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: Celebrate and support the sacred gift of life

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Editor’s Note: This column is adapted from Archbishop Aquila’s remarks to the 2018 Celebrate Life March, which took place on January 13th in front of the Colorado State Capitol building.

As we gather today to celebrate life, we must remember three things: 1) life is a gift, 2) life is sacred, and 3) rebuilding a culture of life requires joy.

We are here today to celebrate our joy over the gift of life. Every minute and every day we live presents us with an abundance of gifts that seem mundane and are often overlooked: our health, the gift of creation, or something as simple as having food on our plates. Above all, we should give thanks for the gift of life!

As people involved in protecting life at every stage, the challenge we face is not just one of providing resources to mothers and fathers in need or ensuring people battling a terminal illness have good palliative care. Our challenge is to also communicate to them that they are loved, that their unborn child or their own lives are gifts, no matter the circumstances.

Many of us fought in 2016 to prevent doctor-assisted suicide from becoming legal in Colorado, and one person who helped in that effort was a courageous man named J.J. Hanson. J.J. was a Marine veteran and father of two young children who was working for a real estate investment firm in Florida when he found out he had glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer. His doctors told him that it was a very aggressive cancer that meant he only had four months to live.

Despite his odds, J.J. resolved to fight. His motto was: “Every single day is a gift, and we can’t let that go.” What’s even more remarkable is the fact that J.J. dedicated his time and energy to fighting the legalization of assisted suicide around the country, all while undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments. There was hardly a speaking engagement or trip to testify before a legislature that J.J. turned down. His conviction that life was a gift propelled him to defend that gift however he could. As pro-life people, we need to have that same conviction.

Just about two weeks ago, on December 30th, J.J. was called home to the Father – three years beyond what doctors told him to expect. St. Anthony of Padua church in upstate New York, where his funeral was held, was filled with people who paid tribute to how J.J. inspired them to embrace every moment of life, no matter its difficulties as a gift, not something to be thrown away.

All of us are called to embrace life as J.J. did, and in doing so we will help recover the culture of life that is being neglected or forgotten as people cast God and truth aside.

I have said that life is a gift, and while that is true, it’s more than that. Life is also sacred. Life is sacred because it comes from God, the God who is love and who has loved us first. Our lives are also sacred because our beings are made in God’s image and likeness.

We are called to participate in the love of God and to see that every human being, from the moment of conception until natural death, is invited into relationship with God. We are called to ensure that life is set aside for God, that it is honored and recognized as sacred.

The struggle for so many today is that they do not even believe in a god; their only god is themselves. They truly do not believe in the God who is love. And because of this limited worldview, a person’s life can lose its value if their “quality of life” declines.

In the words of Pope Francis to participants in the 2013 Day for Life, “All life has inestimable value even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”

When Jesus speaks about the Judgement of the Nations in Matthew 25, he tells us that life is always sacred by saying that when we love the weak and vulnerable, we are loving him.

The more that we can love the sacred gift of life and celebrate it with joy, the more we will contribute to building a true culture of life in the U.S.

A wonderful example of concretely loving the sacred gift of life is a story I recently heard about a 15-year-old Colorado teenager named Missy, who showed up with her parents at an abortion clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Missy was a sophomore in high school and was in her second trimester of pregnancy. As they approached the clinic, some pro-life volunteers who were parked nearby in a mobile crisis pregnancy van saw them and invited them inside. The volunteers learned that Missy wanted to complete high school and that this desire was pushing her to consider an abortion. One of the volunteers told Missy about how she was faced with the same choice as a teen and chose to keep her child. “It wasn’t easy, but it was amazing,” she reassured Missy.

Missy also worried about the father of the child not being around, to which her dad responded by taking her hand and saying, “I’ll be that man in your child’s life.”

This kind of accompaniment and willingness to heroically support the gift of life is vitally important to forming a culture that welcomes the unborn, the elderly, the disabled and the dying as a gift.

Building a culture of life begins by first receiving the love of the Father, who loves each of us as his sons and daughters. He never abandons us, even though we might abandon him or reject his love.

A culture of life grows when we share his love with others, helping them to embrace life as a gift and a joy, rather than a burden.

Life is a gift, it is sacred and our celebration of the joy of life helps build a culture of life.

I encourage you to be those who are unafraid to give witness to life. Be not afraid to give witness to life. Even though people might ridicule you, yell at you, or reject you, know that Jesus experienced it all so that you might have life, and life abundantly.

May God bless you and help you celebrate life in 2018!