The Priests We Need
by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput
During his years as bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI had the talent of being very frank about naming sin and calling people back to fidelity. Yet at the same time he modeled that fidelity with a kind of personal warmth that revealed its beauty and disarmed the people who heard him.
He spoke several times about the “silent apostasy” of so many Catholic laypeople today, and even many priests; and his words have stayed with me over the years because he said them in a spirit of compassion and love, not rebuke.
Apostasy is an interesting word. It comes from the Greek verb apostanai – which means to revolt or desert; literally “to stand away from.” For Benedict, laypeople and priests don’t need to publicly renounce their Catholic faith to be apostates. They simply need to be silent when their baptism demands that they speak out; to be cowards when Jesus asks them to have courage.
My focus today is on the kind of priests we’ll need in the next few decades. So let’s begin by facing some facts.
As much as we American Catholics love our country, we live in a nation that’s rapidly changing. Our culture is becoming something quite alien right before our eyes; something different in kind, not merely in degree, from anything in our nation’s past. American life still has a reservoir of biblical content. And compared to other developed countries, most Americans are still very religious.
But it’s also true that our nation is more and more unfriendly to Catholic belief in its laws, court decisions and political life.
The spirit of the nation is shifting. And most American Catholics, even if they’re aware of the problems emerging around us, are not equipped to deal with our new realities.
I’m not here today to talk about politics. But I’d be untrue to our topic without at least mentioning the obvious. The election we face next month will determine a great deal about the nature and direction of American life over the next decade. Politics involves the exercise of power. Power always has a moral dimension in shaping the pastoral terrain where we serve and lead our Catholic people.
And that pastoral terrain does very much concern us as priests. It also determines the character and skills our future priests will need.
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