Two shepherds of the Catholic Church recently spoke out in defense of all that is true and good about Catholic people and their desire to hear, know and understand truth.
Archbishop Charles Chaput, writing for First Things, took great pains to set forth the truth about Catholics in public life and how we as a family of faith have squandered our political, not to mention moral, credibility. He likened this slide from grace to the history of the Puritan influence which affected many of our Founding Fathers before it ultimately fell out of favor. As secularization slowly crept into the public discourse among Protestants, including Puritans, a withering away of moral certitude occurred. The archbishop set forth this history as a challenge to today’s Catholics, reminding us that a religious body of people not necessarily motivated by faith in Christ, but rather the world, can achieve nothing short of failure. He then challenged us with these words,
In the years since Kennedy’s election, Vatican II and the cultural upheavals of the 1960s, two generations of citizens have grown to maturity. The world is a different place. America is a different place—and in some ways, a far more troubling one. … We have too often made our country what it is through our appetite for success, our self-delusion, our eagerness to fit in, our vanity, our compromises, our self-absorption and our tepid faith.
If government now pressures religious entities out of the public square, or promotes same-sex “marriage,” or acts in ways that undermine the integrity of the family, or compromises the sanctity of human life, or overrides the will of voters, or discourages certain forms of religious teaching as “hate speech,” or interferes with individual and communal rights of conscience—well, why not? In the name of tolerance and pluralism, we have forgotten why and how we began as nation; and we have undermined our ability to ground our arguments in anything higher than our own sectarian opinions. …
The most important choice we can make is both terribly simple and terribly hard: to actually live what the Church teaches, to win the hearts of others by our witness, and to renew the soul of our country with the courage of our own Christian faith and integrity. There is no more revolutionary act.
Speaking to Catholics in Washington, D.C. days after Archbishop Chaput set forth this challenge, Bishop Robert Vasa told an audience the reasons why being a good and faithful shepherd in the current age is demanding. He said, “The secularity of the age in which we live makes it all the more challenging to preach properly the fullness of the gospel message and to put it into practice in our own lives.”
Vasa suggested that, because of the pressures to moderate Catholic teaching—accommodating that which the Church knows is evil and intrinsically immoral—many have embraced a type of “benign pastoral neglect.”
Quoting St. Gregory, Vasa made a point that cannot be asserted frequently enough: “Pastors who lack foresight hesitate to say openly what is right because they fear losing the favor of men. As the voice of truth tells us, such leaders are not zealous pastors who protect their flocks, rather they are like mercenaries who take refuge in silence when the wolf appears.”
While there is insufficient space to properly share the wisdom of Archbishop Chaput and Bishop Vasa, what we can take away from their combined messages of challenge and hope is quite simply this: When a Catholic—be he a shepherd, an ordained priest, a deacon or a lay person—sets aside Catholic truth in favor of what the world will embrace, nothing short of chaos will result. There can be no peace, love, joy or hope without the fullness of Christ’s invitation to each of us to take up our cross and follow Him.
The question is, really, who is willing to step out in faith and do that which is not only difficult but, in today’s moral quicksand, painful?