First, we need to stop thinking of the Church as some kind of religious corporation, and start treating the Church as our mother and teacher. The Church is not an “it.” The Church is a “she.” We can love our mother. We can't love an institution. And while the Church has institutional forms, she is always much more than the offices that serve her mission.
Vatican II reminds us 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 (cf. 2 Pt 3:10), a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim people of God” (Lumen Gentium 68). That's the image we need to nourish in our hearts to keep us focused on the reality of the Church that gives life to her institutional forms.
Second, if we say we're Catholic, we need to act like it. When Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia publicly disputes Church teaching on the death penalty, the message he sends is not so very different from Frances Kissling (of “Catholics for a Free Choice” fame) disputing what the Church teaches about abortion. I don't mean that abortion and the death penalty are equivalent issues. They're not. They clearly do not have equal moral gravity. But the impulse to pick and choose what we accept in Church teaching is exactly the same kind of “cafeteria Catholicism” in both cases.
When Pope John XXIII's great 1961 encyclical, Mater et Magistra, first appeared, conservative author William Buckley, who didn't like the pope's economics, wrote a famous column called, “Mater si, Magistra no!” — mother yes, teacher no. That led Louise and Mark Zwick to later characterize him in the Houston Catholic Worker as “the inventor of cafeteria Catholicism and the pro-choice stance (at least in economics), who accepted encyclicals he agreed with and rejected others.” I think they're right.
Third, whether we're parents, catechists, religious, deacons or priests, if we teach and preach in the name of the Church, then we need to do it fully, zealously and with all the persuasive skill God gives us. All of us sooner or later get tempted to edit what the Church teaches so we can please our audience. But if we refuse to teach the things we disagree with, or if we teach them with a “wink and a nod” to let others know that we don't really believe what the Church says — that's dishonest. It's a kind of pride that puts our personal judgments above the judgments of the Church and her spouse, who is Jesus Himself.
Fourth and finally, we need to live in a way that honors each other, and honors the mission of the Church — because in us and through our actions, the outside world will judge the Gospel. If the pain now taking place in Boston and other dioceses around the country teaches us anything, it's that nothing can wound the Church more deeply than the sins and the indifference of her own people, including people in ministry.
The Gospel of John, 19:26-27, says that on Golgotha “when Jesus saw His mother and the disciple that He loved standing near, He said to his mother, 'woman behold your son!' Then He said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother!' And from that hour, the disciple took her into his own home.”
Each of us this Lent is the disciple Jesus loved and continues to love. And from the cross He is asking us to take the Church into our hearts as John took Mary into his home — to defend her and care for her and advance her mission in the world.
Excerpted and adapted from the archbishop's Feb. 22-23 catechetical congress remarks.
Archbishop Chaput serves in the Archdiocese of Denver.