National Catholic Reporter features this piece on an address given at Notre Dame on Wednesday by Roman Catholic Archbshop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput. Chaput, a favorite of Catholics of a more conservative stripe, often hailed or condemned as a culture warrior, spoke favorably of what has come to be called the Benedict option: opting for a smaller community of holier Catholics–a model in which holiness is determined in large part by sharing the priorities and emphases of those advocating the option.
“Obviously we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the church,” Chaput told a symposium for bishops and their staff members at the South Bend, Ind., campus.
“But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness.
“Losing people who are members of the church in name only is an imaginary loss,” he continued. “It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay. We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight.”
In reading this, I can’t help but wonder if the Archbishop’s Bible doesn’t have some rare–possibly valuable–misprint, in which the Parable of the Lost Sheep reads something like this:
“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not say, ‘verily and yea, it be good riddance, for I hath given yon sheep clear directions. Indeed, of thou 99 other sheep, many of thee, too, art not following every jot and tittle. Thou shalt also get lost, and soon, for thou are cowards and hypocrites, and art no sheep of mine.'”
Archbishop Chaput’s way of living out and proclaiming the Christian faith is a perfectly valid and defensible one. Let us grant for the sake of argument that it is even ideal, that the pinnacle of Christianity toward which all the baptized should strive is modeled by Chaput, by his values, by the primacy of place at which he gives adherence to the magisterium and its dogmas and laws over other Christian values, by the underlying assumptions about the nature of propositional revelation, and so forth. Even if that were the case, the Christian is called first and foremost to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. A disciple is a student, a learner, always growing, always moving toward the horizon of living out life in Christ more fully. Many of us will be less advanced at any given time. Many of us will be wrong about something, have ordered our Christian values less well, be less mature.
The problem is this: For many of us who don’t measure up to the standard of Archbishop Chaput yet are still striving to find a home in his community, being told that we don’t have one may, just may, lead some of us to say to him those words he seems to have no need of hearing: “you’re right.”