The following is an excerpt from the Foreword to Russell Shaw’s book, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, written by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M.Cap., of Philadelphia:
What people really believe, they act on. And when they don’t act, they don’t really believe. For all of us as American Catholics, this issue of faith is the heart of the matter. Real faith changes us. It hammers us into a new and different shape. We too often confuse faith with theology or ethics or pious practice or compassionate feelings, all of which are important—vitally important. But real faith forces us to face the deeply unsettling command given to each of us in the First Letter of Peter: “As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct” (1:15).
Holiness means being in the world but not of it. It means being different from and other than the ways of our time and place, and being conformed to the ways of God, as Isaiah says: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:8, 9).
To the degree Catholics have longed to join the mainstream of American life, to become like everyone else, to accommodate and grow comfortable and assimilate, rather than be “other than” and holy, we’ve abandoned who we really are. Clergy and religious face this temptation just as vividly as laypersons. Like the Jews in the days of Jeremiah, too many American Catholics have too often forgotten the covenant. We’ve “burned incense to other gods, and worshiped the works of [our] own hands” (Jer 1:16). We’ve ignored the final command Christ gave to all of us when he said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” He was speaking to each of us, right here and right now. Catholics are a missionary people led and served by a missionary priesthood.
So I think this, then, is the lesson of the last fifty years for all of us. We need to return to Christ’s call to “repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). We need a Church rooted in holiness. We need parishes on fire with faith. And we will get them only when we ourselves fundamentally change; when we center our lives in God; when we seek to become holy ourselves.
Throughout his long ministry, Blessed Pope John Paul II urged Catholics again and again to take up the task of a “new evangelization” of the world. Seeking an armistice with the spirit of the world, both outside us and within us, is an illusion. The Church in the United States faces an absolutely new and absolutely real kind of mission territory every day now, filled with intractable pastoral challenges. We’re a nation of wealth, sophisticated media, and excellent universities. We’re also a nation of aborted children, the unemployed, migrant workers, undocumented immigrants, the homeless, and the poor.
We live in a nation of great material success and scientific self-assurance but also a nation where the inner life is withering away, where private spiritualities replace communities of real faith, and where loneliness is now the daily routine of millions of people.
America is mission territory—whether we recognize it yet or not; whether we live in New York or Atlanta or Phoenix—and we need a new Pentecost. We need to be people who are men and women of prayer, people of courage, people of service, men and women anchored in the sacramental life of the Church. …
Russell Shaw has lived his own life of Christian witness with uncommon integrity, humility, and keen intelligence. His skill animates every page of [The American Church]. He has captured the story of the Church in the United States with honesty and love, and it’s a privilege to call him my friend.
Visit the Ignatius Press website to learn more about the book.