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BY Ellen Wilson Fielding
The July/August issue of The Catholic Faith carries an article by Charles Chaput, archbishop of Denver, on “The Task of Evangelization in Secular America.” Challenging Catholics to preach the whole message of Christianity, Archbishop Chaput writes: “All of us love Christmas. That is the easy part of the message. There's much less consumer demand for Good Friday… That part of the Gospel is harder to preach.
“It is also harder for each of us to accept personally…I mention this because, in developed countries, when we talk about Jesus Christ — and our lives as Christians — we tend to soften the rough edges… The Good News is not a message of niceness. It is a revolutionary message of new life in Christ through death to the self … and the world usually doesn't want to hear it, and will often resist it with violence.”
“After noting that “our mission territory is right here in our backyard,” the archbishop explains, “So often today, religious affiliation is just a veneer that covers up practical unbelief. And we all know one or two young adults who have just enough formal religion to be vaccinated against real faith. They were educated in the Church, and they think they know everything about her — but they really know nothing at all… So as a culture, we have the memory of faith and a kind of nostalgia for God, but we're losing our moral vocabulary as we pull away from our religious tradition.”
Archbishop Chaput then sets out “five main ideas or themes where we need to focus our special efforts” in teaching children about the faith. “The first is silence. Silence is holy. It's where God talks to the soul… You and I should be interested in what bores or frightens young people about the absence of noise. I have a fear that we've created a huge hole in the universe where the meaning of life used to be, and noise is the only thing now which keeps it from being completely empty.”
Second, “We push [God] completely out of sight…God is almost completely absent from the context of children's T.V. It's such an obvious statement, but we need to re-introduce children to the idea of God, God not as a force or an abstract idea or a science-fiction energy field, but as a Father with a plan for our happiness who is intimately involved with our lives… We can love a Father. We cannot know, much less love, a force. The personhood of God, especially in his Trinitarian reality, implies relationship — not only within the Trinity, but with humanity and all creation. And every relationship implies mutual rights, responsibilities and purpose, which is exactly what's missing from the lives of so many young people.”
“My third concern is the nature of truth. Asense of absolute right and wrong is absent not only from many of today's children — but much more alarmingly, from many of their parents… We're becoming a people of alibis instead of principles. And in doing it, we're even less able to understand the deeper, divine truth which takes on human flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ.”
Next comes the archbishop's fourth point, “the idea of freedom… ‘Choice’ is not necessarily freedom, and the idolatry of choice is just another form of slavery.… Real freedom is rooted in self-sacrifice… Freedom is not choices without purpose. Real freedom is … ‘to walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…’ And it's a walk that leads to the cross. We need to take that walk ourselves, and model it…”
“And this leads to my final thought on this point: Whatever her faults, the Church is the only, truly free, community in creation… She is the vessel through which God pours hope and holiness into the world. She is the silence where we can hear God calling our name. She is the path we take to answer Christ's call, ‘Come, follow me…’”
“Spiritual warfare is real… The cost of that war is the blood of martyrs, and the history of this century is written in it. That's what I mean by missionary realism. If you teach the truth, brothers and sisters, you are the friend of God. And if you are the friend of God, you are the enemy of those who revile him.”
Ellen Wilson Fielding writes from Davidsonville, Maryland.