April 23, 2017

Strangers in a Strange Land

Thank you Archbishop Charles J. Chaput for writing Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World (Philadelphia: Henry Holt and Company, 2017).

I am only half way through, but what compels me about your book is that it is helping me with my own soul searching. I feel guided on an vital examination of conscience that helps me ask important questions about who I am as a husband and a father.  Most authors do not have the courage to challenge their readers in this way -- but you do, and that is why your works are worth taking the time to read.

At the end of Chapter 6, quoting Flannery O'Connor, you observe that the truth not only makes us free, but it makes us odd. This is because the truth always requires us to go against the grain and not simply to go along to get along. Yet to fit in, to be accepted, to make a name for oneself - what great temptations! We are afraid of being odd and unless we confront this fear, we cannot be free.

You are so right to insist that the truth calls us to something different.  It demands something that is not comfortable or convenient. The standards of heaven require something much more noble, much more set apart - in a word holy. Indeed, the standard of heaven, the power by which both Heaven and Earth were made is Love - for God is Love. You are right that the price of answering this call to love is to be considered "odd," to be rejected and despised. To love unto death is "odd" to a world that lives under the fear of death.  If we instinctively recoil from this, we allow ourselves to be defined by this cowardice -- a cowardice that now defines so much of our society and culture. But to have the courage to live by this truth - a love that goes all the way to the end -- this is a pure gift. This is grace - and the Risen Lord is the source of this. This is, as you say, true freedom.

You aptly describe how when we as individuals lose the truth and with the truth, our integrity - so too our whole social order. As a society, we lose our ability to see each other as human beings - in the image and likeness of God.  When we just go along with the narrative put out by the culturally powerful, we are unable to see our neighbor as someone entrusted to us by God. Instead, my neighbor is reduced to a social problem to be disposed of.  Euphemisms in our government, in the workplace, in the Church and in the family disguise our cruelty as cleverness - and because we have become so good at this kind of lie, we are no longer able to repent of our hardheartedness. Imprisoned in heartlessness, we throw ourselves away in a throw away culture -- unable to encounter one another, not free to be fully human or fully alive.

You made me ponder how the truth calls us to stand not only for our own integrity but for the sake of those we love or ought to love. Those who we ought to love include even those we do not personally know. It is for love of those that God has given to us -- each one a new unique manifestation of His image and likeness -- that we must overcome our fear and have the courage to re-examine our lives in the light of the Gospel. As I read your analysis on these things, I could not help but think, if this is true of strangers, how much more is it true of those whom God has entrusted to us in our own households - our spouse, our children, our parents?

I am looking forward to finishing this wonderful and well-researched book.  If the task before us is to build a culture of "encounter" in the face of our "throw away" culture, the world needs the integrity that we gain only by repentance, the re-thinking of all the ways that we have compromised ourselves and those we love in relation to the truth. Many of our brothers and sisters in other countries have not failed to embrace this kind of repentance -- even at the cost of their own lives. And they and those they left behind would not have it any other way.  This is because the nature of truth - that is, the way we should be and live in relation to what really is - is ultimately, relational, in the form of friendship, a love that is worth dying for, a friendship that God offers because He already died for us to have it. Only by such integrity can we offer a witness that will provide a word of hope to a world so poorly in need of it.