CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Archbishop Charles J. Chaput's just published essay, A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next America is his cri du coeur to all Americans, but in particular to complacent Catholics.

But this is not an ordinary cri du coeur.  It is a cri du coeur en feu, a cry of a heart on fire, on fire with love for the Lord and of this country.  And this is no ordinary essay.  It is savored with the zing of a prophet.  It is short, admonitory, and to the point.  It is the prophet Zephaniah redivivus.

Archbishop Chaput is Zephaniah speaking to America.

Like the prophet Zephaniah (the name means "Yahweh hides"), Archbishop Chaput warns of dark, destructive times that are about us--the worship of the false god Baal in lieu of Yahweh--and which threaten to become darker yet lest we do something about it.  "Near is the great day of the LORD, near and very swiftly coming . . . . A day of wrath is that day, a day of anguish and distress.  A day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom.  A day of thick black clouds."  (Zeph. 1:14-15) 

There are impending signs of stormy weather ahead.  Like the prophet Elijah, Archbishop Chaput sees a small cloud, the size of a human fist.  He sees a "national leadership" at the highest levels "deaf to matters of religious freedom abroad and unreceptive--or frankly hostile--to religious engagement in public affairs here at home."  This marked hostility is against the genius of our institutions, institutions that took for granted and grew out of a "predominantly religious worldview," one of Christian inspiration, and for whom "religion mattered-personally and socially." 

He sees a political and patrimonial crime in commission and raises his hue and cry.  He sees an "America emerging in the next several decades" which is "likely to be much less friendly to Christian faith than anything in our country's past."  Archbishop Chaput warns: "It's not a question of when or if it might happen.  It's happening today." 

Indeed, Archbishop Chaput lists a litany of evidence of  increasing secular hostility: pressure on hospital and adoption agencies to accept intrinsic evils, lawsuits threatening and limiting religious liberty--whether it be prayer, or public expressions of religious faith, creches, crucifixes, the Ten Comandments--, federal restrictions on conscientious objection, constant attacks on tax deductions to charity and to tax-exempt status, interference with hiring practices and choices, attacks on the Church's doctrine as hate speech, or the daily ridiculing of faith, of virtue, of Christian morals. 

These are all signs of a new America.  "It's a new America, but it's made in America."  By our spiritual lassitude, American Catholics helped birth it.  We are in part its midwives.

This growing hostility threatens those values we take for granted for they stemmed from, and find their vitality in, Christianity.  These values include the "dignity of the human person, the sanctity of conscience, the separation of political and sacred authority, the distinction between secular and religious law, the idea of a civil society preexisting and distinct from the state." 

Without these values, founded upon Christian truths, democratic theory and practice founder.  Without these, tyranny--even if it speciously goes under the innocuous or benign name of liberalism or progressivism--thrives.

He issues woes, like a prophet should.  Woes "to the city, rebellious and polluted, to the tyrannical city," who "hears no voice, accepts no correction," who does not trust in the Lord which was once hers.  (Zeph. 3:1-2)  He warns of the leaders of the city who are "roaring lions," and her judges who are "wolves of the night."  (Zeph. 3:3)  He warns of the prophets of this rebellious city, "insolent treacherous men."  He warns of her "priests [who] profane what is holy," and who "do violence to the law." (Zeph. 3:4) 

For example, Archbishop Chaput points to those in "government, the media, academia, in the business community, and in the wider culture," who "no longer seem to regard religious faith as a healthy force."  He is most vociferous against Catholic colleges and institutions which--in the 1967 Land O' Lakes Statement--effectively declared a non serviam to Catholic truth.  Drawing from Eric Voegelin, he accuses the media and academia of "intellectual terrorism."  He warns against the decadency in culture, a culture based upon materialism, one which acts as if God did not exist.  It is, indeed, not a culture but an "inhuman parody" of culture. 

A Heart on Fire is a call of duty.  We are at war, a cultural war, but a war nevertheless.  And the odds are not in our favor. 

But fight we must.  We must not let Jesus go the way of the pagan goddess Victory, who in 382 A.D. was removed by the Christian emperor Gratianus against the complaints of the remnant pagans, including the prefect Symmachus.  "The Altar of Victory never returned to the Senate," Archbishop Chaput notes.  " Paganism slowly died away." 

It must not be that Christianity never returns to the Senate, and that it dies away.  We must not disappear with a whimper.  And Archbishop Chaput for one will do everything he can to see that it does not.

No, led by such generals as Archbishop Chaput, Catholics must not leave with a whimper, but  we must return with a bang.  Drawing from a vivid image of the Jesuit John Courtney Murray, Archbishop Chaput states we confront a monstrous culture, "a Frankenstein"--he may have said one promoted by another monster, Leviathan--one which must be fought, not with "baptismal water," but with a "bludgeon."

But this is not an ordinary bludgeon, for this bludgeon "begins not with violence but with the conversion of our own hearts."  The construction of a Christian culture to replace the culture of death about us "begins by lifting our own hearts up to God, without plans or reservations and letting him do the work."

Like the prophet Zephaniah, Archbishop Chaput warns Christians, in particular Catholics, "the remnant . . .humble and holy" who live in this shameless, polluted, and rebellious city, to "gather, gather yourselves together, before you are driven away, like chaff that passes on."  (Zeph. 3:12; 2:1-2; 3:1) 

Archbishop Chaput knows that the problem before us is cultural, and ultimately involves a disease of the soul, since as he observes--again quoting Father Murray--"culture has its home in the soul."  Culture requires effort, and this effort is one of submission "to the truth and the beauty and the good" that is outside of us, namely in God and his eternal law of which the natural law is participatory, "whose pattern he must produce within his soul by conformity with it."

We must turn back to God.  We must turn back to Jesus.

Turning to God, to Jesus Christ, "sounds like a small thing," Archbishop Chaput admits, but everything--"worlds and empires, and even salvation itself"--one supposes he had in mind Mary's wonderful and exemplary "yes" in addition each one of our own "yeses"--"can turn on the smallest 'yes.'"

Like Zephaniah, Archbishop Chaput gives words of encouragement, words of hope.  The good Archbishop tells us to take "refuge in the name of the Lord," and to recognize that the Lord is in our midst, "a mighty savior," that the Lord will "renew [us] in his love."  (Zeph. 3:17)  It is the Lord, and He alone, who will "remove disaster from among" us, and will "bring about [our] restoration." (Zeph. 3:18, 19) 

The restoration will be accomplished by fire.  But not ordinary fire. 

"If we do not know and love Jesus Christ," Archbishop Chaput concludes, "and commit our lives to him, and act on what we claim to believe, everything else is empty.  But if we do, so much else is possible--including the conversion of the world around us. . . . Faith leads in one direction, the lack of it in another.  But the issue is faith . . . . Do we really believe in Jesus Christ, or don't we?  And if we do, what are we going to do about it?" 

The embrace of Jesus with love--heart, mind, soul, and strength--means to be a witness, "the kind of witness that sets fire to the human heart," and that fire in one heart, then another, then yet another, and soon you reach a conflagration, each such heart saying "yes" to the Lord Jesus will "start that blaze and then help it grow."

We have our marching orders.  They may be found in A Heart on Fire. 

Everyone of us should have a copy.

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Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.