Archbishop Chaput: Be like Mary. Punch the devil in the nose.

By Matt Hadro

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13th century image of Mary punching devil in the face. Credit: ChurchPop, Public Domain via the British Library.

Catholics should look to Mary to be part of a religion that fights for truth, rather than assimilating to the popular culture, said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.  

“If we want to reclaim who we are as a Church, if we want to renew the Catholic imagination, we need to begin, in ourselves and in our local parishes, by unplugging our hearts from the assumptions of a culture that still seems familiar but is no longer really ‘ours,’” Archbishop Chaput said.

“This is why Mary – the young Jewish virgin, the loving mother, and the woman who punches the devil in the nose – was, is, and always will be the great defender of the Church,” he added.

Archbishop Chaput addressed the 2016 Bishops’ Symposium at the University of Notre Dame on Wednesday. He spoke on “Remembering Who We Are and the Story We Belong To.”

He began his talk referencing an illustration, reportedly from the Middle Ages, of the Blessed Virgin Mary punching the devil in the nose. “She doesn’t rebuke him. She doesn’t enter into a dialogue with him. She punches the devil in the nose,” he said.

The illustration is apt, he explained, because, according to the Christian author C.S. Lewis, “Christianity is a ‘fighting religion’ – not in the sense of hatred or violence directed at other persons, but rather in the spiritual struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us, where our weapons are love, justice, courage and self-giving.”

The problem is that many U.S. Catholics have abandoned this “spiritual struggle” and have assimilated too much into the popular culture “that bleaches out strong religious convictions in the name of liberal tolerance and dulls our longings for the supernatural with a river of practical atheism in the form of consumer goods,” he said.

Catholic Politicians have done this by following their own “ambitions and appetites” rather than being loyal to the Church, he noted. Laypersons and members of the clergy have done this through a “silent apostasy” of not standing up for the truth when they need to do so.

“For [Pope] Benedict, laypeople and priests don’t need to publicly renounce their baptism to be apostates.  They simply need to be silent when their Catholic faith demands that they speak out,” he said, “to be cowards when Jesus asks them to have courage; to ‘stand away’ from the truth when they need to work for it and fight for it.”

He also warned against a technocratic worldview that sees all solutions to problems as practical and technical solutions.

A Catholic can easily be swayed to believe that prayer should be set aside for practical solutions to problems, he noted. “Technology gets results. Prayer, not so much – or at least not so immediately and obviously,” he explained. “So our imaginations gradually bend toward the horizontal, and away from the vertical.”

Thus, what develops is a culture where “talking about heaven and hell starts to sound a lot like irrelevant voodoo,” he said.

“The Church of our baptism is salvific. The Church where many Americans really worship, the Church we call our popular culture, is therapeutic,” he said.

Archbishop Chaput exhorted his fellow bishops to challenge the faithful to heroic virtue and not to settle for mediocrity – as Pope Francis so challenged Catholics at the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

“To reclaim the Church for the Catholic imagination, we should start by renewing in our people a sense that eternity is real, that together we have a mission the world depends on, and that our lives have consequences that transcend time,” he insisted. While engaging the culture, Catholics must keep a healthy distance from it lest they assimilate into it, he added.

Challenging the faithful may drive some away from the Church, he admitted, but leaders must not be afraid to preach the truth in charity, no matter the consequences.

“Obviously we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the Church,” he said. “But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter Church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness.”

And, he added, if preaching the truth is distasteful to Catholics who are not living out their faith, that “may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay.”

It is this honesty that is required to preach the truth with love, he insisted, saying “there can be no real charity without honesty.” Examples of a lack of honesty today include when words are misinterpreted or abused – like the term “accompaniment,” he said.

Regarding “accompaniment,” Pope Francis “rightly teaches us the need to meet people where they are, to walk with them patiently, and to befriend them on the road of life,” he said. However, he maintained, others interpret this “accompaniment” wrongly.

“Where the road of life leads does make a difference – especially if it involves accompanying someone over a cliff,” he said.

The present times may be difficult for Christians, the archbishop admitted. “It’s a moment for courage and candor,” he said, “but it’s hardly the first moment of its kind.”

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