Philadelphia prelate offers hope to our nation
By Brian Caulfield, FFG Editor
The Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput is an American original, with the blood of a Potawatomi Indian and the soul of a Catholic priest. A devoted churchman and a declared patriot, his love of Church and country places him at the crossroads of some of the more contentious public issues in America today, and makes it fitting that he serves as the archbishop of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love and the place of our nation’s founding.
With a calm demeanor and thoughtful manner that suggest a reluctance to enter heated controversy, he is yet not shy to engage issues and ideas when they touch upon areas of his competence, always with respect for principles and persons. With our nation’s rapidly shifting cultural and political values, it is not surprising that Archbishop Chaput finds many issues to raise in an age that often confuses rights with entitlement and autonomy with liberty.
Archbishop Chaput’s first book on Church and state laid out the issues clearly in its title, calling forth the teaching of Jesus and its practical implications: Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Faith (Henry Holt). His main thesis is that the Catholic faith, in its moral and social teachings, has a vital and irreplaceable role to play in American culture and politics, and Catholics must not be intimidated or seduced from living out their faith fully and joyfully in the public square. The future of the nation, and perhaps of democracy itself, depends on Catholics being truly Catholic in word and deed.
The archbishop’s newest book by the same publisher builds upon the tenets of the first while suggesting that we may be moving toward a tipping point in our democracy. Strangers in a Strange Land draws its title from Robert Heinlein’s 1960s sci-fi thriller, and asserts that Christians, and especially Catholics, are beginning to feel a bit alien to the laws and mores of modern America that has embraced abortion and warmed to the judge-imposed regime of same-sex marriage. Since these and other recent attacks on life and family also threaten the Church’s freedom and a Catholic’s practice of the faith, the subtitle of the book issues a warning in the form of a challenge: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World.
The archbishop is such a bracingly good thinker and cogent writer that I dare not seek to summarize the book in this brief review. The opening paragraph of Chapter 1 (titled “Resident Aliens”) is enough to give the tone and serious subject of the book:
“Christians have many good reasons for hope. Optimism is another matter. Optimism assumes that, sooner or later, things will naturally turn for the better. Hope has no such illusions.”
He goes on, page after page, making distinctions, drawing out parallels, and holding every idea up to the high standards of the Catholic intellectual tradition. Unwed to any one political party’s platform, he has insightful criticisms of our democracy, capitalism and immigration policy. He takes ideas and arguments seriously, including those of his opponents. Anyone who does likewise must read this book, for the instruction imparted and the wisdom proffered, as well as to discover the firm foundation of Christian hope that the archbishop holds out for our country.
For more information, visit the publisher’s website.