The following is excerpted from the Red Mass Archbishop Chaput celebrated for public officials in
Anger is easy. The world is an unjust place. Lawyers, judges and public officials are easy to blame for that, and too often they deserve it. The same can be said about sin and indifference in the Church. Priests and bishops are easy to blame — and too often, we deserve it. But simply admitting that doesn’t change anything. And anger only makes it worse.
St. Francis of
When God called Francis to repair
the Church, Francis heard it literally. He thought he was supposed to repair
the chapel of San Damiano near
The Franciscan tradition tells us that often in his life, Francis would meet with his community, and this man, who was one of history’s greatest saints, would say to them, “Brothers, up to now we have done nothing. Let us begin.” If you and I want to be what God calls us to be in the years that lie ahead, we need to be like St. Francis.
We need to look at each other today as disciples of Jesus Christ and admit to each other, “Up to now, we’ve done nothing, but let’s begin. Let’s begin in the name of the Lord, let’s live our lives in his name, and let’s end in his name because in no other name will we ever find salvation.”
St. Francis is very dear to me because I’m a Capuchin Franciscan. The Capuchins began as a reform movement within the Franciscan Order. They wanted to recover the purity and simplicity of the original vision of St. Francis. Capuchin spirituality is challenging. It understands in a special way that the Church is always reforming herself and always in need of reform — that’s the meaning of ecclesia semper reformans, semper reformanda. But every kind of real reform always begins with the individual believer.
Francis wasn’t the only reformer of his day. Plenty of other men and women saw the problems in society and tried to do something about them. Francis wasn’t even the smartest or the most talented, but he was almost certainly the most faithful, the most honest, the most humble, the most single-minded in his mission, and the most zealous in his love for Jesus Christ. And I’d argue that these marks of authentic Catholic renewal haven’t really changed at all in 800 years.
Throughout his life, Francis had a deep dislike for anything that glossed over the hard parts of the Gospel. In the Middle Ages, a “gloss” was an interpretation of Scripture that softened the meaning of a passage and made it easier to live. Francis wanted to live the Gospel sine glossa — in other words, “without alibis” or excuses.
In this, he was simply following Jesus. Christ spoke, again and again, against those who “glossed away” the law of God in Israel — the Jews who declared their property korban (dedicated to God), so that they wouldn’t have to support their parents, and thus dishonored the Fourth Commandment; or those who turned the Temple sacrifice into an excuse for making money without seeing how this corrupted true worship.
Francis knew that it isn’t enough to say, “Lord, Lord” to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Words mean nothing without the actions that back them up. We need to actually do and live the will of God in our daily choices, or we’re liars.
When people claim they’re Catholic but do nothing in the public square to advance the Christian understanding of each human person’s dignity, they’re deceiving themselves and other people — but they’re not fooling God. The sanctity of the human person begins at conception. It continues through every tick on the clock until natural death.
Embryonic stem-cell research, abortion, assisted suicide — these are fundamental, inexcusable violations of human dignity. So is trying to change the meaning of marriage. So is exploiting the disabled and the poor. So is bigotry against immigrants. And if somewhere in your hearts a little voice is whispering “I agree, but” — that’s exactly the kind of gloss Francis and Jesus both warned against.
We need to drill it into our heads that defending the sanctity of the human person and serving the common good can’t be separated. Stuffing our Catholic faith in a closet when we enter the public square or join a public debate isn’t good manners, and it isn’t political courtesy. It’s cowardice. And we’ll be judged for that cowardice by the God who created us.
Throughout my own life, I’ve often turned to the Prayer of St. Francis before the crucifix. It goes like this:
“Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, sense and knowledge, Lord, so that I may carry out your holy and true command.”
It’s always easier to talk about social justice or political reform when the target of the reform is “out there,” rather than “in here.” The world does need to change, and in your vocation as public leaders, God is calling you to pursue that task with justice and charity with a love for the common good and a reverence for human life. The world needs committed Catholic laypeople like you to lead with humility, courage and love.
But what it needs more than anything else is holiness — holy men and women who love Jesus Christ and God’s Word more than they love their own careers and agendas. Today, just like 800 years ago, the structures of government and the Church are so much easier to tinker with than a stubborn heart or personal ambition or an empty hole where our Catholic faith should be. Renewing society — in a truly Catholic sense — begins with our own repentance and conversion, our own humility and willingness to serve — and that’s the really hard work, which is why so little of it seems to get done.
But it can be done. Francis showed us how. It’s up to us to do something about it.
“Brothers and sisters, let us begin. Because up to now we have done nothing.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput