Navigating the troubled waters of relativism

A review of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput's new book

David Uebbing serves as the Chancellor for the Archdiocese of Denver.

American society is experiencing profound cultural shifts, creating times of great uncertainty, especially for Christians and Catholics. In “Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput offers a road map for understanding our nation’s roots, the cultural forces that have shaped it into what it is today, and reflections on living with hope in an Post-Christian society.

The intellectual scope of Archbishop Chaput’s book is impressive. Over the course of 12 chapters he leads the reader in an examination of the philosophical and moral underpinnings of our nation, analyzes the warped anthropology caused by the cultural revolution of the ‘60s, explains the impact of these seismic shifts on our modern culture, and then offers his well-known brand of unflinchingly honest advice to Christians for living their faith in a hostile environment.

“Strangers in a Strange Land” is a tour de force of scholarly thought on the development of Western society. Readers encounter a tapestry of insights woven together from intellects as diverse as Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political theorist Pierre Manent, St. Augustine, Benedict XVI, Alasdair MacIntyre, Saul Alinsky and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Suffice it to say, Chaput’s latest book is not a light read, but it is a necessary read for all who are striving to understand the challenges Christians face and will face in the coming years.

Archbishop Chaput begins his insights on America’s founding by stating, “Americans hate thinking about the past. Unfortunately, we need to.” This is the case, he says, because “We can’t understand the present or plan for the future without knowing the past through the eyes of those who made it. For the American founding, there’s no way to scrub either Christianity or its skeptics out of the nation’s genetic code.”

And yet, he notes, these faith-filled beginnings are “infinitely fragile.” Archbishop Chaput proves this by recounting how technological advances, the introduction of the birth control pill, the Vietnam War and the efforts of radical feminists quickly unraveled family ties and social cohesion.

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In Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s new book, the former bishop of Denver explores how to navigate through a relativistic culture as a Catholic in the modern world.

For those that think it’s possible to return to Mayberry, the Philadelphia archbishop tells it plainly, “America can’t be the way it once was. … changes in the country’s sexual, religious, technological, demographic and economic fabric make that impossible.” The appetites and behaviors of the United States have been fundamentally altered by these changes, he argues.

For those of us in the Archdiocese of Denver who have had the blessing of knowing Archbishop Chaput, it comes as no surprise that his candidly honest assessment of the state of our culture is accompanied by a reflection on Christian hope.

He asks his readers, “How can we live in joy, and serve the common good as leaven, in a culture that no longer shares what we believe?” This question carries a special gravity because the secular culture has detached what it means to be a man from God and is aimlessly seeking answers.

Quoting Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Archbishop Chaput answers his question by saying that believing Catholics and Christians must be a “conscious minority” that adds to the common good. We must fight a culture of lies by consciously living the truth instead of merely talking about it.

In the end, Archbishop Chaput’s guidance for our Post-Christian culture is fittingly humble. “We’re here to bear one another’s burdens, to sacrifice ourselves for the needs of others, and to live a witness of Christian love … Every such life is the seed of dozens of others and begins a renewal of the world,” he writes.

For those concerned about the present and future of American society, “Strangers in a Strange Land” is a must-read that will leave you thinking and praying long after you’ve finished it.

Click here to see purchasing options for “Strangers in a Strange Land.”

COMING UP: ‘Baptize your son,’ her friend insisted. Now he’s a priest.

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Angela Brown and Maria Delfin were great friends in school and lived in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. One day, they decided to make a mutual promise: “When I have my first child, you will be the godmother.”

Years went by, each took their own path and Delfin spent most of their time apart in the United States. In 1987, Brown was expect-ing her first child. Delfin found out and did not forget her promise. “When will you baptize him?” she asked. Yet, Brown hadn’t planned on baptizing her child. She had not even received the sacrament herself.

“When I thought of having Maria be my son’s godmother, I saw it more as a social commitment,” Brown told the Denver Catholic. Nonetheless, after her friend insisted, she decided to baptize her son when he was 17 days old.

After baptism, Delfin moved to the United States permanently and lost touch with Brown and Angel, her godson.

Angel grew up far from the Church, but even then, he reflected a charitable spirit: “He liked to share his toys with other kids so they could play instead of him,” his mother said.

At age 14, he attended a class with the Neocatechumenal Way and he and his mother began a journey of faith. Brown was baptized in the faith and married through the Church. Angel discovered his vocation to the priesthood years later. He studied for two years in the seminary at Santo Domingo and then was assigned to Redemptoris Mater in Denver.

Father Angel Perez-Brown (center) was reunited with his godmother Maria Delfin (right) after 31 years at his ordination May 19. His mother, Angela Brown (left) baptized Father Angel under the insistence of Delfin. (Photo by Andrew Wright )

Meanwhile, Delfin knew nothing of Angel. “I didn’t go to Santo Domingo often. I had no way of getting in touch with him,” she told the Denver Catholic.

When Angel was in the seminary, his mother decided to look for Delfin through social media. Months before Angel’s priestly ordi-nation, Brown found Delfin and told her about her son’s wish: “He wants you to be there when he receives the sacrament.” Delfin didn’t hesitate to fly to Denver.

They met the day prior to ordination, 31 years after Angel’s baptism. She recognized him amid other seminarians and said to him, “I’m your godmother,” and he hugged her.

Father Angel Miguel Perez-Brown was ordained May 19 with four other deacons. His godmother presented the gifts during offer-tory. “I don’t remember feeling as happy as I feel today,” Delfin said after Angel’s ordination.

Father Perez-Brown says her godmother “helped plant this seed,” that is why he wanted her “to witness the fruit she has bore.”

“If she had not influenced my mother, I don’t know where I would be today,” the newly-ordained priest said.

Before Delfin’s return to Orlando, Father Perez-Brown told her, “You already had 30 years of vocation as godmother. Now, please pray for me, because only with prayer will I be a faithful priest.”

Featured image by Anya Semenoff