– The once Christian culture of the West has forgotten its roots, Archbishop Charles Chaput said Friday, warning that basic principles of human dignity and freedom are now at risk.
The leader of the Philadelphia archdiocese told an April 12 gathering of priests, seminarians, and lay people at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary’s Bishops and Rector Dinner, held in Rochester, Minn., that it is the sacred responsibility of the Church to be actors in history, steering society back to the path toward God.
“We need to understand that, increasingly, the main moral principles of the Declaration of Independence – things about which the Founders could say, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident’ — are not at all self-evident or permanent to many of our intellectual and political leaders,” Chaput said, while he received the 2019 Immaculate Heart of Mary Award at the seminary’s annual Bishops and Rector Dinner.
“The natural rights that most of us Americans take for granted mean nothing if there’s no such thing as a permanent human nature – a nature which many of those who seek to rule us, or already rule us, already reject. And that has consequences.”
The archbishop noted an increasing public hostility to the values of natural law and said that “secular inquisitors” seek to enforce a new orthodoxy which rejects basic human truths.
“Sex is their weapon of choice,” Chaput said, “a kind of Swiss Army knife of gender confusion, sexual license, and ferocious moralizing against anything that hints of classic Christian morality, purity, modesty, fertility, and lifelong fidelity based on the sexual complementarity of women and men.”
“To put it another way: The real enemies of human freedom, greatness, imagination, art, hope, culture, and conscience are those who attack religious belief, not believers.”
Chaput said that American society increasingly rejects the faith in God which was once its distinctive trait, calling faith the lost source of American “decency and vitality.”
“Unbelief– whether deliberate and ideological, or lazy and pragmatic – is the state religion of the modern world. The fruit of that orthodoxy is the starvation and destruction of the human spirit, and a society without higher purpose.”
“Whatever our nation once was, today it risks becoming more and more obviously a new Rome with all of the inhuman flaws that implies,” he said.
The archbishop said that Christians are not called to be passive witnesses to the times. He reminded Catholics that each person is both the subject and author of their place in history.
Christians, he said, have the duty to remake society in the image of Christ by standing in firm contradiction to the prevailing culture, remembering that each person’s actions have consequences.
“To the degree we try to fit into a culture that’s more and more hostile to what Catholics have always believed – which is what we’ve been doing for decades now – we repudiate by our actions what we claim to hold sacred with our words,” Chaput said.
“No person, and no Church, can survive for long with divided loyalties.”
Be an engine of genuine renewal
Chaput told the audience that Catholics had the duty to “serve the truth by telling the truth as joyfully and persuasively as we can.”
“Our faith changed the course of history and gave meaning to an entire civilization. And in the Risen Christ, God is now calling us, right now, starting with those of us here tonight, to do the same.”
The archbishop said that it was through faith in God that society appreciated the dignity of human nature and the freedom of the human soul. If American Catholics no longer know their faith, or their privilege of discipleship, or their call to mission, then “we have no one to blame but ourselves,” he said.
“The problem in American Catholic life is not a lack of money or resources or personnel or social influence,” Chaput said.
“The central problem in constructing a Christian culture is our lack of faith and the cowardice it produces. We need to admit this. And then we need to submit ourselves to a path of repentance and change, and unselfish witness to others.”
“Your diocese, your wonderful seminary, and each of your lives, needs to be an engine of that renewal. That’s our purpose. That’s our vocation. That’s why God made us and put us here.”
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., is the archbishop of the Diocese of Philadelphia.