In the Heart of the Church: Archbishop Charles Chaput
a Christian Means Your Life Has a Mission"
Archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput at "Theology on Tap"
World Youth Day 2008
July 16, 2008
P.J. Gallagher's Irish Pub, Sydney, Australia
You hear a lot of stories when you're in a pub having a pint. So
I thought I'd start our time together
tonight with a story. Now, some of the tales you hear when you're
sitting with friends over a beer might
stretch the truth a little. But I promise: the one I'm about to tell
you is true.
It's about a young man named Franz who lived about 60 years ago in a
small village in Austria. Franz
was the illegitimate son of a farmer who later died in World War I.
He was a wild kid. Everyone recalls
he was the first one in the village to drive a motorcycle. And I
don't think that's because he drove safely
or kept to the posted speed limits.
Franz was the leader of a gang that used to fight rival gangs in
neighboring villages with knives and
chains. He was something of a cad, too, and a womanizer. He got a
girl pregnant and was forced to
leave town. People said he went to work for a while in an iron mine.
For reasons nobody knows, Franz came back a changed man. He had
always gone to church, even during
his wildest days. But when he returned, he was a serious Catholic,
not just a Sunday-Catholic. He
started making payments to support the child he had fathered out of
wedlock. He married a good
Catholic woman and settled down to become a good farmer, husband and
father, raising three children
and serving as a lay leader in his local parish.
I'll tell you the rest of the story later. But I want to quote
something Franz wrote in a letter to his godson.
He wrote: "I can say from my own experience how painful life often
is when one lives as a halfway
Christian. It is more like vegetating than living."
I remembered Franz and those words when I started thinking about
tonight's topic: "Mission Possible:
This Double-Life Will Self-Destruct." Most of you aren't Americans,
and you're all too young to remember
the original "Mission Impossible" TV series that aired in the States
in the '60s and '70s. But I suppose
the organizers of my talk figured you'd all seen the Tom Cruise
movies that came out a few years
In any event, it's a clever image. Believers today are relentlessly
tempted to lead a "double life" -- to
be one person when we're in church or at prayer and somebody
different when we're with our friends
or family, or at work, or when we talk about politics.
Part of this temptation comes from normal peer pressure. We don't
want to stand out. We don't want
to appear different, so we keep our religious beliefs to ourselves.
It's as if we've internalized the old
adage: "Never talk about religion or politics in polite company."
I've never bought that line of thinking,
myself. Religion, politics, social justice - these are precisely the
things we should be talking about.
Nothing else really matters. What could be more important than
religious faith, which deals with the
ultimate meaning of life, and politics, which deals with how we
should organize our lives together for
the common good?
So those are the things we want to talk about tonight. I think it's
important, though, that we start with
a kind of "diagnosis" of the culture we're living in. The reason is
simple. We're living in the first age
in human history where entire societies are organized according to
this principle of "the double life."
Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor calls our period the "secular
age." How we got to this moment is
far too big a subject for us tonight. The point is that in just a
few centuries we've gone from living in
a world where it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to
living in a world where belief in God
doesn't seem to be necessary or to make any difference.
Most men and women today can live their whole lives as if God didn't
exist. Of course in the West - and
by "the West" I mean developed, Western-style democracies like
Australia -- we're allowed to believe
in God, and even to pray and worship together. But we're constantly
lectured by the mass media to
never "impose" our religious viewpoints on our neighbors. This
curious idea is always framed as a very
reasonable and enlightened way to live. You're free to believe what
you want to believe; I'm free to
believe what I want to believe; and the government agrees not to
tell either of us what to believe or
not to believe.
But things aren't as reasonable and enlightened as they seem. For
example, the last time I was in
Australia, your parliament was considering legislation to allow the
cloning of embryonic stem-cells. This
cloning would translate into an attack on the fundamental dignity of
human life. And Cardinal Pell and
your bishops had the courage to stand up and say so. What astounded
me was the backlash their statements
provoked. There was talk of charging Church leaders with
intimidating MPs and tampering with
the legislative process. All because they had the audacity to voice
a political opinion that was based on
their religious convictions.
Cases like this are cropping up more and more in the developed
world. Just last month a court in
Belgium dismissed charges filed against a Catholic bishop. The
allegation was that this bishop was
fomenting hatred of homosexuals. Of course he did nothing of the
sort. All he did was articulate the
Church's ancient teaching that homosexual activity is a sin and that
it's detrimental to an individual's
spiritual health and well-being.
In a secular age, however, this kind of opinion becomes grounds for
prosecution. And these cases have
a very calculated "chilling effect." They reinforce, with the threat
of jail and fines, the pressures that
we Catholics already feel to keep our mouths shut. To obey the
"double life" rule. To define our faith as
simply private prayer and personal piety.
But we know we can't do that. We can't live a half-way Christianity.
The organizers of tonight's event
were right. Every double life will inevitably self-destruct. The
question then becomes: How are we going
to live in this world? How can we lead a Christian life in a secular
We can't really answer that question until we get some things
straight about what it means to be a
Christian. And that means first getting some things straight about
Jesus Christ. This is another one of
the by-products of our secular age: we don't really quite know what
to think about Jesus anymore.
A few years before he became Pope Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger wrote something that
is unfortunately very true. He wrote: "Today in broad circles, even
among believers, an image has prevailed
of a Jesus who demands nothing, never scolds, who accepts everyone
and everything, who no
longer does anything but affirm us. . . . The figure is transformed
from the 'Lord' (a word that is avoided)
into a man who is nothing more than the advocate of all men."
We all know people -- friends or family members or both -- who think
about Jesus in these terms. It's
hard to avoid. Our culture has given Jesus a make-over. We've remade
him in the image and likeness
of secular compassion. Today he's not the Lord, the Son of God, but
more like an enlightened humanist
The problem is this: If Jesus isn't Lord, if he isn't the Son of
God, then he can't do anything for us. Then
the Gospel is just one more or less interesting philosophy of life.
And that's my first point about how
we need to live in a secular age: We have to trust the Gospels and
we have to trust the Church that
gives us the Gospels. We have to truly believe that Jesus is the Son
of God and the son of Mary. True
God and true man. The One who holds the words of eternal life. If we
aren't committed to that truth,
then nothing else I say tonight can make any sense.
Second point: Jesus didn't come down from heaven to tell us to go to
church on Sunday. He didn't die
on the cross and rise from the dead so that we would pray more at
home and be a little nicer to our
next-door neighbors. The fact that you smile when I say these things
means we know intuitively how
absurd it is to imagine a privatized, part-time Christianity.
The one thing even non-believers can see is that the Gospels aren't
compromise documents. Jesus
wants all of us. And not just on Sundays. He wants us to love God
with all our heart, all our soul, all
our strength, and all our mind. He wants us to love our neighbor as
ourselves. That is, with a love that's
We need to take Christ at his word. We need to love him like our
lives depend on it. Right now. And
without excuses. Remember that man who told Jesus: I'm ready to be
your disciple, but first I need to
plan my father's funeral? The way Jesus responds is so blunt, so
disturbing: "Leave the dead to bury
their own dead. Follow me and proclaim the kingdom of God." Of
course, he's not commanding disrespect
for our parents. What he's saying is that there can be no more
urgent priority in our lives than
following him and proclaiming his kingdom.
My third point flows from the first two: Being a follower of Christ
is not just one among many aspects
of your daily life. Being a Christian is who you are. Period. And
being a Christian means your life has a
mission. It means striving every day to be a better follower, to
become more like Jesus in your thoughts
Blessed Charles de Foucauld once said that, "God calls all the souls
he has created to love him with
their whole being. . . . But he does not ask all souls to show their
love by the same works, to climb to
heaven by the same ladder, to achieve goodness in the same way. What
sort of work, then must I do?
Which is my road to heaven?"
God expects big things from each of you. That's why he made us. To
love him and to serve one another,
and to play our personal part in bringing about the kingdom of love.
So you have to ask yourselves
the same questions that Blessed Charles asked himself. What does God
want you to be doing? How does
he want you to follow Christ?
Now, how do you go about finding the answers to these questions? By
talking to God, humbly and honestly,
in prayer. By getting to know Christ better through daily reading
and praying over the Gospels.
By opening yourself up to the graces he gives us in the sacraments.
"Ask and it will be given you; seek
and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you." It's not
about you choosing what you want to
do with your life. It's about discovering how God wants to use your
life to spread the good news of his
love and his kingdom.
Blessed Charles, by the way, is one of the great stories of the 20th
century. He was a Frenchman who
lived most of his life like the prodigal son, squandering his
inheritance on alcohol, women, and dead-end
pleasures. But when he came to know Jesus Christ, his life changed
forever. He felt called to follow
Christ literally, setting off on foot to Nazareth to devote himself
to a humble life of manual labor,
prayer, and charity. Some years later, his imitation of Christ led
him to the Sahara Desert, where he
lived as a hermit and eventually died a martyr's death.
I want to suggest tonight that most of you will find your road to
heaven starting a little closer to home.To illustrate that point, let's recall a story about another holy
person of the 20th century, Blessed Mother
Maybe you've heard of Celestial Seasonings, the herbal tea company.
The company was founded by a
man named "Mo" Siegel in the 1960s. "Mo" was very much a child of
his age -- idealistic, with a generous
heart. "Mo" made millions with his brand of herbal teas. And he gave
a lot of his money to worthy
causes. Yet he still wasn't satisfied. So he went to India to
volunteer with Mother Teresa among the
poor and dying. But when she met him, she told him to go home. The
little nun poked this multi-millionaire
entrepreneur in the chest and told him: "Grow where you're planted."
That's my advice to you, too. Grow where you're planted. Preach the
gospel with your lives no matter
where you are or whatever you find yourself doing -- going to
school, working, making a home. St. John
of the Cross said: "Where there is no love, put love and you will
draw out love." Those are good words
to live by. Put real love into everything you do. Not a vague,
sentimental warm feeling. That kind of
love doesn't mean anything because it doesn't cost you anything. No.
Jesus wants a love that comes
from the heart, a love that sacrifices for others as he sacrificed
One final point before we begin our questions and discussion
tonight. And it's this: Love the Church;
love her as your mother and teacher. Help to build her up, to purify
her life and work. We all get angry
when we see human weakness and sin in the Church. But we have to
remember always that the Church
is much, much more than the sum of her human parts.
The Church is the Bride of Christ. The Spirit that worked in Jesus
Christ and in his apostles is still at
work in the Church. Jesus promised his apostles that when they
teach, it will be he who is teaching.
That when they forgive sins, it will be he who forgives. That when
they say his words, "This is my body,"
the bread and wine will become his body and blood. Jesus doesn't
forget his promises. Where the
Church is, Jesus Christ is. Until the end of the age. And we always
want to be where Christ is, because
there is no way home to God except through him.
So love the Church. And this is crucial: Know what the Church
teaches. What the Church teaches is
what Christ wants you and everyone else to know -- for our own good
and for our salvation. Know what
the Church teaches so you can live those teachings and share those
teachings with others.
The leaders of today's secularized societies like to fancy
themselves as true humanists and humanitarians.
But these same societies justify killing millions of babies in the
womb and dismembering embryos
in the laboratory. We dispatch the handicapped and the elderly and
call it "death with dignity." Our very
language has become distorted. The family is no longer the covenant
communion of man and woman
that leads to new life and hence the future of society. In fact,
there are so few babies being born now
in developed, Western-style countries that we have to wonder whether
our civilization has lost its will
Only the Church stands up against these inhuman trends in our
societies. It's your mission, as lay men
and lay women, to ensure that Christ's teaching is preached and
explained and defended at every level
of our society -- in politics, in the workplace, in the culture.
This takes real courage. There are all sorts
of pressures, subtle and not so subtle, to sell out Jesus. To water
down or diminish his Gospel. To pick
and choose among his teachings. But we can't do that. Make a promise
to Jesus Christ never to contradict
the Church's teachings by your words or actions.
The Gospel is not just rules and "thou-shalt nots." It's the path to
leading a heavenly life on earth. The
way of life that alone brings true happiness and lasting joy. This
age encourages us to seek a fool's paradise.
To imagine that happiness is found in doing whatever we want to do.
That's a snare. And many
of our brothers and sisters are caught in that trap.
Only the truth can set people free. That truth is Jesus Christ. So
if we truly love our neighbors we will
want them to know the truth. The whole truth. Not just the parts of
it that make them feel good, the
parts that don't challenge them to change.
It's not possible for real Christians to lead a double life. We'll
self-destruct. Or worse still, we'll just
waste away. It will be like what Franz said. Being a half-way
Christian is like being a vegetable. It's not
a life. It's barely an existence.
I guess it's time for me to tell you the rest of the story about
The Nazis invaded Austria in 1938. Unlike most of his neighbors,
Franz refused to cooperate in any way
with the regime because he considered Hitler to be an enemy of
Christ and the Church. For five years
he waged a lonely campaign of resistance. Finally, he was arrested
for refusing an order to enlist in the
While awaiting his sentence, many people, including his family and
his local priest, urged him to pay
lip-service to the regime and thereby spare his life. Franz wouldn't
So 65 years ago, on August 9, 1943, Franz died on a Nazi guillotine.
Today we remember him as Blessed
Franz Jägerstätter -- a martyr for the truth that a Catholic can
never lead a double-life. That there can
be no such thing as a half-way Christian.
Blessed Franz wrote beautiful letters to his wife from prison. In
one of them he talked about the great
martyrs of the Church. He wrote: "If we hope to reach our goal some
day, then we, too, must become
heroes of the faith. For as long as we fear men more than God, we
will never make the grade." Another
time he wrote: "The important thing is that we do not let a single
day go by in vain without putting it
to good use for eternity."
Let me leave you with those thoughts. May you all strive to be
heroes of the faith. And may you put
every day to good use for eternity. Thank you.
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