Saturday, February 7, 2009

Chaput - Lord's Work

Archbishop Charles Chaput reads the times far better than the Times reads the times.

People sometimes say we’re living at a “post-Christian” moment. That’s supposed to describe the fact that Western nations have abandoned or greatly downplayed their Christian heritage in recent decades. But our “post-Christian” moment actually looks a lot like the pre-Christian moment. The signs of our times in the developed world—morally, intellectually, spiritually and even demographically—are very similar to the world at the time of the Incarnation.

The truth is, the challenges we face as Catholics today are very much like those facing the first Christians. And it might help to have a little perspective on how they went about evangelizing their culture. They did such a good job that within 400 years Christianity was the world’s dominant religion and the foundation of Western civilization.

Rodney Stark, the Baylor University social scientist, is an agnostic. He’s not a Christian believer. But he became intrigued by a couple of key questions. How did Christianity succeed? How was it able to accomplish so much so fast? In his book, “The Rise of Christianity,” he focuses only on the facts he can verify. And he concludes that Christian success flowed from two things: first, Christian doctrine, and second, people being faithful to that doctrine. Stark writes that: “An essential factor in the (Christian) religion’s success was what Christians believed. … And it was the way those doctrines took on actual flesh, the way they directed organizational actions and individual behavior, that led to the rise of Christianity.”

Or we can put it another way: the Church, through the Apostles and their successors, preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. People believed in that Gospel. But the early Christians didn’t just agree to a set of ideas. Believing in the Gospel meant changing their whole way of thinking and living. It was a radical transformation—so radical they couldn’t go on living like the people around them anymore.

The early Christians understood that they were members of a new worldwide family of God more important than any language or national borders. They saw the culture around them, despite all of its greatness and power, as a culture of despair, a society that was slowly killing itself. In fact, when we read early Christian literature, things like adultery and abortion are often described as “the way of death” or the “way of the (devil).”

Here’s the point: if the world of pagan Rome and its Caesars could be won for Jesus Christ, we can do the same in our own day. But what it takes is the zeal and courage to live what we claim to believe ...

Read all of Doing the Lord's Work here.

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