Nation-wide violence. School shootings. Political tensions. Drugs. Unemployment. Hunger.
These are some of the illness which plague the nation, said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who discussed faith as the antidote to these challenges in an address Thursday at Villanova University.
“In my experience, this moment in our country’s history is the most conflicted and divided since the 1960s,” said Archbishop Chaput during his address.
“One of the tasks of the Church, and each of us as individual believers, is to live and work in a way that does help to make the world around us better,” he continued, noting that “there’s no healing without a good diagnosis.”
Chaput’s words were addressed to students at Villanova University in Philadelphia on Feb. 22, with a speech titled “Things to Come: Faith, State and Society in a New World.” The archbishop delved into some of society’s challenges, what has led to them, and a renewal of faith as a way to heal some of the nation’s wounds.
“The United States is the most powerful market economy in the world…and most of us would probably agree that since World War II, American democratic capitalism has reshaped much of the world; in effect, created a new world of political and economic relationships,” Chaput said.
Global market economies, Chaput continued, have benefited millions around the world by improving their opportunities, standards of living, and lifespans. They have also reshaped other dynamics, such as family, political, and educational relationships, and shifted philosophies and behaviors around the globe.
However, while noting its many benefits, Chaput also highlighted capitalism’s damaging side effects.
“A consumer market economy tends to commodify everything and recast all relationships as transactional,” Chaput said.
“In practice, it depersonalizes a culture by commercializing many of our routine human interactions. It also very easily breeds a practical atheism by revolving our lives around the desire and consumption for new things,” he continued.
While many of the country’s changes and steps in progression over the years have aided Americans, especially through medical advancements, Chaput said that the pros and cons do not balance out.
“…the benefits and deficits of change have been very unequally shared. The result has been a deep dislocation in the American sense of stability, security, common purpose, and self,” he said.
Chaput particularly pointed to the lower classes, who are promised with the lures of “sexual freedom,” and yet burdened by its consequences because of a lack of wealth. He noted destroyed marriages, fatherless children, angry males, and increased poverty and crime as a result.
Chaput also underscored the nation’s other “deep and chronic problems” of drugs, unemployment, inadequate schools, and inner-city hunger.
The Philadelphia archbishop also spotlighted the rise in secularism over recent years, saying that Americans who identify as atheist, agnostic, or of no religious affiliation rose from 16 percent to 23 percent from 2007 to 2014. This shift, Chaput said, “has political and legal implications,” particularly seen in the attacks against religious freedom and human rights.
“Religious freedom — as the nation has traditionally understood it — can’t be a major concern for people who don’t respect the importance of religious faith,” Chaput said.
“Human rights, without a grounding in God or some higher moral order, are really just a matter of public consensus,” he continued.
While many leaders and politicians have promised change with various notions such as income equality and increased opportunities, or various other plans of action, Chaput believes the only antidote to the nation’s plague is a renewal of faith in God.
“The point is, God’s authority ensures human freedom,” Chaput said.
“When God leaves the stage, the state inevitably expands to fill his place. Without the biblical God, we end up in some disguised form of idolatry. And it usually involves politics,” he continued.
Despite the culture’s downfalls, Chaput said people still have the desire for beauty, relationship, and new life — all of which can be found in the treasure of the Catholic Church and its proclamation of the truth.
“People still have a need for beauty, which means that beauty has the power to evade the machinery of logic and reach right into the human soul,” he said.
According to Chaput, the nation is desperately in need of the uncompromising truth, saying that before the problem can be fixed, individuals need to wake up to the reality of its challenge.
He also encouraged Catholics to protect their identities in Christ and act as faithful witnesses to the truth, saying “this isn’t a time for Catholics to be weak or apologetic.” At the same time, Chaput also noted this proclamation of truth should be spoke with love, patience and mercy.
Ultimately, Chaput said, the nation’s future will depend on the power of “personal witness,” through every individual’s pursuit of sanctity.
“Leon Bloy, the great French Catholic convert, liked to say that, in the end, the only thing that matters is to be a saint,” Chaput said.
“So the task tonight, when each of us leaves here, is to begin that path. And may God guide us all in pursuing it.”