OK, it's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Archbishop Chaput of Denver both for his pro-life stance and his eloquent preaching and writing (and that he answers his own email!!), so you need to decide for yourself whether the speech he delivered today in Rome at a meeting of priests and laity was a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 as I think.
The title of the speech is "The Prince of This World and the Evangelization of Culture." The archbishop begins his speech with a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, ends it with Augustine and Dante and seasons the middle with Marissa Maritain, Aquinas, Neitzsche, Feuerbach, the Marxist philosopher Leszek Kolakowski and others. (In those not so unusual coincidences of coming upon a rarity twice in one day, I had a letter from a parishioner this very morning mentioning Kolakowski and then read his name in this speech tonight.) He includes the customary episcopal citations of John Paul II and Benedict XVI but with true affection and respect.
The best parts of the speech, however, are not the literary allusions or the quotes of others, but the hard-hitting words of Chaput himself:
God has never been more absent from the Western mind than he is today. Additionally, we live in an age when almost every scientific advance seems to be matched by some increase of cruelty in our entertainment, cynicism in our politics, ignorance of the past, consumer greed, little genocides posing as “rights” like the cult of abortion, and a basic confusion about what – if anything at all – it means to be “human.”The Archbishop blames not only our neglect of God, but our disbelief in the Devil as a central problem of the modern age. Satan has disappeared from our speech, our belief and our modern preaching and the devil's invisibility prevents us from confronting and naming evil. Sins become "mental health problems."
We shouldn't become cynical or feel impotent, we should become afire with the love of Christ! The central question for the church is not management, it's discipleship. We name and create new ministries in the church and define and distribute credentials for them, but let us remember that some of those with the most academic and pastoral degrees and some of those most engaged with social justice issues have left the Church. Let's listen to the Archbishop:
But when we talk about a theme like today's topic – “Priests and laity together, changing and challenging the culture” – we need to remember that what we do, proceeds from who we are. Nothing is more dead than faith without works (Jas 2:17); except maybe one thing: works without faith. I do not think Paul had management issues in his head when he preached at the Areopagus. Management and resources are important – but the really essential questions, the questions that determine everything else in our life as Christians, are these: Do I really know God? Do I really love him? Do I seek him out? Do I study his word? Do I listen for his voice? Do I give my heart to him? Do I really believe he's there?…The fundamental crisis of our time, and the special crisis of today’s Christians, has nothing to do with technology, or numbers, or organization, or resources. It is a crisis of faith. Do we believe in God or not? Are we on fire with a love for Jesus Christ, or not? Because if we are not, nothing else matters. If we are, then everything we need in order to do God's work will follow, because he never abandons his people.
With due apologies to Archbishop Chaput, can I summarize? --- Burn up or burn out!
The speech is 3,200 words, but you don't have to read it sitting stiffly in an uncomfortable wooden pew. It's reading for adults, but it encourages and exhorts and it inspires. Put aside a few moments and read it here.