Living Within The Truth

Archbishop Chaput’s address to the first session of “The 15th symposium for the Canon Law Association of Slovakia” — wow, that’s quite a mouthful — was delivered over a week ago. Yet it has not been making quite as robust a showing on The Catholic IntraWebs as I would have expected after giving it the once-over.

The talk, entitled “Living Within The Truth: Religious liberty and Catholic mission in the new order of the world,” is both a wonderfully short and succinct account of the American Catholic Past and an impassioned call to action for Catholics everywhere.

I was particularly struck by two sections of his talk — the opening, and the finale. To start with, the good Archbishop calls American Catholics onto the carpet just a bit, reminding us that, in comparison with the Catholics of Europe, “we have not yet begun to suffer:”

American Catholics have no experience of the systematic repression so familiar to your Churches.  It’s true that anti-Catholic prejudice has always played a role in American life.  This bigotry came first from my country’s dominant Protestant culture, and now from its “post-Christian” leadership classes.  But this is quite different from deliberate persecution.  In general, Catholics have thrived in the United States.  The reason is simple.  America has always had a broadly Christian and religion-friendly moral foundation, and our public institutions were established as non-sectarian, not anti-religious.

I am reminded of Peggy Noonan’s contention in “What I Saw At The Revolution” that her generation’s lack of a concrete challenge let to a very different America than the ones that had emerged as a result of the two World Wars — “My generation, faced as it grew with a choice between religious belief and existential despair, chose marijuana.” It is helpful to remember from time to time that we American Catholics have had it really, really good.

But it is the talk’s final clarion call that rang particularly true to me:

We need not and should not abandon the hard work of honest dialogue. Far from it. The Church always needs to seek friendships, areas of agreement, and ways to make positive, reasoned arguments in the public square. But it’s foolish to expect gratitude or even respect from our governing and cultural leadership classes today. Naïve imprudence is not an evangelical virtue.

The temptation in every age of the Church is to try to get along with Caesar. And it’s very true: Scripture tells us to respect and pray for our leaders. We need to have a healthy love for the countries we call home.  But we can never render unto Caesar what belongs to God. We need to obey God first; the obligations of political authority always come second. We cannot collaborate with evil without gradually becoming evil ourselves. This is one of the most vividly harsh lessons of the 20th century. And it’s a lesson that I hope we have learned.

Food for thought, indeed.


Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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