Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has encouraged Catholics to learn from history this Lent: to refuse to negotiate with evil, and to pursue the “difficult but always liberating” path to holiness.
“We negotiate little ‘concordats’ with our favorite personal sins, ugly habits and dictatorial appetites all the time,” Archbishop Chaput wrote in a Feb. 13 column. “The deals we make with the world, and the flesh, and the devil, always go south.”
“February 14 this year is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. It’s the day on which a loving God invites all of us to smash our miserable little concordats with sin and its alibis to bits.”
The archbishop drew his point from an analysis of Reichskonkordat, a deal between the Holy See and the German government, signed in 1933.
On paper, Chaput said, the deal was mostly a good one: the state developed a stable relationship with a well-organized, “potentially troublesome,” religious minority, and the Church’s people were protected.
“A few problematic passages in the text do exist,” Chaput said. The Church would be required to consult with German Reich on the appointment of some bishops, and new bishops would be required to take a loyalty oath to the German state. But, Chaput said, those concessions were not “unknown in Europe’s historical context,” and the deal guaranteed explicit promises of religious freedom.
The deal’s promises, Chaput said, “were empty.” Shortly after the deal was signed, Germany began restricting the Church’s life and ministry.
In 1937, he said, Pope Pius XI had to smuggle into Germany Mit brennender Sorge, an encyclical condemning the Nazi regime’s atrocities.
Germany’s response was to increase pressure on the Church more, Chaput said.
“What’s the lesson here? It’s this: If you sup with the devil (so the proverb warns), you’d better bring a long spoon. It’s probably a bad idea in the first place,” the archbishop said.
Chaput said the lessons of history apply to the spiritual life.
“The line dividing good and evil is usually — not always, but usually — pretty bright for anyone who wants to see it. Most of us really don’t want to see it, of course, because doing so would cramp our own daily behavior. We negotiate little ‘concordats’ with our favorite personal sins, ugly habits and dictatorial appetites all the time,” he wrote.
“For every forbidden, hurtful, dishonest thing we like to do, we’re experts at self-deceit; at training our consciences to perform like pets … well-manicured poodles that offer us alibis on demand, like: ‘I didn’t have a choice;’ or …’There’s a new paradigm for thinking about this particular unpleasantness;’ or... ‘OK this is wrong, but it’s not THAT bad.’”
This Lent, Chaput said, Catholics need to cling to the teaching of the Church if they are to be freed from sin.
“We need to cling to it, confident in God’s mercy, in judging our own actions and redirecting our lives, no matter how radically that new path demands.”