‘We take sin so casually’

Charles J. Chaput celebrated his final Mass as Archbishop of Philadelphia on Sunday, and in doing so he concluded 31 years of service as a Catholic bishop:

At the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, Chaput told his parishioners he is grateful to them, and pointed following Jesus Christ as the pathway to truth and happiness.

“I’ll still be around, I’m not dying, I’m just retiring,” Chaput said Feb. 16, just days before the Tuesday installation of his successor, Archbishop-designate Nelson Perez.

In a homily that stayed tied to the Mass readings, characteristic of Chaput’s preaching style, the archbishop cited the second reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, saying it captures his experience of ministry to the Church in Philadelphia.

“What eye has not seen and ear has not heard and what has not entered the human heart: what God has prepared for those who love him,” St. Paul wrote. “This, God has revealed to us, through the Spirit.”

Chaput thanked the congregation for “the gift of your presence in my life.”

“God bless you,” he concluded.

The archbishop described his successor Perez, until recently the Bishop of Cleveland, as “a very good man” who “will serve you well as archbishop.” …

In his homily, Chaput reflected on divine law and God’s revelation.

“One of the problems with the commandments is we think of them as laws or rules. What they really are is a pattern of life,” Chaput said. “They’re not there to test us to see if we’re good, because we know we’re not, right? The commandments are there to show us how to be good.”

“God is telling us if you want to be happy, then don’t steal. If you want to be successful, you won’t bear false witness. If you want to have successful marriages, you won’t commit adultery,” the archbishop explained.

“We have freedom to choose whether or not to be good,” he said. At the same time, he emphasized that Christians can’t keep the commandments on their own, but must depend on God’s grace. Some struggle and sin again and again, “sometimes because we depend on ourselves rather than God.”

“Think about the most difficult (sins) for you: gossip, adultery, not to kill, not to anger,” Chaput said, stressing the importance of the commandments.

“What’s at stake here is our salvation, our eternal life, or our eternal damnation,” he added. stressing the importance of the commandments.  “You and I determine our future by what we choose: life–following the commandments—or death. Good or evil.”

On Sunday’s gospel, the archbishop warned of the “danger of scandal.”

“One of the biggest sins that you and I can commit is leading someone else into sin,” he said. “It’s bad enough we lead ourselves into sin. But it’s much worse if we lead ourselves into sin, and through that lead someone else into sin.”

Chaput said he couldn’t state it any clearer than Jesus himself in the Gospel of Matthew: “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do so, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Archbishop Chaput asked the congregation: “When’s the last time you led somebody into sin by your sin?” …

Jesus’ use of exaggerated language, such as recommending someone cut off his hand rather than sin, makes the point of the seriousness of the matter.

“It would be better for us, really, that we don’t have a hand than that we sin,” said Chaput. “And we take sin so casually in our life.”

“One of the problems with the commandments is we think of them as laws or rules. What they really are is a pattern of life,” Chaput said. “They’re not there to test us to see if we’re good, because we know we’re not, right? The commandments are there to show us how to be good.”

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

It’s early in the afternoon and I’m on Amtrak back to Washington. I attended the 11am Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Center City. Today was the last Mass with Archbishop Charles J. Chaput I’ll experience before he retires in a few weeks.

I met Archbishop Chaput in the Cathedral Basilica’s narthex when he arrived here from Denver nine years ago.

It was a gift to be there this morning, alongside so many others, including the Dominicans and the Sisters of Life, who now call Philadelphia home and who renew the Christian community here because of the work of this retiring Archbishop.

Remote from Philadelphia

I took Amtrak to Philadelphia yesterday to visit family and friends this weekend. It feels like Christmas was simultaneously months ago and yesterday. When I got in yesterday, I worked from Center City and attended Mass at noon at the Cathedral Basilica chapel. They were celebrating National Catholic Schools Week.

Afterwards I worked from Starbucks near City Hall, where I finished prepping for an upcoming work meeting. It was the same Starbucks I stopped in the morning of Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia five years ago, and I thought of that as I sat there.

Politics is important, but…

Archbishop Chaput’s successor in Philadelphia will be Archbishop Nelson Perez. Matt Hadro reports on Archbishop Chaput’s retirement:

Chaput reflected on his vocation as bishop to CNA on Thursday, citing St. Augustine as the model of service he has sought to emulate in his ministry.

“Augustine lived simply, never abandoned his people, and never avoided difficult decisions or issues,” Chaput told CNA.

“That didn’t always make him popular. But he served his people sacrificially, as a good father, in a spirit of love. That’s the gold standard for a bishop’s ministry.”

During his episcopal ministry, and especially as Archbishop of Philadelphia, Chaput faced criticism from secular outlets and within the Church for taking “conservative” stands on leading debates in the Church, including statements discouraging Catholic politicians who support abortion from presenting themselves for Communion and opposing efforts to redefine marriage.

His stances led to him being branded as a “culture warrior” and “political.” Yet, he explained to CNA on Thursday, his public stances were required of him as a responsible Catholic leader in the public square.

“Was Augustine ‘political’ for writing City of God? Or for criticizing Roman state corruption and bad officials? Of course not,” Chaput said.

“Politics is a subset of Christian discipleship, and sometimes bishops need to speak and act with conviction in the public square in an unpopular way. That’s always been the case.”

“Politics is important, but it’s not what the Gospel is about,” he said. …

“The history of the Church is not the history of bishops, it’s the history of all of us together working for the glory of God.”

Boarding a train home

Happy New Year! I’m at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, ready to board a train home to Washington after a good week with family.

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I’m eager to be back in Washington, back to what feels like home after so many years of thinking of Philadelphia in that way. But Washington has been a great gift, personally, spiritually, and professionally. And so it’s easy to call it home.

Wherever we find ourselves in life, it’s good to ask whether the place you are feels like home. And if not, to start making it that.

Advising abortion based upon a guess

Gina Christian reports on the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia’s 38th Annual Stand Up for Life Dinner, which took place last month in Philadelphia:

When Rachel Guy was just 22 weeks old, several doctors urged her mother to have an abortion.

They explained that a “chromosomal abnormality” would very likely leave Rachel blind and deaf.

Guy’s parents advised that abortion violated their deeply held religious beliefs, and sought out a new team of physicians who supported their decision to bring their baby to term. Arriving via Caesarean section, and with a birth weight of just over one pound, Guy spent five and a half months in neonatal intensive care.

Now a young adult with full faculties of sight and hearing, Guy recently shared her life story at a major gathering of the area’s pro-life organizations.

Guy was the keynote speaker of the 38th annual “Stand Up for Life Dinner” held Nov. 24 at the Philadelphia 201 Hotel in Center City.

Sponsored by the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, the event drew more than 1,250 attendees, including dozens of high school and college students who were honored during a “roll call” of represented Catholic schools by Father Christopher Walsh, chairman of the Pro-Life Union’s board and master of ceremonies for the dinner.

Father Walsh, the pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Philadelphia, welcomed guests by showing images of babies that had been assisted by the Pro-Life Union’s member agencies during the past year. Among them, Philadelphia-based Guiding Star Ministries, which now partners with archdiocesan Catholic Social Services, has cared for about 240 single pregnant women since its opening in 1992, said Father Walsh.

He added that more than 400 calls and texts had been exchanged last year through the Pro-Life Union’s pregnancy hotline (484-451-8104), and he urged attendees to keep the number handy.

“God might be using you to save a life,” he said.

I had been familiar with the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia through my family, and it was Fr. Chris Walsh who first invited me to join the board of the Pro-Life Union. One of the people I’ve met along the way has been Dr. Monique Ruberu, whose witness to human life is incredible:

Dr. Monique Ruberu, a Montgomery County-based obstetrician and gynecologist, echoed Guy’s observation by sharing a painful example from her own medical training.

While still in her residency, Ruberu was asked by a professor and mentor to assist with an abortion. After reminding him that her beliefs would not permit her to perform the procedure, she allowed the professor to convince her the abortion was necessary due to a “fetal anomaly,” and she would not directly participate but only provide confirmation that the procedure had been completed.

Speaking through tears, Ruberu said she was tasked with “putting together the pieces of this child” to ensure it had been fully removed from the mother’s womb.

“I stood there and put the small arms and legs and body back together,” said Ruberu. “And with tears pouring down my face, I knew then I would never again put anyone in front of God or these sweet, innocent children.”

Now a board member of the Pro-Life Union, Ruberu speaks extensively in support of the pro-life movement, and in 2018 co-founded Sidewalk Servants, whose members volunteer one or more hours per month to pray and to offer pro-life resources to women visiting abortion centers.

‘Meet me at the eagle’

Among John Wanamaker’s lasting gifts to Philadelphia are the old Wanamaker’s flagship that Macy’s now occupies, and a beautiful work of art that remains in its heart—an incredible American Eagle.

I saw it yesterday when visiting Center City for the first time in a while, and thought I’d share it and the language from the marker that accompanies it. I remember my grandmother telling me about growing up in the city in the 1930s and ‘40s, and how the Wanamaker eagle was a frequent meeting place.

Meet the Grand Court Eagle.

This majestic bronze beauty proudly hails from Frankfurt, Germany, home of its creator, sculptor August Gaul. Department store pioneer John Wanamaker purchased the eagle for his flagship store following its debut at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The rest is history. Before long, “Meet me at the eagle” became the catchphrase for shoppers and visitors meeting in Center City.

The eagle has remained right here for over a century; the floor beneath reinforced with extra girders to accommodate its massive weight of 2,500 pounds. All 5,000 feathers, including 1,600 on the head alone, were wrought by hand.

Thanks for visiting the Grand Court Eagle and carrying on a long-beloved Philadelphia tradition of rendezvousing in Center City.

The marvel of an ordinary life

I caught a 5pm Amtrak to Philadelphia earlier and am visiting for 12 hours or so. It’s good to be here, even briefly. I’m short on time; sharing something I saw recently:

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

—William Martin

Roe and abortion in American life

Catherine Glenn Foster, President & CEO of Americans United for Life, appeared at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia tonight.

I left Washington mid-afternoon and caught a train from Union Station to Philadelphia to be there for the hour-long conversation—ostensibly about Roe v. Wade, but in fact about whether abortion represents a public good, and whether the Supreme Court should be made to preserve abortion as America’s most controversial public policy.

It’s worth watching as an introduction to two diametrically opposed factions in American life: one faction that ignores the scientific and embryological facts concerning what abortion itself is and does and is concerned with its utility as an alleged means of empowerment, and the second faction which views abortion as fundamentally incompatible with the constitutional human right to life as much as it is incompatible with justice and equality.

I was disappointed by how much politics and elections drove the conversation among the former faction, and was encouraged that Catherine Glenn Foster was able to move the conversation toward the more important teleological questions behind abortion-as-public-policy.