In Philadelphia, the courageous Archbishop Chaput has merely stated what the Catholic Church has consistently taught, and provided a challenge to live according to that teaching. The visceral reaction and very one-sided point of view in almost all mainstream media is alarming. Kudos to the National Review Article by Alexandra DeSanctis and to the Philadelphia Inquirer for posting the Op-Ed article by Christine Flowers.
The mayor of Philadelphia calls Chaput’s guidelines “not Christian.” Yet based on what evidence? If being Christian is to follow Christ, then let’s look at what Christ said, and see how “un-Christian” it is. At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28
“It has also been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, brings adultery upon her. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 5:31-32
All Chaput did was echo the teachings of Jesus, and Social Media erupts as if he just called for a mass slaughter. The reaction leads to his character assassination and accusations that he supports pedophilia (for which all his words and actions shows he has absolutely no tolerance, and is completely unrelated to the topic at hand). Where is love? Where is charity? Seems that the stone-throwers are abundant. Yet, like Jesus, Chaput throws not a single stone. He mainly advises as Jesus did to the woman caught in adultery: “go and sin no more.” Un-Christian? Really?
A challenge to live up to higher moral standards, is not unlike the challenge to an athlete to run an extra mile, to pursue the next higher goal. In sports, or even in reality-television, sacrificing desserts and certain foods to avoid unnecessary weight gain would be considered a necessary part of the training. But in the moral life, why is this suggestion of abstinence outside of marriage intolerable? Because living the chaste life that Jesus calls us to is especially hard in a sex-saturated culture.
Chaput is caring for the souls of his flock. He’s reiterating the tough moral teaching. Striving to be Christian is difficult. It’s work. It takes training. It takes effort. It requires turning over my will for the better of another. Not exercising the spiritual muscles will ultimately require us to be part of the spiritual version of the Biggest Loser to make it to heaven. In Catholic terms, that is called Purgatory. If we opt-out of that program, then we’ve chosen a really bad place to spend eternity. Not God’s punishment, but our choice.
All that said, Jesus, despite being challenging in his teachings, was also rich in love and mercy. He forgives over and over for our misgivings. The story of the woman caught in adultery and the story of the woman at the well both highlight that Jesus, while never saying what they did was good… still forgave and showed mercy, when forgiveness and mercy was welcomed.
The key difference is, Jesus is merciful when we are remorseful for our sins. But the moment we are indignant that our behaviors are called a sin, or when we glorify sin, claiming it as my own moral truth and my right, we slam the door in the face of Jesus to His mercy. Fortunately, Christ continues to invite, and open the door to his mercy. As he did it on the cross, he says it to each one of us: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they are doing.”