MITERS THAT MATTER

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is the second of four parts of the text of an address which Denver's Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, delivered to the Mile Hi Congress last week. Although they were originally directed to Catholic educators from Colorado, the archbishop's words have obvious relevance for all Christians. They are reprinted here with permission and brought to you through the Catholic World News Service.]

THE TASK OF EVANGELIZATION IN SECULAR AMERICA
Part Two

     Over this past weekend I had the privilege of visiting Rome for the consistory where Archbishop Stafford became Cardinal Stafford. It was a wonderful moment, filled with a great deal of joy. But the red garments of a cardinal signify blood, and they're a constant reminder of the readiness the wearer must have to shed his blood for the faith.  Christian Rome is literally built on the bones of martyrs-- generations of women and men who shed their blood as witnesses for Jesus Christ. In shedding it, they became the seeds of the faith we inherit today.

      This is what I mean by "missionary realism." It's the readiness to put a burning heart-and-will for Christ behind our words, no matter what the price. Nothing good or holy is had without a cost, and how much would we be willing to pay? What is our faith really worth-- and are we willing to prove that with our lives? If we want to be good teachers, we must be good missionaries. And if we want to be good missionaries, we must be willing to be martyrs. And if the circumstances of our lives do not require a witness in blood, we can still give freely of ourselves in service.

      II. How do these thoughts apply to our vocation as Catholic educators, here and now? Well, we don't have to visit Africa or Asia to do the work of missionaries. Our mission territory is right in our own backyard, throughout the United States and here in northern Colorado. We find it in the families who send their children to our religious education programs and schools. It's true that we have a tremendous Christian heritage in this country, and obviously many millions of Americans still actively practice their faith. Many also witness their faith through charitable, social, and political action. 

      But I suspect it's also true that religious sentiment is fading as a force in our behavior. So often today, religious affiliation is just a veneer that covers up a practical unbelief. And we all know one or two young adults who have just enough formal religion to be vaccinated against real faith. They were educated in the Church, and they think they know everything about her-- but they really know nothing at all. At the same time, Colorado is the third least "churched" state in the union. Many Coloradans have no formal ties to any religious body. So as a culture, we have the memory of faith and a kind of nostalgia for God, but we're losing our moral vocabulary as we pull away from our religious tradition.

      None of this analysis, of course, should be classwork for your second or 4th or 7th graders. If you start rambling on about "alienation from our religious roots" and our "nostalgia for God", they'll look at you like you came from Mars. They may look at you that way already, but this would make it worse.  These observations are valuable, though, as background. It's important for us as adult Catholic educators to understand the terrain we're cultivating, so that we can cultivate it more fruitfully for the Lord. And in that regard, I want to briefly mention five main ideas or themes where we need to focus our special efforts as teachers.

      The first is silence. Silence is holy. It's where God talks to the soul. We don't have enough of it, and we need to help young people recover it.. How many times have you seen teen-agers drifting through Cherry Creek mall with headphones wired to their ears?  Don't you wonder why they need the noise? What is it about the world around them which is so empty that it needs to be filled up artificially with the latest CD? 

      I don't have any particular antagonism for rock music. Some of it sounds pretty good. I do think the lyrics are sometimes very disturbing, but that's not my point. You and I should be interested in what bores or frightens young people about the absence of noise. I have a fear that we've created a huge hole in the universe where the meaning of life used to be, and noise is the only thing now which keeps it from being completely empty. Noise is one of our drugs. It's how we avoid reflecting on important things too deeply.  Most you know C.S. Lewis, and many of you will remember his book, The Screwtape Letters. In that book, noise is the music of hell; it's what hell is filled with, and it's what the devil Screwtape wants to fill all creation with. I think if C.S. Lewis were alive today, he would say we've outdone Screwtape by our own free will. And the result is that we cannot hear God when He tries to speak to us.

TOMORROW: Part Three of this three parter by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap.


March 5, 1998 volume 9, no. 46          DAILY CATHOLIC