Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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“If our people no longer know their faith … then we … have no one to blame but ourselves.”

October 18th, 2010, Promulgated by Mike

Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput was in Victoria, British Columbia last Friday addressing a catechetical congress.   His topic was “Repentance and renewal in the mission of catechesis.”

His Excellency, as usual, did not mince his words.

Christians in my country and yours — and throughout the West, generally — have done a terrible job of transmitting our faith to our own children and to the culture at large.

Evidence can be found … in polls showing that religious identity and affiliation are softening.  More people are claiming that they’re “spiritual,” but they have no religion.

Religion is fading as a formative influence in developed countries.  Religious faith is declining in Western culture, especially among Canadian and American young people. This suggests that the Church is actually much smaller than her official numbers would indicate. And this, in turn, has implications for the future of Catholic life and the direction of our societies.

What’s happening today in the Church is not a “new” story.  We find it repeated throughout the Old Testament.  It took very little time for the Hebrews to start worshipping a golden calf.  Whenever the people of God grew too prosperous or comfortable, they forgot where they came from.  They forgot their God, because they no longer thought it was important to teach about him.

Because they failed to catechize, they failed to inoculate themselves against the idolatries in their surrounding cultures.  And eventually, they began praying to the same alien gods as the pagans among whom they lived.

We have the same struggles today.  Instead of changing the culture around us, we Christians have allowed ourselves to be changed by the culture. We’ve compromised too cheaply. We’ve hungered after assimilating and fitting in.  And in the process, we’ve been bleached out and absorbed by the culture we were sent to make holy.

If our people no longer know their faith, or its obligations of discipleship, or its call to mission — then we leaders, clergy, parents and teachers have no one to blame but ourselves. We need to confess that, and we need to fix it. For too many of us, Christianity is not a filial relationship with the living God, but a habit and an inheritance. We’ve become tepid in our beliefs and naive about the world.  We’ve lost our evangelical zeal. And we’ve failed in passing on our faith to the next generation.

The practical unbelief we now face in our societies is, in large measure, the fruit of our own flawed choices in teaching, parenting, religious practice and personal witness. But these choices can be unmade. We can repent.  We can renew what our vanity and indifference have diminished.  It’s still possible to “redeem the time,” as St. Paul once put it. But we don’t have a lot of time.  Nor should we make alibis for mistakes of the past.

Sixty years ago [we] could count on [people] knowing what right and wrong were. [It was] a culture that reflected a broadly Christian consensus about virtue and moral integrity.  That’s no longer the case.

The culture we live in today proselytizes for a very different consensus — one based on political and moral agendas vigorously hostile to Christian beliefs.

A recent article in the New York Times went directly to this point. It was about a new ad campaign launched by supporters of homosexual “marriage” in New York. The campaign features politicians and Hollywood celebrities making a series of reasonable-sounding arguments.

One example is from the actress, Julianne Moore. Her ad begins, “Hi, I’m Julianne Moore, and I’m a New Yorker. We all deserve the right to marry the person we love.”

The New York campaign is misleading and ultimately ruinous to real marriages and families.  But when Christians don’t understand the content or the reasons for their own faith, they have no compelling alternative to offer.

The points I’ve been making are these:

First, either we form our culture, or the culture will form us. Second, right now, the culture does a better job of shaping us than we do in shaping the culture. And third, we need to admit our failures, and we need to turn ourselves onto a path of repentance and change, and unselfish witness to others.

The central issue in renewing Catholic catechesis has little to do with techniques, or theories, or programs, or resources. The central issue is whether we ourselves really do believe.  Catechesis is not a profession.  It’s a dimension of discipleship. If we’re Christians, we’re each of us called to be teachers and missionaries.

But we can’t share what we don’t have.  If we’re embarrassed about Church teachings, or if we disagree with them, or if we’ve decided that they’re just too hard to live by, or too hard to explain, then we’ve already defeated ourselves.

We need to really believe what we claim to believe. We need to stop calling ourselves “Catholic” if we don’t stand with the Church in her teachings – all of them.  But if we really are Catholic, or at least if we want to be, then we need to act like it with obedience and zeal and a fire for Jesus Christ in our hearts.  God gave us the faith in order to share it.  This takes courage. It takes a deliberate dismantling of our own vanity.  When we do that, the Church is strong. When we don’t, she grows weak. It’s that simple.

In a culture of confusion, the Church is our only reliable guide.  So let’s preach and teach our Catholic beliefs with passion. And let’s ask God to make us brave enough and humble enough to follow our faith to its radical conclusions.

Thanks for your attention. God bless you.

The full text of the archbishop’s remarks may be found here.

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6 Responses to ““If our people no longer know their faith … then we … have no one to blame but ourselves.””

  1. avatar Bernie says:

    Archbishop Chaput is just the best! He is always spot on.

  2. avatar Anonymous says:

    Maybe second best 🙂 Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz is the best. You thought I was going to say Bishop Clark didn’t ya?

  3. avatar Anonymous says:

    I wonder if he would like to relocate to the east coast in 633 days.

  4. avatar Anonymous says:

    633 LONG days. It’s not too early for all of us to pray for a holy bishop to turn this diocese around.

  5. avatar Anonymous says:

    But dis you hear our bishop gave a talk about his own spiritual journey to the priests of the Diocese of Syracuse during their meeting. I am afraid he is positioning himself after he retires. He is looking ofr potential friends so he can spread his heresy. What is Bishop Cunningham thinking when he invited him?

  6. avatar Anonymous says:

    I went to a church in Syracuse over the summer, and I met the priest there. When he found out that I was from Rochester, he came over to talk to me and told me that we have a very liberal bishop.


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