In real life, democracy is built on two practical pillars: cooperation and conflict. It requires both. Cooperation, because people have a natural hunger for solidarity that makes all community possible. And conflict, because people have competing visions of what is right and true. The more deeply they hold their convictions, the more naturally people seek to have those convictions shape society.
What that means for Catholics is this: We have a duty to treat all persons with charity and justice. We have a duty to seek common ground where possible. But that’s never an excuse for compromising with grave evil. It’s never an excuse for being naive. And it’s never an excuse for standing idly by while our liberty to preach and serve God in the public square is whittled away. We need to work vigorously in law and politics to form our culture in a Christian understanding of human dignity and the purpose of human freedom. Otherwise, we should stop trying to fool ourselves that we really believe what we claim to believe.
There’s more. To work as it was intended, America needs a special kind of citizenry: a mature, well-informed electorate of persons able to reason clearly and rule themselves prudently. If that’s true — and it is — then the greatest danger to American liberty in our day is not religious extremism. It’s something very different. It’s a culture of narcissism that cocoons us in dumbed-down, bigoted news, vulgarity, distraction and noise, while methodically excluding God from the human imagination. Kierkegaard once wrote that “the introspection of silence is the condition of all educated intercourse” and that “talkativeness is afraid of the silence which reveals its emptiness.”
Silence feeds the soul. Silence invites God to speak. And silence is exactly what American culture no longer allows. Securing the place of religious freedom in our society is therefore not just a matter of law and politics, but of prayer, interior renewal — and also education.
What I mean is this: We need to re-examine the spirit that has ruled the Catholic approach to American life for the past 60 years. In forming our priests, deacons, teachers and catechists — and especially the young people in our schools and religious-education programs — we need to be much more penetrating and critical in our attitudes toward the culture around us. We need to recover our distinctive Catholic identity and history. Then we need to act on them.
America is becoming a very different country, and as Ross Douthat argues so well in his excellent book Bad Religion, a renewed American Christianity needs to be ecumenical, but also confessional. Why? Because: “In an age of institutional weakness and doctrinal drift, American Christianity has much more to gain from a robust Catholicism and a robust Calvinism than it does from even the most fruitful Catholic-Calvinist theological dialogue.”
America is now mission territory. Our own failures helped to make it that way. We need to admit that. Then we need to re-engage the work of discipleship to change it.
--Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia, Address to the Napa Institute, given July 26, 2012
I am a Catholic wife and mother of 3 young adults. I write about Catholic subject matter here and on numerous Catholic websites elsewhere. I love sharing my enthusiasm for the riches of our faith in person in parishes, at conferences, or on retreat.
I have a Masters in Theology but I remain forever a student at heart, for the more I know, the more I realize I have so much more to know!
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