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The Secular vs the Sacred: Archbishop Chaput’s Meditation for Palm Sunday

American life today is troubled by three great questions: What is love? What is truth? And who is Jesus Christ? The secular world has answers to each of those great questions. And they’re false.

Today, for secular culture, love boils down to emotional and sexual compatibility; a special kind of friendship between two sovereign and equal partners. It can be very beautiful. But in the end, so the argument goes, it’s the result of our genetic programming. We fall in love because our biochemistries blend well. We care for our children because our instincts tell us to.

In like manner, truth is a matter of individual experience and preference, differing from individual to individual, and grounded in the self — not some over-arching reality. What really matters are facts, the kind of hard, measurable data we can see and taste. The only real “truths” we can know about life – again, so the argument goes — are things that material facts tell us. Colors like blue and red don’t really exist, for example; they’re simply our perception of certain variations in the material refraction of light. The “meaning” of events is not inherent in the events themselves or grounded in some higher order, but imagined and imposed by us.

And as for Jesus Christ: Well, Jesus was a good and holy man, one in a long line of great ethical teachers. And he’s important in the sense that most Americans still describe themselves as in some way “Christian.” But the “Son of God” and “Savior of the World” — that kind of supernaturalist thinking about a First Century minor Jewish prophet is pre-scientific and amounts to superstition.

The key thing about all these secular answers is this: They’re not only false, but dangerous. They reduce our human spirit to our appetites. They lower the human imagination and the search for meaning to what we can consume. And because the human heart hungers for a meaning that secular culture can’t provide, we anesthetize that hunger with noise and drugs and sex and distractions. But the hunger always comes back.

The most deeply human questions we can ask – and many of you are asking them right now — are things like, why am I here, what does my life mean, why do the people I love grow old and die, and will I ever see them again? The secular world has no satisfying answer to any of these questions. Nor does it even want us to ask such questions because of its self-imposed blindness; it cannot tolerate a higher order than itself — to do so would obligate it to behave in ways it does not want to behave. And so it hates, as Cain did, those who seek to live otherwise.

The Word of God tells us several key things. First, love is more than a feeling or instinct. It’s an act of the will. And it always has a cost in some form of suffering for the sake of others. It involves the free gift of ourselves to another person even at the risk of being hurt. This is why marriage is a covenant and not simply a contract. Contracts always have an escape clause. Love freely refuses an escape clause. Marriage is not a negotiated settlement between two sovereign parties, but two persons irreversibly submitting themselves to each other and becoming one flesh. And what results? New life in children. But in fact, all love, married or celibate, results in new life in one form or another. Just as Christ’s death on the cross watered the earth with his blood to redeem and renew the world, so every act of selfless love bears fruit in new life.

from  Archbishop Chaput’s Address at Vocations Jamboree  
Via Archbishop Chaput on Vocations @ Maggie’s Farm

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • captflee April 14, 2019, 11:13 AM

    Thanks for that, Gerard. Very timely.

  • rabbit tobacco April 14, 2019, 1:05 PM

    ….self imposed blindness?. Psalms115:1-8

  • PA Cat April 14, 2019, 1:45 PM

    What captflee said. Many thanks again.

  • Joe Krill April 14, 2019, 7:32 PM

    Gerard, Thank you! I took the time to read the entire speech and felt very spiritually uplifted. Never, ever, ever, ever quit. God Bless you and your mom. Joe Krill

  • Rob De Witt April 14, 2019, 9:37 PM

    I have a Great Friend, unfortunately platonic, who has given me readings from Archbishop Chaput, among many others, for close to 20 years now.

    This beautiful intellectual rigor is why I became a Catholic eight years ago at age 66.

  • andre April 14, 2019, 9:38 PM

    “unto Him Who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” Revelation 1:5

  • Roy Lofquist April 15, 2019, 4:01 AM

    Firstly off, I know that everybody hates pedants. That’s why I have to move so often. In spite of that…

    One of the basic tools of sophistry (the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving) is the false dichotomy. This is often done by asserting a category error. For example, Bishop Chaput writes “Today, for secular culture, love boils down to emotional and sexual compatibility;”. He is noting a category error because the word “love” has has been broadened to include lust.

    Be wary of any argument that includes words that have multiple meanings. That’s just about all of them by the way.

  • JiminAlaska April 15, 2019, 8:35 AM

    I went over & read the whole thing too and I gotta say, Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. is a Right Bastard!

    Now when an Australian calls someone a right bastard, it can be the lowest degradation or the highest complement and any other Aussie understands fully and completely which way he means it. Anyone else, the rest of us, can never be quite sure.

    OK, as I’m not an Aussie, I gotta spell it out, I mean it in the most laudatory, the most complementary way possible, and I use the phrase, ’cause frankly I can’t think of any other words to express how strongly I feel that damn bro, he done did great is that address to the youngsters in Bismarck!

  • Scullman April 15, 2019, 8:40 AM

    Nice speech.
    Now go do something about the homosexual priests in the Catholic Church ravaging pre-pubescent boys across the world.
    Something tells me Christ Jesus isn’t too thrilled about that. Only guessing.

    • Fletcher Christian April 11, 2022, 1:09 AM

      Let’s not forget about their superiors covering it up, either.

      I often wonder what a returned Christ would think of the Vatican, and the gold-embroidered vestments of priests, and the crown of the Pope. And of priestly “celibacy”, for that matter.

  • Vanderleun April 15, 2019, 9:08 AM

    I agree that anyone who attempts to read the mind of Christ is only guessing. I’ve tried for decades and am left in a slough of despair. I’ll wait to ask Him face to face… in passing or in perpetuity.

    • Bruceph April 10, 2022, 5:06 PM

      Do not despair V-man. No one can read the mind of another, divine or no. If you’ve followed the commandments, practiced virtue, Chastised and Humbled yourself before God, then…
      Hope is a methodology, a practice. And as Poo once said [I think]: Poetry and hums aren’t things you get. They’re things that get you. And all you can do is go to where they’ll find you.

  • Scullman April 15, 2019, 10:03 AM

    “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have tied a millstone around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
    Matthew 18:6
    Not much cause for guesswork from Himself, with the Catholic clergy, the “Princes of The Church”, here.
    I’m all for nice sermons from the Princes. Maybe the next one could be one on this abomination that has been allowed for decades, especially the shuffling around by the Bishops and Cardinals of the known offenders, from one unknowing parish to the other.
    Anything to keep that image and the money flowing.
    Should have been a hell of a lot more millstones at the bottom than there are.

  • Rob De Witt April 15, 2019, 5:32 PM

    Scullman, in re that passage from Matthew, read this:


    Ratzinger busts the hierarchy just as much as anybody, and makes clear the takeover of the seminaries in the Seventies by the homosexual cabals. You can bet Pope Francis will never clean it out, but there have been poor popes before.

  • Scullman April 16, 2019, 4:04 AM

    Rob. Read the piece. He goes on and on about the sexual changes in the 60’s and 70’s culture. Long lines at theatres to see poronographic films, bannned on airplanes as it might cause violence “ in that small space”, sexual liberties in many areas of life, etc,

    When he answers the question as to why homosexual men are drawn to religious life in the Catholic Church, and accepted and protected, please get back to me with that link.

  • Rob De Witt April 16, 2019, 1:21 PM


    Thanks for the thoughtful response. I would say two things:

    First, Benedict makes it clear that the Church simply abandoned its own principles, using the analogy of tearing down the hedges between the broader culture and the cloistered religious life. I agree with him about that; I have a somewhat older friend, retired as a professor of Theology at University of San Francisco, who’s told me stories of returning to the university in 1969 after his army service to find the entire culture gone to rot virtually overnight as the Jesuits embraced radicalism. A powerful image he’s shared is of his getting into a raging argument with a nun who he encountered wearing a “Make Love Not War” button – on her habit, no less. Jesuit education had heretofore been renowned for its intellectual rigor, cleaving powerfully to the Catechism; the Law, in other words. It’s not for nothing that the Jesuits had been characterized as God’s Marines.

    Second, as to why homosexual men are so drawn to religious life, and not just in the Catholic Church, believe me – you oughta see the Episcopalians – that’s one of those questions like “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” I don’t know, period. I suspect it may be the vestments and Liturgy and the chance to dress up, but that seems facile. Up until the mid-century period that Benedict describes, it at least was made very clear to all concerned that homosexuality in the seminaries was not only immoral but an intellectual cop-out from the profound difficulty of dedicated celibacy demanded by the Church. The Episcopalians on the other hand (this is from my broad experience) seemed to glorify and embrace every kind of libertinism, alcoholism, and flagrant homosexuality imaginable.

    I don’t therefore think that answering the question of “why homosexual men are drawn to religious life in the Catholic Church” is the responsibility of the Church (is New Orleans responsible for so many gays at Mardi Gras? Should the study of Classical music and art be outlawed because so many gays are attracted to it?) but I definitely think the question of acceptance and protection in its ranks is truly the issue, and one which in my opinion Pope Benedict is struggling with mightily. Certainly watching the culture in the latter Sixties was an exercise in frustration for many people, and in his apparent opinion the Church failed in its duty to protect the faithful, much like the leftist politicians who have diluted our border with Mexico have failed to protect the citizenry which is their sworn responsibility. You might take note of his recognition that traditional theology and its thorny questions were virtually forbidden in Jesuit seminaries of the time. Those seminarians are now in their seventies and have had decades of entrenching themselves within the higher councils of the Catholic Church. Their actions have been unspeakable and indefensible. Orthodox Catholics like Pope Benedict not only don’t condone this horror but have gone a long way towards exposing it and draining the swamp – which is deeper than Foggy Bottom and populated by largely the same types of power-mongers and control freaks.

  • Scullman April 16, 2019, 3:06 PM

    Thanks for this, R.
    Twelve years of Catholic school, altar boy when the response was in Latin, four High School years with the Irish Christian Bros. in the late sixties. Two class mates have settled with them since their bankruptcy. The problem goes back further than the creepy Jesuit Seminary’s in the 70’s. The priests involved here were in Seminary in the 50’s. Anyway, I never knew about it at the time. Grateful for that, but can’t stomach the effeminate priests in my zip today. I’ll never forget the audience after the film “Spotlight” ended.
    Nobody moved for two or three minutes. Coulda’ heard a sparrow fart.

  • Francis W. Porretto April 10, 2022, 1:27 AM

    ….Our third aim is, by these constructions, to destroy the devotional life. For the real presence of the Enemy, otherwise experienced by men in prayer and sacrament, we substitute a merely probable, remote, shadowy, and uncouth figure, one who spoke a strange language and died a long time ago. Such an object cannot in fact be worshipped. Instead of the Creator adored by its creature, you soon have merely a leader acclaimed by a partisan, and finally a distinguished character approved by a judicious historian.

    [C. S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”]

    It’s the modern attack on Christ, and the most sophisticated one of all. It was designed that way, for our vanity [“My favorite sin!” — Al Pacino as Satan in “The Devil’s Advocate”] is today our greatest point of weakness.

  • Speller April 10, 2022, 11:13 AM
  • Dirk April 10, 2022, 1:32 PM

    Didn’t even try to make sense of it all.

  • Gnawbone Jack April 10, 2022, 3:15 PM

    Apropos to nothing really, the wife and I watched “The Passion” last night for the first time. I was always reluctant to view the suffering, but more so the reminder of what was endured on our behalf and it haunts still…

  • ThisIsNotNutella April 10, 2022, 4:10 PM

    Crucifixion is past due for a comeback.

  • Bruceph April 10, 2022, 5:35 PM

    I’m not a fan of Archbishop Chaput, but this speech got the job done. No more, no less. Interesting comments though. I’m a big fan of Dr. Bill Marre of happy memory, who suggested the biggest problem of the last 500 years was whether or not God exists. It’s a personal question really, with profound cultural outcomes. What follows lies in how one answers it, I believe. We may be uncomfortable with homosexuality, coverups [and all the rest-yeah, it’s an inside job alright] but we seem to accept contraception and are loath to talk about it. But the practice of homosexuality or contraception [and all the rest] avoid the very same spiritual challenge; namely to do the will of God in ones’ own regard. Not to know the mind of God, but to do his will in our regard, verily so, I might add. This, simply, is what we’re here for. Nothing more, nothing less. If one is uncertain about the project, may I suggest the confessional is a good place to start. http://catholicplanet.com/information/Good-Confession.pdf

  • Joe Krill April 10, 2022, 10:12 PM

    Gerard, Three years ago I wrote the following,
    “Gerard, Thank you! I took the time to read the entire speech and felt very spiritually uplifted. Never, ever, ever, ever quit. God Bless you and your mom. April 14, 2019, 7:32 PM. Joe Krill”.

    Today I have to make that a big DITTO. Thanks for posting again.