Called to Convert the World Through Faith and Action

(This column is adapted from the archbishop's homily at the May 7, 2004 dedication service of new facilities for Denver's archdiocesan seminaries — Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary and St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.)

The Gospel today, Luke 10:1-16, seems a little strange for a celebration. We're here to bless a beautiful building, on a beautiful campus, on a beautiful afternoon. In many ways, this is a moment that shows us the success of the Church. It certainly shows us the goodness of the families who made this building possible through their extraordinary generosity.

This is a moment to take pride in our faith; to be joyful and very grateful. We have an abundance of seminarians. The Neo-Catechumenal Way has been a wonderful blessing, not just for the Church in northern Colorado, but all over the world. And it's a great privilege to have Kiko Arg├╝ello and Carmen Hernandez with us today, and Father Mario Pezzi of the international team. I want to welcome them very warmly.

We need to remember this day. We also need to remember — every day — to praise God for giving us the resources to do His work in the world. The “sons and daughters of peace” who welcome the disciples in today's Gospel reading still love and support the Church in our own time. I meet them in every parish, in every region of the archdiocese.

But the Gospel always has lessons that we need to take to heart. I prepared my homily today in the wake of a lot of writing I've done recently on political responsibility this November and what it means to be Catholic. We can't claim to be Catholic and then ignore what being Catholic actually means. If we're Catholic, our faith needs to come first. It needs to shape everything we do, from our private behavior to our business dealings to our political choices.

I've gotten quite a few emails and letters. Most of them — about 10 to 1 — have been very positive. The negative ones, though, are really curious. How dare I mix religion and politics? How dare I tell anyone what to do? How dare I act like a lap dog of this or that political party? How can I preach about abortion when the Church is filled with sex abusers and hates women? This is from people who consider themselves Catholic.

Now, obviously, the Church doesn't endorse candidates or parties. But the Church does say that if we claim to believe in Jesus Christ, if we claim to be Catholic, then we should conform our lives to proving it. We're Catholics first, because Jesus Christ comes first. We're Catholics first, because the Church is our mother and teacher — and nothing should ever take precedence over her love.

The Gospels aren't a collection of private pieties. They were written to change the world through God acting in us. Anything less than that kind of zeal in our lives is an ungrateful response to God's word. If we're disciples, we need to be disciples in our Church life, in our friendships and in our political communities. Being a disciple means following Jesus Christ all day, every day, in every way.

The reading from Luke today touches on the heart of discipleship. Just as Christ sent the 70 out into the world to preach, so He sends us. If we're Catholic, we need to be missionaries. Each one of us, no matter what his or her walk of life, has the task of bringing other people to Jesus Christ and into the Catholic faith. God put us here to convert the world, not necessarily with big dramatic gestures, but with steady, conscious, personal witness — both by our words and our actions. Baptism made us missionaries. We need to act like it.

The “world” will never be our friend in that work. The Gospel of John tells us that very plainly. The more Catholics assimilate into the ways of society, and the more we coexist with the world, then the weaker our sense of mission becomes and the more easily we fall into alibis like, “I'm personally opposed to abortion or euthanasia or the death penalty or racism or exploiting immigrants — but I can't impose my beliefs on other people.” What that kind of reasoning translates into is a “no” to Jesus Christ. “No, Lord, I will not help you make disciples of all nations, because it makes me uncomfortable.”

When Jesus says that He sends us as “lambs among wolves,” He means it. Evil is real. Evil hates the Gospel, and if we serve the Gospel, we'll pay a price for our fidelity. That's why Jesus tells His disciples to go on mission without a purse or an extra pair of sandals; to depend only on God in their service and to purge themselves of every distraction. The call of discipleship means joining a struggle for the soul of the world. It means comforting and supporting those whose hearts are open to the truth. It also means preaching the truth even to those who despise it and reject us.

Real love is faithful, courageous, forgiving, tender, joyful — but it's never weak. The Cross was a hard piece of wood, but Christ chose it because He loves us. Is it really so hard for us to trust Him and do His will in our daily choices — to be real disciples and faithful Catholics, even if the world calls us names?

This dedication today is a reminder that even in the midst of the world, we have brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of peace, who are with us and support us in the preaching of the truth. If we give ourselves to God, we have no need of any other strength. So in blessing this building, which will serve our people and form so many future priests, may each of us, in our own way, rediscover what being a Catholic, a Christian and a disciple, really means — and rededicate ourselves to the work of Christ's harvest.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and enkindle in us the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit, and we shall be created, and You will renew the face of the earth.

(Archbishop Chaput serves in the Archdiocese of Denver.)

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput


Charles Joseph Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. is the ninth and current Archbishop of Philadelphia, serving since his installation on September 8, 2011

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