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Chaput on Mary, Politics, & the Future of Catholicism in America

mary crushing head of satanDuring an address at the 2016 Bishops’ Symposium last week, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput delivered a brilliantly clear exposition of the role of Mary in the Church today, why Hillary Clinton isn’t trampling Donald Trump, and how a smaller and more faithful Church in America is better for everyone.

In the speech, which was delivered on October 20 at the University of Notre Dame and entitled, “Reclaiming the Church for the Catholic Imagination,” Archbishop Chaput began by talking about a manuscript illustration he received from the 13th Century.

“It’s a picture of Mary punching the devil in the nose. She doesn’t rebuke him. She doesn’t enter into a dialogue with him. She punches the devil in the nose. So I think that’s the perfect place to start our discussion,” he said.

Most Catholics have one of two images of Mary in their heads - the virginal Jewish teen from Galilee who says yes to God’s plan; or the mother of Jesus, the woman of mercy and tenderness, “our life, our sweetness and our hope.”

Both are good, but we must be careful not to forget “that Mary is also the woman clothed in the sun who crushes the head of the serpent . . . . . She’s the mother who intercedes for us, comforts us and teaches us—but who also defends us.”

Her role is reminiscent of the great line from C.S. Lewis who said that Christianity is a “’fighting religion’ - not in the sense of hatred or violence directed at other persons, but rather in the spiritual struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us, where our weapons are love, justice, courage and self-giving.”

He continued: “If our theme as a meeting this week is reclaiming the Church for the Catholic imagination, we can’t overlook the fact that the flesh and blood model for our Church—Mary as mater et magistra—is quite accomplished at punching the devil in the nose.”

Even though he admitted that his focus was not on politics, certain things had to be said, the  Archbishop continued.

“ . . . I won’t waste our time weighing one presidential candidate against the other. I’ve already said elsewhere that each is a national embarrassment, though for different reasons. But politics involves the application of power, and power always has a moral dimension. So we can’t avoid dealing with this election at least briefly. Here’s what I find curious.

38787274 - old medieval crusader shield and two crossed swords isolated“Given Mr. Trump’s ugly style and the hostility he sparks in the media, Mrs. Clinton’s lead should be even wider than it is. But it’s not. And there’s a lesson in that. It’s this. Even many people who despise what Mr. Trump stands for seem to enjoy his gift for twisting the knife in America’s leadership elite and their spirit of entitlement, embodied in the person of Hillary Clinton.

“Americans aren’t fools. They have a good sense of smell when things aren’t right. And one of the things wrong with our country right now is the hollowing out and retooling of all the key words in our country’s public lexicon; words like democracy, representative government, freedom, justice, due process, religious liberty and constitutional protections. The language of our politics is the same. The content of the words is different. Voting still matters. Public protest and letters to members of Congress can still have an effect. But more and more of our nation’s life is governed by executive order, judicial overreach and administrative agencies with little accountability to Congress.”

People feel angry because they feel powerless. “And they feel powerless because in many ways they are,” the Archbishop said.

“The 2016 election is one of those rare moments when the repellent nature of both presidential candidates allows the rest of us to see our nation’s pastoral terrain as it really is. And the view is unpleasant. America’s cultural and political elites talk a lot about equality, opportunity and justice. But they behave like a privileged class with an authority based on their connections and skills. And supported by sympathetic media, they’re remaking the country into something very different from anything most of us remember or the Founders imagined.”

These ranks include quite a few Catholics, he said. “And the price of our entry has been the transfer of our real loyalties and convictions from the old Church of our baptism to the new ‘Church’ of our ambitions and appetites. People like Nancy Pelosi, Anthony Kennedy, Joe Biden and Tim Kaine are not anomalies. They’re part of a very large crowd that cuts across all professions and both major political parties.”

It's all about apostasy, which comes from the Greek verb apostanai which means to revolt or desert – to literally “stand away from.”

Mary crushing satan“For [Pope Emeritus] Benedict, laypeople and priests don’t need to publicly renounce their baptism to be apostates. They simply need to be silent when their Catholic faith demands that they speak out; to be cowards when Jesus asks them to have courage; to ‘stand away’ from the truth when they need to work for it and fight for it.

“It’s a word to keep in mind in examining our own hearts and hearts of our people. And while we do that, we might reflect on what assimilating has actually gained for us when Vice President Biden conducts a gay marriage, and Senator Kaine lectures us all on how the Church needs to change and what kind of new creature she needs to become.”

If men and women are really made for heroism and glory, made to stand in the presence of the living God, they can never be satisfied with bourgeois, mediocre, feel-good religion, he continued.

“They’ll never be fed by ugly worship and shallow moralizing. But that’s what we too often give them. . . .”

And so many go away hungry.

“Catholics today - and I'm one of them - feel a lot of unease about declining numbers and sacramental statistics. Obviously we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the Church. But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter Church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness,” he said.

“Losing people who are members of the Church in name only is an imaginary loss. It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay. We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight. We have nothing to be afraid of as long as we act with faith and courage.”

This is why, if by “inclusive” we mean inviting people to a relationship with Jesus Christ, then yes, we need to be inclusive.

“But if ‘inclusive’ means including people who do not believe what the Catholic faith teaches and will not reform their lives according to what the Church holds to be true, then inclusion is a form of lying," he said. "And it’s not just lying but an act of betrayal and violence against the rights of those who do believe and do seek to live according to God’s Word. Inclusion requires conversion and a change of life; or at least the sincere desire to change.”

And so, if we want to reclaim who we are as a Church, if we want to renew the Catholic imagination, we need to begin in ourselves and in our local parishes “by unplugging our hearts from the assumptions of a culture that still seems familiar but is no longer really ‘ours’.”

He concluded: “This is why Mary – the young Jewish virgin, the loving mother, and the woman who punches the devil in the nose – was, is, and always will be the great defender of the Church. And so we can say with confidence: Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us. . . . So be it: Amen.”

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