June 14, 2017

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput: "No Society Can Long Sustain Itself If Marriage and the Family Fall Apart."

The Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. the Archbishop of Philadelphia presented this Brigham Young University forum address on March 22, 2016. He discusses the difficulties faced by believers in America today and the assaults on religious freedom perpetrated by the government and secular forces. Below is a partial transcript of Archbishop Chaput's remarks. They are well worth your time.

Starting at 4:32:

I want to begin by giving you some background on the Catholic experience in this country. I’ll do that through the lens of a particular Catholic bishop – me. I don’t claim to speak for all or even most Americans who describe themselves as Catholic. But my comments do reflect the views of many Catholics who rank their Catholic faith as the most precious thing in their lives — and actually live that way.

So let’s start with a simple fact: Catholics have never entirely “fit” in America. We’ve tried, but the results are mixed. In fact some years ago Stanley Hauerwas, the distinguished Protestant theologian, said that we Catholics not only don’t fit in America, we also know we don’t fit. And because we know, we’re doubly eager to prove that we’re more American than anybody else.

Starting at 11:12:

There’s a lot of talk in Christian circles today about the need to protect believing families from a flawed culture that often seems to be getting worse. And the talk frequently turns to a thing called the “Benedict Option.” It’s an idea worth explaining. Benedict of Nursia was a sixth century Italian saint and the founder of Western monasticism. The son of a Roman nobleman, he left Rome as a young man for the peace of the countryside. He eventually founded 12 religious communities that grew into the worldwide Benedictine Order of monks we have today. So the core of a modern “Benedict Option” involves finding a way to preserve people from the most dysfunctional elements of the secular world — either by building new communities or withdrawing mentally, or even physically, from the public culture around us.

It’s a compelling idea. Critics don’t do it justice if they write it off as a form of escapism. But for me as a bishop – and I’ve heard this from many other believers — I think an even better model is St. Augustine, who led the fifth century Church in the North African city of Hippo Regius. Augustine lived and worked in the thick of his people. As a bishop, he engaged the problems of the society around him every day — even as the Roman world fell apart, and his own city came under siege.

I think we need to think and act in the same way Augustine did. Our task as believers, whatever our religious tradition, is to witness our love for God and for each other in the time and place God puts us. That means we have duties — first to the City of God, but also to the City of Man. It means working with all our energy to make our nation whole and good, even as we keep our expectations modest, and even when we experience criticism and failure. And finally, it means realizing that none of us can do this work alone.

Starting at 18:06:

Today, Americans are vastly more numerous. They’re also a lot more diverse. Many trace their heritage to cultures that have no experience of Christianity, the Reformation, the Enlightenment or English common law. No one should fear that. America thrives on diversity. It needs immigration to constantly renew itself. So demographic change is a very good thing – so long as some mechanism exists in society to weave people together into a nation with common ideals; ideals that are organic to our past and higher than our personal appetites. America is an idea. And the idea needs to have a moral substance greater than “every man for himself” or “do whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt somebody else.” That’s a hunting license, not a national purpose.

Starting at 23:49:

I want to note just one more factor that divides the America we now have, from the America we remember – or at least we think we remember. That factor, of course, is sex – sex and relationships, sex and marriage, sex and family, sex and human meaning.

To borrow a thought from C. S. Lewis, the human person is a kind of “amphibian” – a creature made by God for this world and the next; a blending of spirit and flesh that gives the body special dignity. The body is not modeling clay. It’s not raw material at the service of our wills, and there’s something profoundly sad in watching a person mutilate his or her body in the hope of creating a new identity. The body has a purpose. Our sexuality is ordered to creating and raising new life, and to the mutual support of a man and woman in a covenant of love.

My point is this: Sexual confusion isn’t unique to our age, but the scope of it is. No society can sustain itself for long if marriage and the family fall apart on a mass scale. And that’s exactly what’s happening as we gather here today. The Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision approving same-sex marriage last June was a legal disaster. But it didn’t happen in a vacuum. It fits very comfortably with trends in our culture that go back many decades, even before the 1960s. It’s useful to read or reread Wilhelm Reich’s book from 1936, The Sexual Revolution. Reich argues that a real revolution can only be made at the level of sexual freedom. And it needs to begin by wiping away institutions like marriage, family and traditional sexual morality....

Read Archbishop Chaput's address in full (via the Archdiocese of Philadelphia).

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