My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This past July 27-29, I attended the Napa Institute Conference in Napa, Cali. The overall theme for the conference was, “Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Christian Faith in a Post-Christian World.” The theme was taken from the book by that title published recently by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.
In his opening keynote address, Archbishop Chaput said that this is not a time to retreat from the world, but to engage and convert the world. He suggested that the way to breathe new life into our culture is to live our lives with joy and conviction. He also offered some reasons for hope. He gave the example of St. Paul speaking to the citizens of Athens in the public forum known as the Areopagus. As described in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul knew that his audience was hungry for the message of the Gospel, even if they were not immediately ready to accept it. Even Jesus in the Gospel of St. John acknowledged that his disciples did not always understand everything right away. We too do not see the full effects of our work during our lifetimes. We need to be patient and trust in God’s grace to bring about the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
The next keynote speaker was Rick Santorum, a former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. He said that we are here at a time when the world desperately needs saints. Acknowledging that we may be persecuted for standing up for our beliefs, he reminded us of Our Lord’s words in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are they who are persecuted, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
The third keynote address was given by Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles. He suggested that Our Lady of Guadalupe holds the key to understanding the times in which we are living today. Our Lady of Guadalupe asked for a shrine to be built on the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico. From this, the faith spread and millions were converted to Christianity. For us, the question is not how do we want to change our times, but how does God want us to shape our times? From the seemingly small steps that we take, great things can happen if we act in accord with God’s will.
The theme for the second day of the Napa Institute Conference was religious liberty. Mary Eberstadt, Senior Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute, entitled her keynote address, “It’s Dangerous to Believe.” She suggested that the “Ground Zero” from which today’s threat to religious liberty is emerging is the sexual revolution. Almost every challenge to religious freedom is based on sex. In her opinion, the culture war is not between believers and non-believers. Secularism is a belief system that sees Christianity as a competitor to be crushed. The most insidious threat to Christianity is the tendency of Christians to self-censor their beliefs for fear of secular bullying.
In the midst of all this, there is a great opportunity for new growth. The magnificent Cathedral of Chartres was built after the previous cathedral burned down. So there will be great edifices of faith that will emerge from the ruins of secular destruction. That’s how the church will be rebuilt: stone by stone from the rubble. So we should not just talk about a post-Christian world, but about a new Christian world that will emerge from the ruins of the secular sexual revolution.
The final keynote talk, entitled, “The Next Great Awakening” was given by George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
He started by reminding us that we are not doomed to remain strangers in a strange land, for, as St. Paul wrote, we are strangers and aliens no longer when we come to live as members of the Body of Christ. Observing that we are living in a time of a morally fractured community, he suggested that democracy requires a community living with shared virtues. The new “great awakening” that our nation needs will be based on a commitment to living in the truth, such as the right to life from conception to natural death, a commitment to the common good, and affirming that the good life is defined not in financial or material terms, but in spiritual terms. The Catholic contribution to this new great awakening is what Pope St. John Paul II called the “New Evangelization.”
As we continue our diocesan synod inviting people to “Come and See” the life of discipleship in Christ and stewardship of God’s creation, it is my hope that many of the themes discussed at the Napa Conference will become realities for us here in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
May God give us this grace. Amen.