.- During times of scandal and confusion, Catholics should strive for personal holiness and fidelity to the Church, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said in a talk last week.
“Christ sent his disciples out in his name, with his authority, to continue his work in the world as the Church — and only through the Church can we even be talking about Jesus today,” he said.
“The fidelity of Catholics to the Church, generation after generation, even when her leaders have been foolish or weak or sinful — that fidelity is what carries the message of the Gospel through time.”
Faithfulness to the Church is not a mere act of servitude, but “a choice to participate in the act of giving life to the world,” Chaput said, adding that the Church is how Christ can be known, and how God’s will can be known in our lives.
Archbishop Chaput delivered the Sept. 12 keynote address at the seventh annual St. Joseph the Worker Medal Awards at Malvern Retreat House in Malvern, Pennsylvania.
In his address, he stressed the importance of personal holiness, saying, “If we want to be disciples and make disciples; if we want to repair the Lord’s Church in the shadow of today’s scandals and confusion; we need to understand that without saints, nothing we do will work.”
“We can’t give what we don’t have,” he continued. “If Jesus Christ and a real Catholic identity don’t burn in the interior cathedral of our hearts, we can never possibly rebuild the external life of the Church in the world.”
Reflecting on what constitutes personal holiness, the archbishop pointed to St. Francis of Assisi, saying that “what many people overlook is that Francis lived in an age very much like our own…The 13th century was a time of great political unrest, and deep confusion and corruption in the Church.”
When Francis discovered the Gospel, his life was transformed from one of shallow comfort to a radical commitment to holiness – being set aside and separate from the ways of the world.
“What distinguished Francis from many of the other reformers of his day was one simple thing,” Chaput said. “He understood that he could never live out his love for God alone, or even with a group of friends. He needed the larger family of faith Jesus founded. He needed the Church. So he never allowed himself or his brothers to separate the Gospel from the Church, or the Church from Jesus Christ.”
“Francis was always a son of the Church. And as a son, he always insisted on fidelity and obedience to the Holy Father and reverence for priests and bishops — even the ones whose sins meant they didn’t deserve it,” the archbishop said.
He noted that Jesus on the Cross asked St. Francis not to “replace” or “reinvent” the Church but to “repair my Church,” which the saint went on to do through the sanctity of his personal witness.
The Church is our mother, more than simply an institution, and greater than the sins of her people or leaders, he said, and it is important to keep this in mind in times of scandal.
In his talk, Chaput also emphasized the example of St. Joseph as a man of sanctity.
Praised in scripture for his justice and piety, St. Joseph is a model of holiness though simple devotion to God and family, marked with silence to hear God’s voice in everyday life, the archbishop said.
St. Joseph worked hard to provide for Mary and Jesus, whom he faithfully loved, Chaput said. His life was one of simplicity and generous service, and he is a model of masculine virtue for both husbands and priests.
While many Catholics today may feel that they are living in uncertainty or their beliefs are facing attacks, Chaput said, “I think this is actually a privileged moment; a moment when we get to prove who we really are and what we really believe.”
He pointed to the words of Lumen Gentium, which teach that Mary, “the mother of Jesus … is the image and beginning of the Church as [she] is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise [the Church] shines forth on earth until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim people of God.”
“That’s the image we need to nourish in our hearts — especially in times of confusion and scandal — to keep us focused on the reality of the Church that gives life to her institutional forms,” the archbishop said.