Book Review

Strangers In A Strange Land
Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World

Charles J. Chaput
Henry Holt And Company (21 Feb 2017)
ISBN: 978-1627796743  (Also in Kindle Format)

Book CoverCharles Chaput is the Archbishop of Philadelphia and is one of the most influential Catholic leaders in our age. This book proved to be a tonic. Many Christians are beginning to feel that they are strangers in a post-Christian world. The author seeks to reassure us that this is no bad thing and he does so by having recourse to the teachings of the Church, obviously, and also by quoting from the works of Augustine, an obvious favorite, and several more recent authors including Peguy, Rilke, Guardini and MacIntyre.

Christians are meant to be in the world but not of it, reminds the author. Or, as Augustine puts it, we live in the City of Man but are meant ultimately for the City of God. And while we are in the City of Man, we will encounter those who are effective enemies of truth: did not Our Lord talk about the wheat and the chaff? The powerful voices of the purveyors of anti-truth will not disappear and we should not expect anything different.

As I read this book , I was constantly reminded of those words of the great Archbishop Sheen: we are at the end of Christendom, not Christianity. All the great institutions that were once considered Christian, or at least in harmony with its principles, are collapsing: marriage, family life, education and culture in general. There are few Christian "props" for us out there in society. What matters is what is in here, the interior life. We are like the early Christians confronting a pagan world. Theirs was a world of abortion, infanticide, adultery and sexual deviance, much like ours. But they did not despair and nor should we. There is a clear distinction to be made between dissatisfaction and despair, says the author.

Chaput examines our current pathologies in detail: moral relativism, the destruction of family life, the ridiculing of virtue in general and perhaps chastity in particular.

So, what is the remedy against despair? We need to look to the person of Christ, says Chaput, and we need to look less at our all too fragile leaders. We need to be men and women of truth. We are called to serve our neighbour, especially the most vulnerable in our society. It is all too easy to blame others for the state we are in. We are called to examine our own conscience in the light of the Gospel and do the ordinary things of each day well. 

Perhaps this is now more difficult than before. It was not that long ago when the people of the United States shared certain values, whether they were Protestant or Catholic. Those shared values have now largely disappeared due, in part, to advances in technology, the birth control pill and the subsequent sexual revolution and a radical feminism which has little in common with the early feminism advocated by a largely Christian group of women and men. 

The results of the sexual revolution are now so very apparent in the untamed Eros which seeks to make men and women ignoble and self-centred. Ultimately, only friendship with God will channel Eros in ways that will enable us to serve others and not ourselves. 

Chaput does not ask the question that I find myself asking frequently: what are we to do when we feel strangers in a strange Church? We now have a situation of open scandal and even schism: Cardinals against Cardinals, bishops against bishops. I suspect that the remedy is much the same: do not despair in your dissatisfaction. 

Chaput has given us much to think about. He does not supply us with all the answers and nor can he. 

Reviewed by Dr Pravin Thevathasan