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Archbishop: Catholics can change the direction of the country

Posted By November 17, 2011 | 1:23 pm | Lead Story #2
By Tanya Connor Catholics helped steer America in the direction it is going, with its ignorance of and cynicism toward religion. And they can help change it. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia made these points in a talk at Assumption College Nov. 10. The Capuchin priest spoke about “Catholics and the Next America” for the annual D’Amour Lecture in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, part of the college’s President’s Lecture Series. “Freedom of belief and religious practice used to be a concern that Americans had about other countries,” Archbishop Chaput said. “Now it’s a concern in ours.”

By Tanya Connor

Catholics helped steer America in the direction it is going, with its ignorance of and cynicism toward religion. And they can help change it.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia made these points in a talk at Assumption College Nov. 10.
The Capuchin priest spoke about “Catholics and the Next America” for the annual D’Amour Lecture in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, part of the college’s President’s Lecture Series.
“Freedom of belief and religious practice used to be a concern that Americans had about other countries,” Archbishop Chaput said. “Now it’s a concern in ours.”
But, he said, “Nothing in this world is inevitable except the victory of Jesus Christ; and that includes what history finally says about the character of the nation we call America.”
The archbishop began by saying sometimes the best way to look at the future is “through the lens of the past” and told the following story about when Christians were in power and outnumbered pagans in Rome.
In 382 A.D. a Christian emperor removed an altar to the goddess Victory. Two years later the pagan prefect of Rome, Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, asked the new Christian emperor to restore it.
“It is just that all worship should be considered as one,” Symmachus wrote. “We cannot attain so great a secret by one road.”
St. Ambrose of Milan wrote a “crushing response” that ended the discussion, and the Altar of Victory was never returned, Archbishop Chaput said.
“The American experiment – a nonsectarian, democratic society, sustained by a strong, implicitly Christian worldview and moral vocabulary – worked well for nearly 200 years,” he said. “But in recent years, God … has been less and less welcome at the center of our common life.… Christians may soon find themselves in the same place Symmachus once did – arguing from the margins.”
Next to evangelical churches, baptized Catholics are the biggest religious community in the United States, and have leadership roles, the archbishop said.
But a quarter of Americans aged 18-29 have no religious affiliation and studies say they are more critical of Christianity than previous generations. Fewer than 24 percent of Americans describe themselves as Catholic.
The most obvious result of “this disappearance of a Christian critical mass in American life” is sexual minorities using state power and media to break down traditional definitions of marriage and the family, the archbishop said.
He also predicted that, in the name of individual rights, civil authority will interfere in believing communities and there will be less “unchallenged space for religious institutions to carry out their work in the public square.” This is already seen with state pressure on Catholic hospitals and adoption agencies, federal restrictions on conscience protections, attacks on charitable tax deductions, and interference in the hiring practices of organizations such as Catholic Charities, he noted.
“Reformation theology and the Enlightenment thought elevate the importance of the individual,” he said. “But they can also feed a destructive individualism and a hostility to any religious authority outside the sovereignty of personal conscience. … Without the restraints of a common moral consensus animated and defended by a living religious community, the freedom of the individual easily becomes a license for selfishness,” Archbishop Chaput said.
Catholics helped create the “next America … ignorant or cynical toward religion in general and Christianity in particular … with our eagerness to fit in, our distractions and overconfidence, and our own lukewarm faith,” he said.
“Too many people who claim to be Christian simply don’t know Jesus Christ,” he said. “They feel embarrassed by their religion and vaguely out of step with the times. … It has no transforming effect on their personal behavior, no social force and few public consequences.”
But, the archbishop said, “We make the future.” Nothing is inevitable but Christ’s victory.
He said he’s met thousands of young adults on fire for Christ and committed to their Catholic faith. They need leadership and education “that radiates confidence in the Word of God, fidelity to the Catholic faith, and a missionary zeal to make all things new in Jesus Christ – including the public square.”
“Instead of Catholics converting the culture, the culture too often bleached out the apostolic zeal in Catholics,” he said. So the large number of Catholics in leadership has a limited effect on the country’s direction.
Catholic higher education has a role to play because it teaches “the mutual dependency of faith and reason … aids in the creation of a Christian culture and explains what this means for human thriving …  It has nothing to be embarrassed about and every reason to be on fire with confidence and apostolic zeal.”
If Catholics know and love Jesus, commit their lives to him, and act on what they claim to believe, the conversion of at least some of the world is possible, he said.