and certainly themselves–this is not good for us.
In his defense, Archbishop Chaput has been honest in other talks I’ve read about the importance of bishops being zealous and motivated, as well as able to motivate others for the cause of the Gospel. His blind spot includes some telling assumptions about the state of affairs among Catholics, especially lay people. Aside from the Lord’s lesson about the weeds and the wheat I also think of this brief example from Matthew 21:28-32:
“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
This is illustrative of human nature in a more broad sense of our ability or inability to make and keep commitments. But it also is a caution for any age in the Church. In the first century, tax collectors and prostitutes were on the minds of those who saw themselves wrapped in a mantle of religious virtue. Who are those people today? Quite likely a few folks labelled as “tepid.” Maybe some who have dipped their finger in very lukewarm water provided by our leaders and our Catholic neighbors and found it–and us–very much wanting.
Archbishop Chaput’s conclusion, in part:
If we want to reclaim who we are as a Church, if we want to renew the Catholic imagination, we need to begin, in ourselves and in our local parishes, by unplugging our hearts from the assumptions of a culture that still seems familiar but is no longer really “ours.”
We may also need to unplug our hearts from aspects of Church culture that holds some familiarity, but no longer works: a sense of entitlement, a rejection of imagination or outside-the-box thinking, apologetics, and of so frequently saying “I go,” and deciding that it’s someone else’s job, after all.
Given today’s Gospel reading, also the notion of gratitude that we remnant are not tepid, pro-choice heretics who don’t vote a GOP ticket.