How Christians Can Rebuild Our Culture

Editor’s note: The following essay is adapted from an address delivered August 6 at the Archdiocese of Toronto’s “Faith in the Public Square” symposium.

In the beginning, Genesis tells us, “the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Gen 1:2). Creation begins in chaos. On each day of creation, God brings new things into being and orders them according to a plan. God makes things for a purpose. He creates the world out of love. As Aquinas teaches, God orders the universe as a whole, and that order reflects his glory.

The world works better when it follows God’s design. We see this in our own moral lives. God gives us the law and the beatitudes because they lead us to joy. Jesus shows us the plan God writes into human nature so that, by his help, we can flourish. Too often we think of rules as things that keep us from being happy. But rules, understood as God’s order, are good for us because they show us how to live in a way that shares in his glory. They lead us to embody what God intended human beings to be and do. This is one of the things Scripture means when it says Jesus came “so that we would have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).

If creation has a moral order, then how should we think about our human laws?

Since we’re made in the image of God, human beings can order their actions and communities just as God orders his creation. The German political philosopher Eric Voegelin taught that the law is “the substance of order in all realms of being … The law is something that is essentially inherent in society,” but we give it practical force through the lawmaking process. Law binds us together. It reflects our society’s order, but it also secures that order. It shows who we are as a people, but it also forms us as a people. So if we want to thrive, we need to ensure that the laws we make—what we call “positive laws”—ground themselves in a right understanding of what it means to be human.

Some key points follow from this.

Law, Virtue, and Culture: Three Key Points to Win Hearts and Minds
First, the natural law should undergird our positive laws. Jacques Maritain, the French scholar of Aquinas who helped draft the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, noted that, although most people can agree on what universal human rights are, they can’t agree on the foundation of those rights. Maritain argued that only the natural law can adequately justify the rights of man. More than fifty years later, Benedict XVI said much the same thing in an address to the United Nations. Benedict stressed that

the rights recognized and expounded in the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high-point of God’s creative design for the world and for history. They are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations. Removing human rights from this context would mean restricting their range and yielding to a relativistic conception, according to which the meaning and interpretation of rights could vary, and their universality would be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks.

To put it another way, without the natural law, human rights have no teeth. In fact, so-called “human rights,” when they’re divorced from the natural law, become inhuman.

Second, our positive laws can teach us to live or not live in harmony with the natural law. They can lead us to freedom founded on truth—or they can lead us away from it. Borrowing from Augustine and Aquinas, Maritain argues that human life has two final ends, two purposes that govern the decisions we make. One is earthly. The other is heavenly. One focuses on peace and justice in this world. The other focuses on eternal life with God. Earthly laws should lead us toward our earthly end, which should also ready us for our heavenly end.

The ultimate goal of our laws is to make us morally good. Our laws should help us accord with the design God has written into human nature. Thus, Maritain writes, civil law “should always maintain a general orientation toward virtuous life, and make the common behavior tend, at each level, to the full accomplishment of moral law.”

We often hear the claim that we shouldn’t press for laws that impose our morality on others. But no one really believes that kind of argument because it makes no sense. In practice, all law involves imposing certain moral claims on other people. Persons who support permissive abortion or same-sex unions, for example, are very comfortable in coercing the public through the courts and lawmaking process. As Christians we should be equally comfortable—and even more zealous—in defending the human person and advancing human dignity through legislative and judicial means.

That said, the American Jesuit thinker John Courtney Murray rightly warned that if we try to give everything that’s morally good the force of the law, people will sooner or later start to think that whatever is legal is also moral. In other words, laws can’t solve all our moral problems. Rather, Murray concludes, laws should seek “to establish and maintain only that minimum of actualized morality that is necessary for the healthy functioning of the social order.” Beyond this, a nation must look to other, non-legal institutions in civil society to maintain its moral standards.

That brings me to my third point. The law can’t teach effectively without the support of a surrounding moral culture because law arises from that culture. As many thinkers, including St. John Paul II, have recognized, culture precedes politics and law. Law embodies and advances a culture, especially its moral aspects. We Christians need to keep this in mind as we work for justice in our societies, despite the very negative climate of today’s culture wars. We should use political means as fruitfully as we can, without apologies. We should seek and employ political influence in our work on vital issues such as marriage and family, abortion, immigration, and euthanasia. And it’s right and just that we do so.

But, as Cardinal Avery Dulles once noted, culture wars can’t be won by tactical battles, even on crucial issues such as these. Policy statements by bishops and advocacy by lay men and women have important value. But their words, said the cardinal, “must be backed up by a coherent social and political philosophy.” In the long run, Dulles wrote, “if a consensus exists in favor of a healthy society, the implementation will almost take care of itself.”

Again, Dulles never suggested that we should abandon the political arena. Nor do I—quite the opposite. But we need to remember that the battle for hearts and minds runs deeper than winning a particular issue at the polling booths. Conversion is more important, and much more far-reaching, than any particular legislative debate.

The Modern Project: Trying to Change the World through Human Will
Now, it’s easy to say that positive law should be grounded in natural law. And positive law does clearly reveal a lot about a culture. So, good cultures should logically have good laws and bad cultures should have bad ones—right? But real life is more complex. In Canada and the United States, we have a long legacy of many good man-made laws founded on principles of natural law. And they’re often still in force. But these laws no longer enjoy the cultural consensus that made them. A new, unfriendly cultural consensus demands that they be redefined or dumped altogether.

It’s helpful to know where this new consensus came from. So I want to mention very briefly two political philosophers: the French scholar Pierre Manent and (again) Eric Voegelin.

Manent argues that modern life—the “modern project”—grounds itself on the power of the human will to transform the world around us. Obviously, humans have always known that they could change the world to some degree. But the ancients were more aware of their limits. They were also more modest in their ambitions. They held that we need to reconcile ourselves to an existing order of nature that, even if flawed, is still essentially good. And in recognizing nature’s limits and the need to conform to its order, they found real freedom. Moderns see the world very differently. Modern life “frees” us from thinking that we need to conform to any natural order—or even from believing that a natural order exists.

In Aristotle’s time, men and women saw the natural purpose of marriage—its telos—and they tried to pursue it, however imperfectly. Moderns want marriage to be different, so they work to reshape it according to their will. And since we’ve lost our understanding of an objective human nature and moral order, we quickly come to regard the desires of our will as “human rights” with which others are forbidden to interfere.

So many modern people seek to change the order they find in the world because they experience it as confining or unjust. Eric Voegelin notes that the more modern men and women seek to re-create the natural order, the more they need to remove God from its head. In this resentment of the natural order and in the attempt to change it through the human will, Voegelin sees a new form of the Gnosticism that Christianity has fought from its birth. And yet the Gnostic effort at remaking reality will always fail because the order of being cannot, in fact, be changed: As Voegelin says, “The closure of the soul in modern Gnosticism can repress the truth of the soul, as well as the experiences that manifest themselves in philosophy and Christianity, but it cannot remove the soul and its transcendence from the structure of reality.”

This explains the bitterness of the voices that seek to discredit God in our own time. It also explains the savagery of the totalitarian regimes of the last century. God can be mocked, but in the end, his order can’t actually be overturned.

Where does this leave us as Christians?

As in every other age, we’re called to preach Jesus Christ to our fellow citizens. We need to learn for ourselves and be ready to teach others the truth about the human person, the objective foundation of morality in the natural law. We need to fight to keep our human laws obedient to that deeper law. And we need to remind people of the truths they’ve forgotten, the truths on which our society is founded. As then-Cardinal Ratzinger once wrote,

A culture and a nation that cuts itself off from the great ethical and religious forces of its own history, commits suicide. The cultivation of essential moral insights, preserving and protecting these as a common possession but without imposing them by force, seems to be one condition for the continued existence of freedom in the face of all [of today’s] nihilisms and their totalitarian consequences. It is here that I see the public task of the Christian churches in today’s world. It accords with the nature of the Church that [she] is separated from the state and that [her] faith may not be imposed by the state but is based on convictions that are freely arrived at.

Ratzinger closes with a quotation from Origen: “Christ does not win victory over anyone who does not wish it. He conquers only by convincing, for he is the Word of God.”

If the problems in our culture boil down to a kind of hubris, an unhealthy overemphasis on the power of the human will, then the conversion of our wills and those of our neighbors must be part of our Christian witness. That conversion can take place especially through culture, and Christian discipleship is especially important for its influence on culture.

How Christians Influence Culture: By Seeking Christ
It’s worth mentioning two examples taken from European history of how this influence can play out.

In his book The Unintended Reformation, the historian Brad Gregory notes that “the failure of medieval Christendom derived … from the pervasive, long-standing, and undeniable failure of so many Christians, including members of the clergy both high and low, to live by the Church’s own prescriptions and exhortations based on [her] truth claims…. It was at root a botching of moral execution, a failure to practice what was preached.”

When Christians failed to live as disciples, a flood of political, cultural, and religious changes followed. Gregory outlines those changes at great length. But for us it’s enough to note that many of them were painful, and they led to the triumph of the sovereign will that Manent and Voegelin see as the central problem of our time.

Here’s the second, and ultimately more hopeful, example.

At the end of his masterwork After Virtue, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre famously compares the circumstances of those persons today who have traditional beliefs about virtue to men and women in the so-called “Dark Ages.” He argues that what mattered for them, and what matters for us now,

is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.

In other words, if I understand MacIntyre correctly, one of the ways we might begin to live more fruitfully in a world that seems so deeply conflicted is to create parishes, seminaries, clubs, colleges, and families that are real schools of sanctification. These would be vital in building up society, changing the culture, and trying to build a renewed sense of Christian community.

But, as Benedict XVI said in one of his many talks, the original St. Benedict and his monks never sought to build a civilization or preserve a culture. Rather, he said,

Their motivation was much more basic. Their goal was: quaerere Deum [to seek God]. Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they wanted to do the essential—to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself. They were searching for God. They wanted to go from the inessential to the essential, to the only truly important and reliable thing there is. . . . What gave Europe’s culture its foundation—the search for God and the readiness to listen to him—remains today the basis of any genuine culture.”

It’s in seeking Jesus Christ with all our hearts that culture is built and society is renewed. It’s in prayer, the sacraments, changing diapers, balancing budgets, preaching homilies, loving a spouse, forgiving and seeking forgiveness—all in the spirit of charity—that, brick by brick, we bring about the kingdom of God.

As Pope Benedict pointed out in Jesus of Nazareth, “The kingdom of God comes by way of a listening heart.” That’s the most important thing we can pray for, a heart open to the word of God. When our hearts listen and we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, then God can begin to conform us to his likeness and will.

The Mass too has unique importance in our personal renewal and in the renewal of our culture. Father Richard John Neuhaus once wrote that the Eucharist is not only the “source and summit” of the Church’s life: “It is [also] a supremely political action in which the heavenly polis is made present in time. The eucharistic meal here and now anticipates, makes present, the New Jerusalem’s eternal Feast of the Lamb.”

The Mass feeds us with the body and blood of Jesus Christ. But it also reminds us that we’re on pilgrimage to the heavenly city. We live in the earthly city with its earthly ends. But we’re ultimately fulfilled only by our final end: communion with God when we see him in the glory of eternal life. Because we seek Jesus, we will never be fully at home in a world that rejected and killed him. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb 13:14).

And yet, we can use the goods and the peace of the City of Man to help us pursue the goods and the peace of the City of God, as Augustine teaches. Jesus has called us by name. He empowers us by his Spirit. Now he invites us to work with him for the redemption of that same world.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.


Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is the archbishop of Philadelphia. Before his appointment to Philadelphia by Pope Benedict in 2011, he served as bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota and archbishop of Denver. He is the author of three books: Living the Catholic Faith: Rediscovering the Basics (2001); Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (2008) and Strangers in a Strange Land (2017)

  • ForChristAlone

    This bishop is a gift to the Church. That’s all I can say. Little more can be added to his rich reflections on who man is and what man is created for.

  • JERD2

    Very, very, very well done. Thank you.

  • Hope

    Wow. Does that pretty much lay down the gauntlet. Astonishing article.

  • Objectivetruth

    If there ever is an American elevated to the pontificate, I pray it is Archbishop Chaput. He is a gift.

  • Fred

    Well said. One (hardly original) thought on the perspective some people have on rules keep us from being happy. My thought is, when you truly love somebody with all your heart you’d do anything for them to make them happy with dwelling on the rules because their happiness is your happiness. That is exactly the kind of relationship we have with Christ and want others to experience as well of course. God bless you Archbishop, and thank you for sharing this beautiful piece with us.

  • ForChristAlone

    I note that Archbishop Chaput has written two books: Living the Catholic Faith: Rediscovering the Basics (2001) and Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life(2008).

    Might a suggest the title for a third book: “How To Be A Bishop in the Third Millenium”?

    • Blah Blaah

      He’s also not wearing a business suit. This summer I met an American priest who attended the canonization of Pope John Paul II. By chance, one of the cardinals was ill or otherwise incapacitated, and was unable to attend a special meeting with Americans from the embassy (something like that), so this ordinary parish priest was invited to go in the high churchman’s place. He had a bit of a panic, because he didn’t have a cassock with him. Someone rushed around and he was able to buy a cassock at the last minute – miraculously there was one left in his size.

      But when he arrived at this glittering meeting, he discovered that all the cardinals and bishops were in regular suits, with only a cross to distinguish them. He was the only priest dressed as a priest – in clericals with a cassock.

      He realized – he said – that it was God giving him a nudge, and he decided then and there always to wear his cassock while on duty in the parish AND when out on the streets in public – to the shop, taking a walk, at the county fair, etc.

      He reported how wonderful it has been, how people come up to him and thank him for being a priest, and how it has a positive effect on the demeanor and behavior of the people he passes on the street: somehow just seeing a readily-identifiable Catholic priest on the street brings out the best in people.

      One way we can reform the culture is to let the culture see that Catholics exist by having ALL our priests and religious in identifiable habits. I really do NOT see how priests and religious expect children to want to grow up and follow in their footsteps if children almost never see an identifiable priest or religious going about his or her business. Little kids want to be nurses and teachers and firemen and truck-drivers because THAT’S WHAT THEY SEE. Imagine a world where a little kid – maybe even a Protestant or completely unchurched little kid – could see a priest at the doctor’s office or a religious sister at the grocery store, or a religious brother at the post office, or a group of priests at a baseball game or sisters having a stroll in the park – just like normal people! Just like them! Imagine the conversations: ‘Mommy, who is that man? Why does he dress that way? What does he do?’ All the seeds that could be sown in young hearts, if only priests and religious weren’t ashamed of their vocations – ashamed of God – before the (American) world.

      • WSquared

        “‘Mommy, who is that man? Why does he dress that way? What does he do?”

        Unfortunately, what enough people– including not a few Catholics these days– will say is that he’s just some “holier-than-thou dude in a dress.”

        Which is all the more reason to start wearing the cassock– starting first with every Sunday Mass. Because questions are often an opportunity for a priest to “give an account of the reason for his joy”– explaining what a cassock is (and if necessary, what it isn’t…), what it symbolizes (the 33 buttons, for example, each represent a year in the life of Jesus Christ), and why he wears it.

        A priest who wears a cassock isn’t necessarily a better priest than one who doesn’t. But it’s nonetheless a joy to see a cassock being worn– the cassock is a sign of contradiction; all the more so if other people think it’s a “dress.” A blog post at “Catholic in the Ozarks” said something similar: the way to get Protestants interested in Catholicism is not to try to be like Protestants, but to be more Catholic– they may stare at a priest in a cassock, but he’ll at least have gotten their attention! 🙂

        Something similar can be said about a decision to wear a chapel veil.

  • JP

    The Archbishop’s essay is all well and good; he writes little that hasn’t been written before. But, I would like to point out that at this late juncture, his essay is akin to a pro football coach deciding to get back to basics after his team falls to 0-14. There is no Christian Culture anymore – at least not in the West. The decay is so deep that I fear only something cataclysmic will be able to wake us from our spiritual coma. And while it may be of historical interest to point out the failure of Catholic Culture that brought about the ruinous times of Enlightenment, I would like to at least say that the Catholics during the High Middle Ages were fighting a 3 dimensional attack via Islam, corrupt monarchies, and several natural disasters brought on by the beginning of the Little Ice Age and Black Death.

    The rank and file Catholics (the sheep) are without proper shepherds. Confusion and dissent have thoroughly undermined the Gospel of Christ, and His Church;one cannot build a “Catholic Culture” on such loose soil. And I put the blame for this state of affairs squarely on the shoulders of the Bishops. There is no need to open up old sores; we all know the wide ranging issues that often come to boiling points. Yes, we need a bottom up reform (beginning with each Catholic); however, without our shepherds that becomes an impossibility. Christ works most of his miracles and his Will through the Church.There will be no bottom up cultural reform without the people receiving a no nonsense, strong foundation of orthodoxy from the Bishops. The sheep are starving, feed them.

    • Blah Blaah

      I think it starts with each family making the daily decision to be as Catholic as can be: the ‘little church’ precedes the ‘universal Church’ – it is from the families that the future St Augustines come. It’s not the bishops’ job to raise up the next generation of priests and bishops – it’s the family’s.

      We can try to lay it at the feet of our leaders, but what does that get us? More sitting back and carping that ‘they’ are letting the Church down and ‘they’ are the cause of everything. But in this day and age, when we can get excellent Catholic formation with the click of a mouse (and the decision to educate ourselves), the laity have no excuse, no one to blame but themselves if they remain ignorant. Jesus warned us against bad leaders: ‘So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach’ (Mt 23:3).

      God gave the essential advice to the Hebrews: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Dt 6:6-9).” I believe that where (not ‘when’ for they are already among us) Catholic families who make living the faith a daily, hourly practice within their homes and Catholic families and individuals who are unafraid to speak up and share their faith in words and deeds in the public sphere, THEN we will see the culture being transformed from the ground up.

      I absolutely refuse to believe that faithful Catholic individuals and families, living their faith at home and in public, will be abandoned by God because ‘without our shepherds [it] becomes an impossibility’ to reform the church. Quite the contrary. You want an excellent parish priest? You want a courageous and faithful bishop? RAISE ONE in your own family.

      • JP

        Without the Shepherds the sheep will scatter; the orthodox Catholic family without guidance from the Church will cease being Catholic after 2 generations. Your sentiments should be applauded. But they are just that – sentiments. Never in the long history of the RCC has reform come from the laity. Reform orders were clerical orders, not lay orders.

        It takes only one Bishop full of Progressive heterodoxy to undo the work 2-3 Bishops who preceded him. And in those cases the Christian Orthodoxy of lay families dissolved in less than
        Generation. In that case orthodox families are on their own and they find themselves fighting the very Bishops who obligated to defend the Faith

        • Blah Blaah

          You undermine your own argument when you say that ‘orthodox families are on their own and they find themselves fighting the very Bishops who are obligated to defend the faith.’ That implies that there ARE orthodox laity who got that way with or without their Bishops leading them and that there ARE lay families who remain orthodox no matter how heterodox their bishops become. Further, there ARE lay families ‘fighting’ the unorthodox bishops.

          And guess what? The families will outlive the bishops; the children of those orthodox families are very likely to end up the next generation of bishops.

          Hmmm….. ‘Never in the long history….?’ I can only imagine that you haven’t read much history if you can’t see that there have ALWAYS been times when the clergy have been poor leaders, and the Church has always survived. Where did the orthodox clerical orders come from if not from the families of people who kept the faith despite the disorders in the clerical orders?

          You forget the laity who kept the faith alive underground in the early Church and who keep the faith alive underground where it is persecuted (sometimes even for centuries) in countries in Asia, for example. The bishops COME FROM the laity. Don’t forget that the Holy Spirit will defend the Church and the ‘heterodoxy’ of 2-3 bishops will not prevail against it. Your ‘sky is falling’ hand-wringing and blaming of the bishops implies a lack of faith both in your own orthodoxy and your ability to pass it on to your children, as well as to the grace of God, which can work just as easily in the heart of a bishop as it can in the heart of a layperson.

          Never before in history has the Internet existed. Never before in history could any layperson more easily access the documents of the Church, the Catechism, excellent apologetic materials, etc., without having to pay.

          I personally live in a country where I only speak the language well enough to communicate in shops, etc. I do not speak it well enough to follow every word of a homily. (I work in an English-speaking environment and have never really had to study the language to get along). I educated MYSELF to the position of Catechist for English-speakers in my diocese through reading everything I could get my hands on – either ordering books by mail (before the Internet) or through online resources.

          There are many people like me, who don’t sit on their hands waiting for the Bishops to defend the Faith before they learn their faith and spread it to others. I can look back over my own life and see at least three deeply devout Catholic families whose faith lives have been shaped directly by my teaching, families who pray that one or more of their sons will grow up to be priests, families in which the parents were turning away from the Church and rejecting the Church before our encounters. I know that a simple, individual person can change the lives and the directions of families by speaking the truth in charity – and can influence generations. Every family is capable of raising up not only orthodox bishops, but saints. Where else do the saints come from, if not faithful families? I am the only faithful Catholic left in my natural family, but if I have led three other families to deeply orthodox Catholic faith, I don’t despair. I don’t know why God gives the gift of faith to one family – who keep it – and allows the Faith to die out in another. I’ve just lived long enough to know that God will NEVER let His Faith be destroyed, and that God ordained from the beginning that glory would be returned to Him through the human family.

          It doesn’t matter in the least to GOD if ‘never before…has reform come from the laity’ – I have read too much history to believe that history repeats itself. On the contrary, God constantly throws historical curves. You only have to read how the communists in Poland thought they were seriously undermining the faithful by insisting on Karol Wojtyła as a bishop – only to be completely undone when he was elected pope to know that GOD cannot be bound by the actions of any human being – even heterodox bishops.

          I don’t believe it’s true that reform doesn’t come from the laity. Heterodox bishops are only as influential as the laity who follow them. Just as no politician can reform a country unless the people accept the reforms and go along, so no heterodox bishop can destroy the church unless he has laity following him.
          Jesus said, ‘My sheep know my voice’ and they won’t follow a stranger. An informed laity will KNOW the difference between an orthodox bishop and an heterodox bishop.

          ‘Without the shepherds the sheep will scatter.’ Well, yes, and that would be a problem if JESUS were not the true Shepherd of the Catholic Church. Without shepherds, the Anglican Church has scattered to the winds; but the reassuring beauty of the Catholic Church is that with some very weak and even wicked human shepherds over the centuries, Jesus the Good Shepherd has managed to keep the flock – even if some of them choose to wander on false paths. It was the same when he was dealing with the Twelve (he returned all to his father except the one who was determined to leave), so we have clear indications from the start that there will always be Judas priests – but the gates of Hell will never prevail against the Church.

    • MarcAlcan

      But, I would like to point out that at this late juncture, his essay is akin to a pro football coach deciding to get back to basics after his team falls to 0-14.

      But is it a late juncture?

      We assume that because it has gone so bad, it is too late. I don’t agree that we need something cataclysmic.

      In the parable of the sower and the seed, the sower sows everywhere.
      And that is all that is expected us – to sow. The rest is up to God. We have to do our part keeping our eyes on the goal.

      Bemoaning the state we are in is counter productive. God did bring order out of chaos.

  • AcceptingReality

    Your Eminence, thank you for your clarity and outspokenness. Such actions truly resonates with faithful souls.

    I have one question, which is probably pretty obvious. How do we create parishes, seminaries, clubs, colleges and families that are schools of sanctification when these institutions are themselves deeply conflicted. My experience is that even in the context of group discussions and ministry meetings, if I express anything that seems to espouse Catholic moral and doctrinal truths, the daggers come out. I have been shunned and marginalized for simply expressing doubts about overtly secular/political things that have gone on in our parish. For example, the parish once offered a Lenten retreat entitled, “Reconciliation with Our Mother the Earth.” Another time they had movie night where they showed Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” When a couple of us wanted them to show Huckabee’s “The Gift of Life” we met with resistance from the rectory because Huckabee appears on Fox News. We ultimately prevailed on that one but I was still left feeling like an outsider.

    I think more support from Bishops such as yourself, in the manner which you have done here, is vital to the whole movement. With support of priests and clergy, changing parish and other small group cultures would be easier.

    • Blah Blaah

      There is absolutely nothing stopping you from inviting like-minded people in your parish to form your own private film group or book group. I know one woman who has done exactly that. She wanted to have a small group of a few deeply faithful Catholics to go through a reading program together and discuss richly Catholic works, but the policy in her parish was that no one could use any parish room unless the meetings were open to the whole parish – a stupid policy when it comes to a discussion group about books, since more than about 6 people and you don’t have a discussion. She put the group in her home and it’s been great for everyone.

      Don’t try to change the whole parish or get the ‘true’ Catholic word out to the whole parish. Start with yourself: go to God in prayer and tell him your pain at the state of Catholic teaching in your parish. Ask him to guide you as to what you should do (Gallagher’s The Discernment of Spirits is a great guide to make sure you aren’t just following your own nose, but are open to what God may want you to do – even if all he wants you to do is pray and offer it up).

      Start small: any group of three or four like-minded people can get together and read the Catechism, or learn Gregorian chant, or start watching a series of films on faith formation. Start with a prayer and entrust the group to God. In time, that group may develop into something much greater. Just make sure you don’t spend your time complaining about ‘them’ in the parish, but on making yourselves better Catholics. Go to confession – a lot – it helps.

      In time – maybe more quickly than you think – you or your group will be able to offer something to the parish, some service, for free (babysitting small children? visiting the sick? reading to the elderly and home-bound? a summer Bible camp for some of the children? setting up a rack of solidly Catholic booklets or films in the vestibule of the church and maintaining it yourselves? cleaning the church windows?). Offer something, for free, without any ‘political’ or ‘adversarial’ ‘agenda’ possibly attached to it. Just do it, and you’ll find others drawn to your efforts.

      Goodness, charity, loving service – these draw people like magnets. It takes longer, but it’s a lot more fruitful than attending committee meetings and preaching to the unconverted.

      • WSquared


    • Fred

      Reality living in this world is hard to be sure, but it doesn’t sound like you fully accepted reality in your situation by standing your ground. Since I opened my eyes I have been blessed to be in two parishes now who are well grounded so haven’t had to face what you described, though I know they are out there. When I read stories after our recent elections describing “Catholics” saying “killing babies and unnatural relationships” aren’t as important to me “redistribution” I shake my head in wonder.

    • DE-173

      “Reconciliation with Our Mother the Earth.”

      Now is that animism or pantheism being peddled as Catholicism?

  • Objectivetruth

    “This explains the bitterness of the voices that seek to discredit God in our own time. It also explains the savagery of the totalitarian regimes of the last century. God can be mocked, but in the end, his order can’t actually be overturned.”

    The last sentence should inspire all of us who are weary of our culture of death: “God can be mocked, but in the end, his order can’t actually be overturned.”

  • Craig Roberts

    The different ‘new St. Benedict’ will probably require (among other things) in his ‘new’ rule: stay off the internet.

  • DE-173

    “must be backed up by a coherent social and political philosophy.”
    Unfortunately, your Eminence, much of what emerges from the mouths or pens of your colleagues is remarkably devoid of such an attribute.
    It seems a great many U.S. Bishops are fond of the opposite, Exhibit A is the statement of a few weeks ago of the New Mexico Bishops lamenting the imposition of minimal work requirements on able-bodied adults as a condition of receiving “food stamps” or the quiet acquiesence of the USCCB in the “design phase” of Obamacare, blind to the cautions of faithful Catholics and others that thought it was a bad idea to let the likes of Obama and Pelosi pass a law that required passage to know its content. Cardinal Dolan’s public lament of that Obama lied is less a comment on Obama’s dishonesty than the Cardinal’s naivete.
    It’s time to worry about how many butts are in Pews on Sunday, than what’s expended on welfare programs in the federal budget.

    • James

      Considering that the Vatican strongly supports universal health care (which is only controversial in the United States, BTW) I’m not sure what you would have wanted the USCCB to do.

      • JP

        Universal Health Care was never something Americans wanted. Yes, it was high on the list of the USCCB, but not with 58% of the voters. And now we find out that fewer people are covered now than in 2010, that is when ObamaCare passed

        • James

          So the USCCB should poll the American voters before taking positions on political issues? Good to know that.

          • Almario Javier

            Precisely – the will of the people may or may not be a good thing to base civil government on. It should not be the basis of a Church worthy of the name.

          • DE-173

            The USCCB should have gotten COMPETENT advice, before lending the weight of their office to technical matters, where they lack technical competence.

      • RufusChoate

        Ah… no. The principle of subsidiarity is also in play in health care. The Church supports only universal access to health care not government run health care.

        Socialism is still anathema. .

      • DE-173

        Fire the bureaucrats that so poorly serve them and use the savings to engage in the corporal works of mercy.

    • LarryCicero

      Ahh yes, and then we had Cardinal George stating that water should be free.

      • DE-173

        Well, I’d like to explain to him that if he thinks water is expensive now, wait until he sees what it costs when it is “free”.

    • WSquared

      your Eminence

      …your Grace. Not a Cardinal yet, but I do hope eventually. 😀

      • John Grondelski

        With all due regard–please, no.

  • ColdStanding

    Via Dolorosa. The desert awaits.

  • HigherCalling

    Philosophy matters. It determines the political, social and moral direction of a civilization. Modern social and political philosophy has thrown Natural Law (our best argument for an ordered and moral culture) into the dumpster. It has rejected the entire Aristotle-Aquinas notion of a natural, moral order based in formal and final causes. The inevitable outcome of such thinking, which is merely a transitional stage on the way to full-blown atheism, is moral and cultural Relativism. How significant is Aristotle, Aquinas and the Natural Law? Quoting Edward Feser: “Well, I wouldn’t want to exaggerate, so let me put it this way: Abandoning Aristotelianism, as the founders of modern philosophy did, was the single greatest mistake ever made in the entire history of Western thought.” The civilizational crisis the West has been living through for centuries is accelerating. The replacement philosophies have not built a wonderful, rational culture of life, but rather a sinister, irrational Culture of Death.

    This is a wonderfully written piece, and I’m happy Archbishop Chaput cited Voegelin (he should be better known), but who would guess that such an appeal to philosophical orthodoxy was written by a bishop who, like so many American bishops, would abandon the Catholic principle of Subsidiarity by supporting the federal takeover of health care? Were it not for that pesky link to abortion coverage, the bishops, Archbishop Chaput included, would have backed Obamacare completely. On the Catholic principle of the Common Good and the complexities of living in a pluralistic society, Archbishop Chaput made the case to me (this was before the HHS mandate was widely known) for nationalizing health care. This is not meant as an attack on him (God forbid), but I can no longer read his admittedly great writing without a tiny bit of skepticism.

    • MadMonk48

      Actually if you read the archbishop’s columns during the Obamacare debate in the months before the ACA’s passage, he NEVER backed “nationalizing health care.” The point he made repeatedly was that people have a right to adequate health care; how that care is structured and delivered can take a variety of forms — private, public or a combination of both. Don’t blame the bishops for the bad actions of Nancy Pelosi and similar, or the indifference and foolishness of many Catholic voters.

      • HigherCalling

        Yes, his beautiful columns always uphold general, and often vague and equivocal concepts, in what seems like an effort to be non-controversial. But in his personal correspondences with me (made prior the passage of Obamacare), he made it somewhat more clear that in the “unique” case of America, the only workable answer to the health care “crisis” was to nationalize it. I would only blame bishops for abandoning (or at least isolating and re-ordering) Catholic principles, replacing them with secular principles, in their effort to rebuild our culture.

        • MadMonk48

          I’ve never heard or seen the archbishop use the word or concept “nationalize” in regard to any public service, in any of his works. That simply isn’t his approach. And “vague and equivocal” — those aren’t adjectives that anyone, especially his critics, would typically use in describing his ministry. Of course, only you know the content of your private correspondence. And it’s certainly true that the bishops can be seen as naive in trying to cooperate with the early Obama administration. But it’s useful to remember that Chaput was one of the few bishops who warned that financial solvency and sustainability were essential _moral_ ingredients to any proposed health care system. That doesn’t sound like a nationalizer to me.

          • HigherCalling

            He didn’t use “nationalize,” I did, perhaps in a poor attempt to condense what I believe he was implying. What he did say was that since smaller bodies are unable to adequately reform health care, “it’s a responsibility that belongs to the federal government.” If I was misreading him I deeply apologize. He didn’t necessarily say he or his fellow bishops were advocating such a takeover, but he certainly did not make the case for upholding Catholic principles which stand in opposition to handing health care over to the federal government. Basically, as I say, he seemed to equivocate on the matter, leaving the whole thing rather vague and unsolved, but the general impression was one of supporting handing health care off to the feds. It just seems to me that anyone arguing strongly on Catholic principles would be much more certain in their stance. Anyway, I truly enjoy reading and always agree with his columns, but my skepticism is still there. I wish it weren’t so.

      • DE-173

        “The point he made repeatedly was that people have a right to adequate health care;”

        Define that.

  • GaudeteMan

    Now if such thinking would only trickle down into the Universities. O wait. No can do! That is hate speech. Well, at least we can count on the priests in the pulpit to hammer us with such solid thinking. Oops. Not today. We are focusing on a canned goods drive for illegals.

    • Connie Boyd

      “Illegals”? Is the Church anti-immigrant? Would Jesus be?

  • dougpruner

    I found this comment interesting: “Maritain argues that human life has two final ends, two purposes that govern the decisions we make. One is earthly. The other is heavenly”
    Scripture promises that the ‘earthly part’ will be covered by forces more powerful than humans can muster. “the upright shall have the land for their own, there they shall live for ever”, writes David at Ps 37:29. And he’s confident because, “Yahweh loves justice and will not forsake his faithful. Evil-doers will perish eternally, the descendants of the wicked be annihilated.’ V. 28
    Same thought at v.10,11, “A little while and the wicked will be no more, however well you search for the place, the wicked will not be there; but the poor will have the land for their own, to enjoy untroubled peace.” Many Bibles translate v.11 as, “the meek will inherit the earth”, which you’ll recognize from the Mt 5:5, so Jesus also believed this. In fact, he’s the ‘greater David’ who will bring this about.
    If all this is true, then shouldn’t Christians be preparing those in ignorance for this good news? In other words, the Our Father prayer has more meaning than many believe: “…thy will be done on earth…”

  • Yes, the important thing is that the building of Western civilization by the Church has been not so much anyone’s great conscious corporate project as just the natural byproduct of a lot of individual lives rightly reflected upon and lived out according to grace. I look forward to finding out in what unexpected ways this giant story is continuing to unfold, even though quite unrecognized by us who are grasping for the big picture today.

  • douglas kraeger

    ArchBishop Chaput said,”As in every other age, we’re called to preach Jesus Christ to our fellow citizens. We need to learn for ourselves and be ready to teach others the truth about the human person, the objective foundation of morality in the natural law. We need to fight to keep our human laws obedient to that deeper law. And we need to remind people of the truths they’ve forgotten, the truths on which our society is founded.”
    I do not believe the ArchBishop intends that all Catholics get advanced degrees in Theology and Philosophy before they start to evangelize. To really live the Christian faith, joyous, hopeful, and thankful no matter what the crosses is a strong witness in itself. But, if that witness also included the ability to cite verifiable evidence and to share a superbly written question for the recipient to keep and to seek God’s answer to, in the security of their home and heart, would that not be a better situation?
    I would like to suggest that competent Catholics produce, compile, lists of questions with related verifiable evidence included and make these lists available on a web page for people to down load and print on little slips of paper, with the web address, to be handed to people they have discussions with. Think how powerful such a tool could be. Think how some people who know their own limitations and are therefore reluctant to dialogue with others about faith, how they might feel reassured that they have such powerful questions in their wallet or purse, for when they do not have all the answers for someone they are talking to.
    I have started a list on my blog at and I submit one such example below that could be improved upon.

    Question 5.1 a,b,c,d: Question 5 a,b,c,d. We can know there must be a Creator God, therefore we can also know that God must keep any and all promises He makes and reveals to men because He can have only one, single, infinite, eternal, always in the present tense thought and He can not lie, He cannot contradict Himself. Question (for all who accept the Book of Genesis as coming from God, which is all Jews, Christians and Muslims): Since you believe that God must fulfill any and all promises He makes and reveals to men and you accept that God made two promises in Genesis 17:20+21; Question a: What is the verifiable evidence you rely on to show that it is not possible that God will first fulfill His promise of Gen. 17:21 and then, when the descendants of Ishmael find the Messiah promised through Isaac and the Jewish prophets, and live the way the Messiah teaches, then God will fulfill His promise of Gen. 17:20 and make of the descendants of Ishmael a truly great nation, a nation of holy people who love everyone whom God loves, a nation far more holy than most “Christians” seen today? Or to ask it another way Question b: What evidence do you site to show it is not possible that God has fulfilled His promise of Gen 17:21 and is waiting for the children of Ishmael to seek the Messiah so that then they will be a truly great nation? Question c: Is God infinitely good and powerful enough to turn the whole world right side up by His peaceful means one person, one step, one issue at a time without violating anyone’s free will, even if almost all ministers and laity of all faiths have accepted different half-truths and are not really open to God’s complete peace plan and in effect, oppose parts of it because it requires more from (and of) them? Yes or no? Question d: If God’s plan, Will, is to turn the whole world right side up by His peaceful means, should all peace loving people do whatever they can to encourage the followers, or would be followers, of terrorist leaders to ask these leaders to publicly explain how they can be doing God’s will with violence when God’s will is peaceful, through the evidence, questions and reasoning available that, by God’s grace, will lead all to the one faith God wants all to have?

  • bonaventure

    Christians can rebuild the culture on the following conditions: The present culture must fall first. There is no point building on a crumbling building. Level it first, clean the ground and foundation, then only rebuild.

  • John Grondelski

    Yes, we should start evangelizing at home … ESPECIALLY in all those shuttered Philadelphia churches that the local iteration of the “lock and leave” generation of episcopabili has closed, presumably in the name of “renewing” the local church.

  • Akira88

    Wow! It’s really time for the Bishops to be more accessible to the people. It’s like the only time parishioners hear from them is in a letter form asking to support some appeal.

    I’ve heard it said (by a priest) that the diocese are not running like “corporations” with the Bishop being the CEO …. I’d like to know what the Cardinal’s thought were on that.