Archbishop Chaput on Public Opinion

We must make sure our faith means more to us than public opinion. The public sphere so desperately needs the influence of true Christian faith.

chaputTocqueville saw public opinion as a great vulnerability for democracy. In a democracy – at least in theory – every man is his own final moral authority. But the reality is different. Men and women very soon discover how isolated and uninformed they are as individuals. In the absence of a strong religious or similar community, they tend to abdicate their thinking to public opinion, which is the closest that purely secular democracies ever come to a consensus. To the degree that public opinion can be manipulated, democratic life is subverted.

This is why the Founders saw religion as so important to the health of the public square. At its best, faith creates a stable moral framework for political discourse and morally educated citizens to conduct the nation’s work. The trouble is, no religion can survive on its utility. People don’t conform their lives to a message because it’s useful. They do it because they believe the message is true and therefore life-giving. Or they don’t do it.

My point is this: The “next America” we now see emerging – an America ignorant or cynical toward religion in general and Christianity in particular – shouldn’t really surprise anyone. It’s a new America, but it’s made in America. We can blame the mass media, or the academy, or science, or special interest groups for the environment we now face. But we Christians – including we Catholics – helped create it with our eagerness to fit in, our distractions and overconfidence, and our own lukewarm faith.

Too many people who claim to be Christian simply don’t know Jesus Christ. They don’t really believe in the Gospels. They feel embarrassed by their religion and vaguely out of step with the times. They may keep their religion for comfort value. Or they may adjust it to fit their doubts. But it doesn’t reshape their lives because it isn’t real. And because it isn’t real, it has no transforming effect on their personal behavior, no social force and few public consequences. That sort of faith is exactly the same kind of religion that Symmachus once mourned. Whatever it once was – now, it’s dead.

–Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia

Assumption College
November 10, 2011

Chaput and Francis: Christ, not “Christian Civilization”

Last week I had the opportunity to hear the great Archbishop of Philadelphia, the Capuchin Franciscan Charles Chaput, speak at a conference on St. Francis of Assisi hosted by the Dominicans in New York City.

Here he speaks on a really important point today. In our cultural wasteland, lots of young Catholics are eager to rebuild a Catholic culture. But Catholicism is not about building a culture; Catholic culture itself was not built on the desire to build a culture. It’s about Jesus.

chaputThe philosopher Rémi Brague once wrote that “Christianity was founded by people who could not have cared less about ‘Christian civilization.’ What mattered to them was Christ, and the reverberations of his coming on the whole of human existence. Christians believed in Christ, not in Christianity itself; they were Christians, not ‘Christianists.’”

We need to remember that simple lesson. The Catholic faith is not an ideology. It’s a romance. It’s a love affair with God. We’re a people who believe in Jesus Christ – not the ideas, but the person of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for our sake purely out of his love for us. And living the Catholic faith should be an experience of gratitude and joy that flows from a daily personal encounter with God’s son and a communal relationship with God’s people.

saint-francis-of-assisi-detailThere’s a reason the Church calls St. Francis the vir Catholicus, the exemplary Catholic man. Francis understood that gratitude is the beginning of joy, and that joy in this world is the aroma of heaven in the next. He reveled in the debt he owed to God for the beauty of creation, for his friends and brothers, and for every gift and suffering that came his way. He treasured his dependence on the love of others, and returned their love with his own. He gave away all that he had in order to gain the deepest kind of freedom – the freedom to pursue God, to share God with others, and to experience life without encumbrance or fear.

-“Without Gloss: Francis of Assisi and Western Catholicism,” Speech at the Catholic Center of New York University, April 25, 2014

Read the entire talk here.

One gloss: those who try to make this point today – including Pope Benedict, very frequently, despite the complete mis-characterization of him, especially by his fans, as a “culture” guy – often use the language of Chaput’s second paragraph above: “love affair,” “romance,” “personal encounter.” But I think the point is better made by the first and third paragraphs: especially, “Christ, and the reverberations of his coming,” but also, “the aroma of heaven,” “gratitude,” “the debt he owed to God,” “the pursuit of God.”

These phrases are, I think, much richer than the Protestant language of “personal relationship,” while making the same point.

“Christ, and the reverberations of his coming on the whole of human existence.”

Archbishop Chaput on Real Love

chaputI think the following is so important, because it underlines that real love must embrace suffering. It isn’t going to be easy. Which is why there must be the Grace of God.

Last fall the scientific journal Nature reported that “by the age of 30, individuals with Down syndrome invariably develop amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles [in the brain].” As a result, beginning in their 40s, “up to 75 percent of people with Down syndrome develop dementia.”

In other words, no matter how well they live; no matter how well they’re cared for; no matter how fiercely they’re loved, three out of four persons with Down syndrome will develop a form of Alzheimer’s. Sooner or later a day will come when they no longer recognize the family members who loved them, sacrificed for them, encouraged them, protected them, laughed with them, suffered with them and fought for them.

At some point in the future, doctors may be able to treat or prevent this dementia. But right now, today, the longer a child with Down syndrome lives, the more likely he or she will contract Alzheimer’s. And that brings us back to the question I asked at the start: At what point does love become foolish, and unsustainable, and even fruitless?

The cost-effective answer is simple. The effort involved in loving these children with Down syndrome is too great. Their lives are too expensive. They bring too much heartache and have futures that often seem too bleak. The Catholic answer is also simple. No love is fruitless. No love is wasted. Every life is precious. And every child with Down syndrome brings a joy that outweighs any suffering. We trust in a loving God who is love itself; a God who pours out an unearned, redeeming kind of love on every one of his creatures; a God who became love incarnate to make all things new.

None of my friends who has a daughter or son with Down syndrome is melodramatic, or self-conscious, or even especially pious about it. They speak about their special child with an unsentimental realism. It’s a realism flowing out of love – real love, the kind that works its way through fear and suffering to a decision, finally, to surround the child with their hearts anyway, no matter what the cost, and to trust in the goodness of God.

Of course, that decision to trust demands not just real love, and not just real courage, but also real faith. We can’t trust a God we don’t believe in. Faith matters because hope and love can’t bear the weight of the suffering in the world without it. Faith matters because it reminds us that there’s good in the world, and meaning to every life; and that the things that make us human are worth fighting for. Faith matters because it drives us to do what’s right.

–Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia

Address to the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders, August 23, 2013

Archbishop Chaput on Material and Spiritual Drug Addiction


chaputMarx called religion the opiate of the people. But the real opiate of the people – the coca leaves of modern culture that we’re all expected to chew – is the river of consumer comforts and distractions that we use to damp down our deeper hunger for God and our gnawing sense of obligation to so many other people.


Modern life in developed countries is becoming a cocoon of narcotics, from pornography and abortion to crack cocaine. And that brings us to the issue of drugs, the second of the three problems I mentioned at the start. In a way, drugs are just the symptom, not the root cause, of a deeper social dysfunction. Poverty is the more fundamental problem in understanding a troubled society. But the two issues are closely linked. Poverty drives despair, which seeks relief in drugs. Drugs destroy lives, which end up in poverty and crime. The two problems feed on and compound each other.


All of us here know the impact of the drug trade on the life of our continent. Ecclesia in America lists it among the sins that cry out to heaven for justice. Drug-related violence has killed tens of thousands of people. Drug money deforms entire economies. It cripples development. It corrupts law enforcement agencies. It poisons the courts and the political process. It spreads poverty and despair. It traps women and children in prostitution. And it robs young people of the future.


Something genuinely hellish resides in every transaction that profits from the suffering of an innocent young person. That same hellishness infects every man and woman complicit in sustaining the criminal drug industry, from wealthy consumers in New York, to cartel bosses in Mexico, to chemists in the jungles of Colombia. The United States bears special responsibility for the problem because of its enormous demand for the illegal substances. And as Pope Francis stressed in his visit to Brazil earlier this year, decriminalizing the drug trade will not control or solve the drug scourge. Only deeper social and personal reform can do that.


Of course, none of these words about poverty and drugs is new. They’ve all been said before, and said better, by others. The point I want to make in saying them again is that poverty, drugs and so many of the other painful issues facing our people both derive from and make worse a larger crisis of the spirit. It’s a crisis of identity and purpose. It touches every corner of the American continent. It crosses every border and language group. And it brings us to the third of the three problems I hope we can discuss with each other during this pilgrimage.


–Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia,


From his discourse on “The New Evangelization: Responsibilites and Challenges for the American Continent,” Mexico City, Nov. 16, 2013


Archbishop Chaput on Spiritual Poverty

chaputArchbishop Charles Chaput, formerly of Denver and now in Philadelphia, is one of the most important leaders in the American church. He recently addressed an international gathering of bishops in Mexico City on “The New Evangelization” in the Americas. Here is a very provoking passage from that address on poverty, material and spiritual.


“Of course, poverty in the United States is one thing. Poverty in the favelas of Brazil is another. Many people in my country – even when they understand the economic inequalities of Latin America – have no real experience of the human suffering involved. Many of us who live in the North have no experience of poor health care, poor education, poor housing, poor sanitation, no electricity, serious corruption or mass unemployment – at least, not on the scale common to some other countries of America. We have no experience of crippling foreign debt that prevents basic development. And we have no experience of the gulf between rich and poor that exists in other regions of the hemisphere.

“None of this subtracts from the economic and political progress made across the continent in recent years. But it does reveal to us another kind of poverty. I mean the moral poverty that comes from an advanced culture relentlessly focused on consuming more of everything; a culture built on satisfying the self; a culture that runs on ignoring the needs of other people. That kind of poverty, as Mother Teresa saw so well, is very much alive in my country. It’s like a parasite of the soul. It leaves us constantly eating but constantly hungry for something more – all the while starving the spirit that makes us truly human.

“And like material poverty, moral poverty has consequences. It brings fear of new life, a turning away from children, confused sexuality and broken marriages. It results in greed, depression, ugliness and aggression in our popular culture, and laws without grounding in truth. Real human development takes more – much more – than better science, better management and better consumer goods, though all these things are wonderful in their place. Human happiness can’t be separated from the human thirst for meaning. Material things can’t provide that meaning. Abundance can murder the soul as easily as scarcity can. It’s just a different kind of poverty. This is why [John Paul II’s exhortation] Ecclesia in America rightly wondered “whether a pastoral strategy directed almost exclusively to meeting people’s material needs has not in the end left their hunger for God unsatisfied, making them vulnerable to anything which claims to be of spiritual benefit.”

“To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, the devil is happy to cure our fevers if he can give us cancer in the process. To heal a suffering man is a noble and beautiful thing. But there’s a difference between dulling his pain, and making him whole and well.

“Likewise, solving poverty of the body by replacing it with a starving soul is not a solution.”