Holy ImpatienceARCHBISHOP CHARLES CHAPUT
Some years before he was elected pope, Joseph Ratzinger was asked what he thought about the health of the Church.
In just a few days, on Dec. 3, we celebrate his feast day. And while so many years and so many miles separate us from the work of St. Francis Xavier, he's the perfect patron for our time together today. Obviously the Sodalitium and the Jesuits are very different communities. The Sodalitium has its own unique genius and purpose. God will use the gift of your lives to achieve things that no other community can.
But the saints belong to all of us — and in many ways, every Sodalit has made the same choice Francis did, leaving behind his old life and following Jesus Christ. Every Sodalit has paid a cost for his choice. And each of you personally has proven your love of God and your ability to serve, just as Francis did, or you wouldn't be here today as leaders.
Very few Americans understand the kind of courage it took for Alexi and Mario Salazar to leave everything they had in Peru, move to the United States, begin the Christian Life Movement, and become part of my people's life as a Church and a nation.
Very few Americans know the endurance it took for Rossana Goni and her sisters to found the Marian Community in Denver, or Jose Ambrozic and his brothers to begin the Sodalitium, or Alejandro Bermudez to start the Catholic News Agency.
Very few Americans know the patience and humility that all of these apostolic efforts demanded. But I think I do — because I saw them bear fruit.
God has worked something extraordinary through the passion and genius of Luis Fernando [Figari] — and also through the zeal of every member of the Sodalitium. As a bishop, I've seen the results. So before I do anything else, I need to say: Thank you for your service to Jesus Christ and his Church.
Let's turn first to the state of the Church. He answered that she was doing very well; she was just a lot smaller than most people thought. He was exactly right. We need to think of the Church in our age as a seed of life embedded in layers of dead tissue. We also need to distinguish the Church in the emerging world from the Church in developed nations.
Father Murray, writing in the mid-twentieth-century, hoped that Catholics would provide a Christian soul to American life in a way that Protestants no longer could. We know how that turned out. Notre Dame social researcher Christian Smith and his colleagues have tracked in great detail the spiritual lives of today's young adults and teenagers. The results are sobering. So are the implications for Catholic life in the decades ahead.
The real religion of vast numbers of American young people is a kind of fuzzy moral niceness, with an easy, undemanding God on duty to make people feel happy whenever they need him. It's what Smith calls "moralistic therapeutic deism." To put it in the words of a young woman from Maryland, "[Faith is] just whatever makes you feel good about you."
This is the legacy that my generation has left to the Church in the United States. For all practical purposes, American Catholics are no different from everybody else in their views, their appetites, and their behaviors. This isn't what the Second Vatican Council had in mind when it began its work fifty years ago. It's not what the council meant by reform. Left to itself, the life of the Church in my country is not going to get better. It's going to get worse.
The essence of these communities is a new spirit of Christian equality rooted in the mandate of baptism, honoring each vocation in the Church for its unique task and importance, but recognizing that the call to holiness is universal, and that the mission to "make disciples of all nations" belongs to all of us in equal measure — ordained, consecrated, and lay.
Let's turn finally to my third goal: to offer you just a few brief thoughts as a brother in the consecrated life who also serves as a bishop. My own religious family is the Capuchins. The Capuchins began as a reform movement within the Franciscans. They wanted to get back to a pure observance of the life that Francis intended for his order, living the Gospel sine glossa, without gloss — in other words, without the kind of "commentary" that interprets the demands of the Gospel away.
The irony, of course, is that the Franciscans themselves began as a reform impulse within the larger Church. But within a few decades, Franciscans began softening and accommodating their life to the patterns of their time. For many of the friars, the passion of the founder weakened into a memory, and then an ideal, and then a good intention.
Be demanding on yourselves, and patient with your brothers. That sounds simple, and it is. It's just also very difficult. Be patient with the Church as well. God works in the new communities and movements in the same way he once did in calling up the great religious orders. The Sodalitium is a new form of service for a new time. But not everyone sees that, and not everyone wants to see it. For some Catholics, including some bishops and priests, the new ecclesial movements are strange or threatening or just irrelevant. That will change. The needs of the Church in the developed world will become more painful and more urgent in the coming decades, and the new communities bring life where there is none. But it takes time.
Pray — together and alone. That seems too obvious to mention. But one of the worst temptations in active ministry is substituting our work for a real friendship with Jesus Christ. If we don't spend time with him, we can't love him.
Finally, where evil abounds, virtue abounds more. Likewise where virtue abounds, expect the devil to interfere. Expect trials. Sin and failure are part of consecrated life just as surely as they're part of priestly and lay life. Holiness consists of trying again, and again, and again to live the life of a saint, and helping others to do the same. Have confidence in the holiness of the path your community is on, and know that you have many, many brothers and friends like me who pray for you every day.
I've talked mainly about the Church in the developed world today, because that's the Church that I serve and the world I know best. The problems facing the Church are real. They can easily make us forget that God made us for joy not sadness, and happiness not fear. But every once in a while, God reminds us that we know only a little part of his story, and the whole story may be much larger and very different from what we think.
After the war, Joe assumed that the priest had been killed by the Communists or died in prison. Earlier this spring, 44 years after he left Dong Ha, Joe found Father Paul on the internet. He visited him in Vietnam earlier this month. Father Paul survived the war. He saved his orphans. And he was never sent to the prison camps.
There's more. Father Paul became Bishop Paul, ordinary of the Diocese of Phan Thiet. And Bishop Paul, now retired, founded a community of Christian service whose members teach sewing and pig farming to the local people, and run water purification stations and boarding houses for young women and men. They also operate five medical dispensaries that treat hundreds of people each day and tens of thousands of persons every year. Most importantly: Everything the community does is built around prayer, daily Mass and Eucharistic devotion.
On a Sunday during his visit, Joe attended 5 p.m. Mass at All Saints Parish in Saigon. The church holds 500 people. It was full. The courtyard of the church holds 600. It was also full. So Joe stood in the street with another 800 people in an overflow crowd and listened to the Liturgy on loudspeakers. The average age of the worshipers was in the 20s or 30s. There were no old people. The elderly attend the 5 a.m. Mass to avoid the city traffic.
In a country where people are poor and the Church is under constant pressure from a hostile government, Catholic life is not just surviving. It's thriving. Christianity is growing all across the southern hemisphere — in fact, growing more rapidly than any other religion, including Islam. The lesson is this. Lima, Philadelphia and Vietnam are separated not just by geography, but by language, culture and history. But the love of Jesus Christ is the same. The presence of God in the lives of his disciples is the same. And the friendship of people who serve God's son can bridge every barrier of time and distance, because the mission is always the same: to bring Jesus Christ to the world, and the world to Jesus Christ.
When Francis Xavier left Lisbon in 1541, the task given to him by Portugal's king was to restore the faith of Portuguese settlers and traders in India. God had other plans. God used him to evangelize Asia. God will use the Sodalitium and other new communities and movements in ways we cannot see, and that will bear fruit long after Luis Fernando and I are gone. But I thank God for the privilege of being present at the beginnings.
The Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. "The New Communities and the 'New Evangelization'." Lima, Peru (November 29, 2012)
This article is based on an address he delivered in Lima, Peru, on November 29 to the leaders of Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, a Society of Apostolic Life of pontifical right.
Reprinted with permission of The Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
The Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. is the ninth and current Archbishop of Philadelphia, serving since his installation on September 8, 2011. He previously served as Archbishop of Denver (1997-2011) and Bishop of Rapid City (1988-1997). As member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe, Archbishop Chaput is the second Native American to be ordained bishop in the United States, and the first Native American archbishop. He is the author of the e-book, A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next America, as well as Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, and Living the Catholic Faith: Rediscovering the Basics.
Copyright © 2012 Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
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