Almost fifty years ago, the writings
on religious pluralism of an American Jesuit, John Courtney Murray,
helped the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council to draft a Declaration
Religious Liberty in a world where millions of Christians were being
ruled by officially atheistic regimes.
23, 2012, hundreds of citizens gathered in front of Independence Hall in
Philadelphia to participate in a Rally for Religious Freedom, in
the U.S. Government’s Health and Human Services Department mandate that
compels institutions and individuals to pay for insurance coverage of
contraception and abortion despite their conscientious objections.
The United States used to be such a staunch defender
and beacon of religious freedom. What happened?!
Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., who now serves as
Archbishop of Philadelphia, incisively explains many of the reasons for this paradox in a new e-book entitled A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness
and the Next America, published by Image Books (a division of Random House, Inc.).
author neatly captures the
fundamental tension in the American religious scene by contrasting the
courage and pioneering spirit of the Christians who first came to these
and the skepticism of their materialistic descendants just a few
generations later (symbolized respectively by Bunyan’s perennial
Pilgrim’s Progress, and satirical portrayals of Protestantism in short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne).
skeptics seem to have commandeered the megaphones. Chaput writes:
of religion and freedom of the press are two key pillars of our
country’s identity. But more than sixty years ago, the writer George
Orwell saw something curious emerging in the character of modern
journalisman erosion of free thought and expression unique to
Archbishop Chaput notes the widespread
ignorance of and indifference to organized religion among the so-called
“knowledge classes” today, but he does not complain. Instead, as a
pastor, he probes the responsibility of American Catholics themselves in
the present state of affairs. “Instead of Catholics converting the
culture, the culture too often bleached out the apostolic zeal in
Catholics while leaving the brand label intact.”
curious, looking-glass sort of passage, the author describes Symmachus,
one of the last remaining pagans in Rome, writing to the Christian
argue that the sacred fire should be restored at the Altar to the
goddess of Victory in the Roman Senate. His request was denied: what
good are rituals when the fire of conviction has gone out? The sobering
point is that “Christians may soon find themselves in the same place
Symmachus once didarguing from the margins” of society.
prescribes two remedies for the anemic role of
Christians in public life. One is personal soul-searching on the part of
Catholic citizens. The other is a return to the fullness of the
education is heir to the greatest intellectual, moral and cultural
patrimony in human history. It
has a deeply satisfying answer to who and why man is. It’s beautiful
because it’s true. It has nothing to be embarrassed about and every
reason to be on fire with confidence and apostolic zeal. We only defeat
ourselvesand we certainly don’t serve Godif we allow ourselves to ever
The Capuchin Friar has read widely in United States history and current events and proved to be an articulate
observer of contemporary culture and Church-state relations in Render Unto Caesar, published in 2008. A chapter from that earlier book is
included as a supplement to the new e-book, and it has lost none of its freshness or relevance.
unapologetic and timely reflections of Archbishop Chaput are required
reading for Catholics who are concerned about what sort of America they
leave for future generations.