NAPA, Calif. — In a world that can sometimes seem disheartening, Christians have a path to the future in lives of joy and love, Archbishop Charles Chaput told those gathered Thursday at the annual Napa Institute conference.
While Christians need to see the world’s problems as they are, “we can’t let the weight of the world crush the joy that’s our birthright by our rebirth in Jesus Christ through baptism,” he said.
“If we cling to that joy, if we cling to God, then all things are possible,” he added. “The only way to create new life in a culture is to live our lives joyfully and fruitfully, as individuals ruled by convictions greater than ourselves and shared with people we know and love. It’s a path that’s very simple and very hard at the same time. But it’s the only way to make a revolution that matters.”
The Napa Institute, founded in 2010, aims to help Catholic leaders face the challenges of contemporary America.
“When young people ask me how to change the world,” Archbishop Chaput said, “I tell them to love each other, get married, stay faithful to one another, have lots of children, and raise those children to be men and women of Christian character. Faith is a seed. It doesn’t flower overnight. It takes time and love and effort.”
“The future belongs to people with children, not with things. Things rust and break,” the archbishop continued. “But every child is a universe of possibility that reaches into eternity, connecting our memories and our hopes in a sign of God’s love across the generations. That’s what matters. The soul of a child is forever.”
In the face of the many challenges of today, he pointed to an idea from St. Augustine: “It’s no use whining about the times because we are the times.”
“It’s through us that God acts in society and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is carried forward. So we need to own that mission. And only when we do will anything change for the better,” the archbishop said.
“This isn’t a time to retreat from the world. We need to engage the world and convert it,” he added, saying that “we have every reason to trust in God and find in him our hope.” The archbishop encouraged his audience to read and pray over Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).
Reflecting on the temptation to give up, Archbishop Chaput — whose most recent book Strangers in a Strange Land (Henry Holt) came out in February — said this is “always easier than fighting for what we believe and living what we know to be true.”
“Cowardice solves the problem of conflict — at least in the short run. But it abandons the many thousands of great young Catholic lay and clergy leaders who are already part of our landscape,” he said. “I know many of them. And they look to us for example and support.”
While Catholics could react to this situation with “a well-crafted strategic plan,” the archbishop said there is no “quick fix” for cultures, which are more like living organisms than corporations or math problems.
Prayer was also a focus of his remarks. Reflecting on the “hellish” aspect to modern life that people fill with “discord, confusion and noise,” he recommended Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book The Power of Silence (Ignatius). He encouraged his audience to “turn off the noise that cocoons us in consumer anxieties and appetites.”
“If we don’t pray, we can’t know and love God,” Archbishop Chaput said.
He endorsed reading the Bible as an antidote to the noise of life. Reading the Bible, as well as histories, biographies and great novels are antidotes to “chronic stupidity and a conditioning by mass media that have no sympathy for the things we believe.”
Archbishop Chaput suggested that the modern world is not much different from the Athens that St. Paul visited. The city was “full of idols,” where everyone “spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” There, St. Paul disputed with Jews, devout persons, philosophers and other residents.
The Acts of the Apostles show “the perpetual newness of the Gospel,” the archbishop said.
“They’re also a portrait of courage as St. Paul, Christianity’s greatest missionary, preaches the Gospel in the sophisticated heart of Athens,” he continued. Despite mockery and condemnation, St. Paul persists and “understands that his audience has a fundamental hunger for the Godly that hasn’t been fed, and he refuses to be quiet or afraid.”
Even after seeming failure, he had planted a seed of faith that would grow into “a Church with deep roots.”
The archbishop cited Jesus’ words from the Gospel of John: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth ... and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
“The words of the Gospel remind us that the future is God’s, and we should trust in the Holy Spirit, who leads us in a spirit of truth. We don’t need to fear the future. We don’t need to know it before its time. What we do need is to have confidence in the Lord and to give our hearts to the Father who loves us. The future is in his hands.”