Archbishop Chaput: Have Hope, Because ‘God Doesn’t Lose’

Philadelphia archbishop counsels that holiness will lead to a renewal of the Church’s life.

Archbishop Charles Chaput
Archbishop Charles Chaput (photo: CNA file photo)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The archbishop of Philadelphia told seminarians March 27 that Catholics are called to renew the Church through lives of holiness, humility and love.

“All of the great Catholic reformers in history had three essential qualities: personal humility; a passion for purifying the Church, starting with themselves; and a fidelity to her teaching, all motivated by unselfish, self-sacrificing love,” Archbishop Charles Chaput said Wednesday, during the “Pio Laghi Lecture” at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.

“God calls all of us, but especially his priests, not just to renew the face of the earth with his Spirit, but to renew the heart of the Church with our lives; to make her young and beautiful, again and again, so that she shines with his love for the world. That’s our task. That’s our calling. That’s what a vocation is — a calling from God with our name on it.​”

“To borrow from St. Augustine, God made us to make the times, not the times to make us. We’re the subjects of history, not its objects. And unless we make the times better with the light of Jesus Christ, then the times will make us worse with their darkness,” Archbishop Chaput added.

The Josephinum is a college-level and major seminary directly accountable to the Holy See and overseen by the apostolic nuncio to the United States. More than 200 seminarians study at the seminary. The Cardinal Pio Laghi Lecture is named for the papal representative to the U.S. from 1980 to 1990.

During his address, Archbishop Chaput told seminarians that confusion, anxiety and anger have in recent months become common experiences for Catholics, including bishops.

The archbishop said that he had titled his talk “Facing the Future With Hope and Joy” because “it sounds better than ‘facing the future with confusion and anxiety,’ and anger for that matter, because I’m tempted to feel all three of those things a couple of times a week.”

“There are days when everyone in the Church seems angry. Laypeople and priests are angry with their bishops for the abuse scandal, which never seems to end. Bishops are angry with priests for their bad example.”

“And many bishops are also frustrated — to put it gently — with Rome for its unwillingness to acknowledge the real nature and scope of the abuse problem. Clerical privilege is not the problem. Clericalism may be a factor in the sexual abuse of minors, but no parent I know — and I hear from a lot of them — sees that as the main issue. Not naming the real problem for what it is — a pattern of predatory homosexuality and a failure to weed that out from Church life — is an act of self-delusion.” 

“My own frustration over the past few weeks has been fed by German bishops who seem willing to break what remains of Church peace and unity with bad ideas about sexual morality and impressive array of other issues. But that’s a topic for another day,” he added. 

While “much of the anger in the Church today is righteous and healthy,” he said, “what we do with that anger ... determines whether it becomes a medicine or a poison.”

The archbishop counseled that holiness would lead to a renewal of the Church’s life.

“Twenty centuries after the resurrection of Jesus, the Church continues her mission. She survives and continues through the grace of God. But that grace works through people like you and me,” he said.

During difficult times, the archbishop said, fear can also become a toxic element in the lives of Catholics.

“Do we really believe in Jesus Christ or not? That’s the central question in our lives. Everything turns on the answer. Because if our Christian faith really grounds and organizes our lives, then we have no reason to fear, and we have every reason to hope.”  

“Hope depends on faith. It can’t survive without a foundation of passionate belief in something or Someone higher and greater than ourselves. Without faith, ‘hope’ is just another word for the cheap and cheesy optimism the modern world uses to paper over its own — and our own — brokenness.”

“But God is here with us, and because he is, this time of ours, like every other difficult time in history, is a good time to be a Catholic and especially to be a priest — because every priest has the privilege of holding the Source of love, the God who made all creation, in his hands.”

The archbishop added that as the Church becomes absent “from the center of today’s Western culture,” Catholics are becoming disoriented, and many are “leaving the pews.”

“This ongoing cultural realignment will shake many of our Church institutions, from urban parishes to schools, universities, hospitals and other agencies — even seminaries.  They were founded in a different era in accord with social and political conditions that no longer exist. But for committed believers, it’s an exhilarating time, too, because we’re being pushed back onto the foundations of our faith, the enduring sources of truth and life.”  

“We still need budgets, and we can’t escape meetings. The Church was instituted by Christ, which means she’s an institution, a living body of the faithful ordered toward worship of God and service in the world. But in this time of sifting, a great deal of dead weight is being stripped away. We’re being driven closer to the one, simple truth from which the Church draws her purpose and strength: God incarnate in Christ, the author of our salvation and life eternal,” he said.  

As he concluded, Archbishop Chaput encouraged faith amid difficulty.

“The gift of this moment, the blessing of our disestablishment, is that we’re being exposed to the world as followers of Jesus Christ, even as we stumble and fall. And through the witness of the faithful who trust, and serve, and endure in his love — despite all our failures and weaknesses — God will make the Gospel new and more radiant. History is a record of that story again and again. God doesn’t lose.”