I had high expectations when I attended Archbishop Charles Chaput’s Installation Mass in Philadelphia last Thursday. I believe him to be the most important intellectual and pastoral voice among American bishops today. So imagine my delight when my high expectations were exceeded!
Archbishop Chaput is frequently maligned by liberal Catholics for being too “political.” That was the gist of Nicholas Cafardi’s snarky “Advice for the new archbishop” column published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on the morning of his Installation. (My advice to Nick Cafardi? Keep the advice to yourself.)
The truth is that Archbishop Chaput is first and foremost a pastor of souls, as was strikingly-clear from his introductory homily last Thursday.
First some backstory: the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is in a bad place, and is urgently in need of healing. Cardinal Rigali’s missteps in handling cases of clergy sexual abuse has sown more seeds of doubt among Catholics who mistrust the Church to handle these cases well. It has prompted the ever-vigilant media and anti-Catholic opportunists to focus their efforts on a weakened diocese. In addition, there is a sense among some of the more conservative members of the flock that good priests have been unfairly caught up in the diocese’s anti sex abuse dragnet. And on top of that, negotiations with the Catholic Teachers union recently broke down with them walking away from the table.
… all of which means Archbishop Chaput faced an audience with plenty of skeptics last Thursday, not just in the media and wider Philadelphia community, but among his own faithful. Aware of these dynamics, Abp. Chaput chose a fascinating metaphor to describe his new relationship with Philly catholics (emphasis mine):
“…my appointment to Philadelphia is an arranged marriage, and the Holy Father is the matchmaker [laughter…] When arranged marriages were common, there was an expectation that people would get to know each other and then come to love one another. Good matchmakers were aware of the family history of each of the spouses and their particular needs. And the really wise matchmakers could make surprisingly good choices.”
In the Church, we believe that the Holy Spirit guides the decisions of the Holy Father. And the results are always joyful if we commit our wills to cooperating with God’s plan. For any marriage to work, two things need to happen. People need to fall in love, and together they need to be fruitful. That’s what we need to dedicate ourselves to today – to love one another and be fruitful together for the new evangelization.
Archbishop Chaput spoke these words from his cathedra (chair), instead of the ambo (pulpit). It wouldn’t surprise me if the choice was deliberate: choosing to speak to the people while sitting down made the homily feel more akin to a fireside chat — an intimate meeting between the faithful present in the cathedral and their new archbishop. I sense that some Philly catholics expected Abp. Chaput to match the stereotype of him presented in the media and by liberal Catholics — an imperious, out-of-touch, dogmatician. Nothing could be further from the truth, and judging by the multiple strings of standing applause that greeted him during the Installation I think it’s evident that Philly catholics are quickly realizing the truth.
The next part of his homily had an element of show-and-tell. In a method that Saint Augustine would be proud of, the bulk of this part of the homily was a detailed explanation and exegesis of the symbols of a bishop – the ring and crosier, and the cathedra.
Archbishop Chaput went on to explicitly quote Saint Augustine on the role of the bishop. And in a particularly powerful moment, he turned from facing the congregation the other direction to face the cardinals and bishops seated in the sanctuary and spoke these words to them:
My dear brother bishops, it’s crucial for those of us who are bishops not simply to look like bishops but to truly be bishops. Otherwise, we’re just empty husks — the kind of men St Augustine referred to when he said, “You say, ‘He must be a bishop for he sits upon the cathedra.’ True – and a scarecrow might be called a watchman in the vineyard.” So, my brother bishops, on this occasion of one bishop’s installation, it’s very important to recommit ourselves to our privilege to serve the Church and the Church’s people in such an extraordinary way.
It could have been my vantage point, but I sensed with these words that Abp. Chaput was taking this as an opportunity to serve as a mediator and ambassador between Philly catholics (and those watching the Installation from around the United States) and the hierarchy of the Church. Having begun to win over the faithful with his humility and passion for Christ, he sought to be a bridge-builder to Catholics whose impression of the hierarchy is shaped by media and secularists who are hostile to them.
The next part of the homily is a beautiful meditation on the Immaculate Conception and upon Christ — which I urge you to read (see below)!
On the challenges facing the Archdiocese, he said — again a high-point of his homily:
This Church in Philadelphia faces very serious challenges these days. There’s no quick fix to problems that are so difficult, and none of us here today, except the Lord Himself, is a miracle worker. But it’s important to remember and to believe the Church is not defined by her failures. And you and I are not defined by our critics or by those who dislike us. What we do in the coming months and years to respond to these challenges – that will define who we really are. And in engaging that work, we need to be Catholics first, and always. Jesus Christ is the center of our lives, and the Church is our mother and teacher. Everything we do should flow from that.
So, what we embark on today is a marriage, where someone who loves you, the Holy Father, is also someone who loves me. And the Holy Father knows in his wisdom that we will make a good family together. So we should see each other as gifts. I receive you as a gift from the Holy Father; and this requires that you receive me and my service as a gift from him, too. This requires that we make a commitment, an act of the will, to deepen our hearts, to love one another, to be patient with one another and, ultimately, to lay down our lives for one another.
Rocco Palmo (a Philly native) has the text of Abp. Chaput’s homily and video of him delivering it.
I predict better times ahead for Philly catholics who embrace Chaput’s passionate proposal.
On a somewhat related note, I have to say how impressed I was by the reception I received from the Arch. of Philadelphia’s communications office. It’s very encouraging to see how much of a personal example they are of Archbishop Chaput’s belief that we should support faithful Catholic media, old and new.
Finally, as a taste of what good things we can expect from Abp. Chaput in the months and years ahead, see this quote from his recent interview with the Associated Press:
Newly installed Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput had some blunt words for politicians who support abortion in an interview with the Associated Press this past Tuesday. “If they don’t believe what the church teaches, they’re not really Catholic,” he told the AP. [LifeSiteNews]
It’s good to see him calling out politicians who are perpetuating a sham marriage with the Catholic Church.