Facing a “post-Christian” society: Chaput and Gomez tackle cultural change at Napa Institute conference

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput speaks during the July 27 opening of the seventh annual Napa Institute Conference in California. The conference this year was organized around the themes discussed by Archbishop Chaput in his 2017 book, "Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World." (CNS photo/courtesy Kate Capato, Visual Grace)

The Napa Institute wrapped up its seventh annual conference on July 30 in Northern California's wine country. The four-day series focused on the themes in Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s book, Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Christian Faith in a Post-Christian World, and featured talks by theologians, politicians and clergymen from across the United States.

In his opening address on July 27, Archbishop Chaput said "the good news is we make the world" even in a fast-paced and fractured post-Christian society he described as unrecognizably transformed from just 60 years ago.

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"St. Augustine said it's no use whining about the times because we are the times. So our actions matter, our choices matter, our lives matter.”

Chaput told the 500-plus people gathered for the conference that this is a "privileged moment for Christians. My brothers and sisters, this is not a time to retreat from the world. We need to engage the world and convert it."

In his opening address on July 27, Archbishop Chaput said "[T]he good news is we make the world" even in a fast-paced and fractured post-Christian society he described as unrecognizably transformed from just 60 years ago.

[T]he good news is we make the world.

Chaput told the 500-plus people gathered for the conference that this is a "privileged moment for Christians. My brothers and sisters, this is not a time to retreat from the world. We need to engage the world and convert it."

In urging both engagement and Christian hope, Archbishop Chaput did not sugarcoat American culture. He described it bleakly as one where one third of men and 40 percent of women will someday experience an anxiety disorder, where nearly half of men have contracted a sexually transmitted disease, and where "the birth control pill and the separation of sex from procreation have altered the fundamental meaning of sex."

Chaput advised young Catholics that the most important thing they can do is very basic.

"I tell them to love each other, get married, stay faithful to one another, have lots of children, and raise those children to be men and women of Christian character," the Philadelphia archbishop said. "The future belongs to people with children, not with things. Things rust and break. But every child is a universe of possibility that reaches into eternity, connecting our memories and our hopes in a sign of God's love across the generations. That's what matters. The soul of a child is forever."

The conference also featured Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, whose address tackled the "de-Christianization" of U.S. culture. Gomez stressed that the way forward in this time of cultural crisis is to turn to Mary.

"We need to consecrate our Christian lives and the church's mission to the Virgin," Archbishop Gomez said. "I think this is the answer to the challenges we face right now in our culture. The way forward for our church -- right now, in this moment -- is to 'return' to Guadalupe.”

"The apparition at Guadalupe was not a random occurrence. There are no coincidences in the providence of God. Our Lady did not appear only for the Mexican people," said Archbishop Gomez. Mary told St. Juan Diego at Guadalupe, "I am truly your compassionate mother; your mother and the mother to all who dwell in this land and to all other nations and peoples."

Within a few years after Mary's appearance, millions were baptized in Mexico and throughout the Americas.

"Guadalupe is the true 'founding event' in American history. And that means it is the true founding event in the history of our country -- and in the history of all the other countries in North and South America. We are all children of Guadalupe," Archbishop Gomez said.

The Guadalupe story is "the 'spiritual dawn' of the church's mission in the Americas," Archbishop Gomez said. "In God's plan, this is one continent. It is meant to begin a new civilization, a new world of faith. This is what Guadalupe is all about."

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