Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput has written a new book intended to help Catholics navigate the journey to our heavenly home.
Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World is an insightful exploration of how the America of the early 21st century differs from the past, not just in degree, but in kind. Like the more fully neo-paganized nations of Europe that most of our ancestors hailed from, we live in a society in moral free fall, facing critical challenges to right living and the pursuit of justice in such areas as economics, education, the handing on of the faith, marriage, sexual behavior and “gender identity,” the decline of family and community, and, of course, glaring human life issues like abortion and euthanasia.
Americans traditionally have been a forward-looking, optimistic people, but Archbishop Chaput opens his book with an acute corrective: “Christians have many good reasons for hope. Optimism is another matter. Optimism assumes that, sooner or later, things will naturally turn out for the better. Hope has no such illusions.” As people of hope, Catholics are called to be leaven in the dough of a culture resistant to rising. In the Church’s long, 2,000-year history are many failures and missed opportunities to chasten us, but also many examples of nations pulled back from the brink of destruction and many improbable conversions.
Archbishop Chaput has written before on American Catholics’ mandate to evangelize and change our culture, in Living the Catholic Faith and Render Unto Caesar. His current book conveys an elevated sense of the stakes following the 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the court, in Archbishop Chaput’s words, “… changed the meaning of family by wiping away the need for the natural relationships — husband and wife, mother and father — at the heart of these institutions.
“With Obergefell, marriage and family no longer precede and limit the state as humanity’s basic social units grounded in nature. Instead, they now mean what the state says they mean. And that suggests deeper problems, because in redefining marriage and the family, the state implicitly claims the authority to define what is and isn’t properly human.”
This new landscape, so hostile not only to objective morality but also to objective reality, leaves the believer with the challenge of “how to be healthy cells in society. We need to work as long as we can, in whatever way we can, to nourish the good in our country and to encourage the seeds of a renewal that can enliven our young people.”
Although Archbishop Chaput devotes some of his book to setting out the problem, his main concern is identifying for American Catholics the duty and the means to evangelize the culture to the best of our ability. To do that, we must reject the excessive desire to “fit in” with our fellow citizens at any price — a desire that motivated many Catholics even in the 19th and 20th centuries to prove their Americanism by minimizing their Catholicism and helped get us in the uncomfortable place we are now in. This is true not only in the sphere of sexuality and resistance to authority, but in materialism, greed and our own version of the “Prosperity Gospel” attractive to a number of Protestants.
Drawing on a host of past and present clear-eyed observers of modern culture, including Alexis de Tocqueville, Cardinal Newman, Alasdair MacIntyre and Benedict XVI, Archbishop Chaput helps American Catholics understand the forces besetting them and their country, challenges them to creatively combat them and realistically suggests ways to do so. As he promised in his opening, although this is not a very optimistic work, it is a hope-filled description of how to do our part to make America good again.
Opus Dei Father C. John McCloskey is a Church historian.
Strangers in a Strange Land
Living the Christian Faith in a Post-Christian World
By Archbishop Charles Chaput
Henry Holt & Co., 2017
290 pages, $26
To order: ignatius.com or (800) 651-1531