By Jen Reed
The Catholic Witness
As the Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania gathered at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg Sept. 27 to concelebrate Mass for those who serve in public office, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia told Catholic elected officials that God has given them a mission.
“To be a politician is to have a mission. It’s a noble vocation to be a leader in the community, to help draw the community into a deep commitment to the dignity of every individual and profound respect for the common good of everyone,” he said in his homily.
“That’s the vocation God gave you, and there’s no excuse for not being holy,” the archbishop remarked. “It’s an office that’s full of grace, and if God calls you to this, he’s going to give you the strength and the grace to accomplish his call.”
The Bishops of the Province of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) and the State Council of the Knights of Columbus organized the Mass, which took place in conjunction with the Bishops’ Board of Governors’ meeting. The following morning, the bishops gathered with state legislators for a breakfast sponsored by the Knights and the PCC.
In his homily, Archbishop Chaput, who was installed as Archbishop of Philadelphia Sept. 8, pointed to the day’s Scripture Readings and the messages they offer to those involved in government.
Reflecting on the First Reading (Zechariah 8:20-23), he spoke of the Gentiles’ being attracted to God by the ways of the Jewish people.
“The question we need to ask ourselves – whether we’re bishops or priests, politicians, Knights of Columbus or lay faithful – is, ‘Are we leading the kind of Christian life that would inspire other people who are not Christians to follow us to God?’” Archbishop Chaput asked. At this Mass, “we ask the Lord to give us a fresh start to that we might truly be a people that draws others to the Lord.”
He then spoke on the Gospel Reading (Luke 9:51-56) in which the disciples ask Jesus if they should call down fire upon those who would not welcome him.
“The disciples were angry, typical. But to be a disciple of Jesus is not to be typical. It’s to be different. It’s to be holy,” Archbishop Chaput said.
“What does this say to our lives? Some of us are committed to important issues of the Church, whether it be the life issues, whether it be immigration, whether it be the meaning of marriage, or school choice. We sometimes find ourselves in disagreement with the rest of society,” he said. “And sometimes those of us who are serious Christians get haughty, and we think we’re better than the rest.”
“Jesus is telling all of us gathered here today that no matter where we stand in his truth, it’s important that we stand firm in charity. Even when we encounter who people who fight with us, who disagree with us, or even hate us, the proper response of a disciple of Jesus is to love,” Archbishop Chaput remarked. “We stand firm where we stand. We stand clearly where we stand. We always stand with Jesus where we stand, and do so in love…. I think if we can do that, we’ll be much more successful and victorious in the task that he gives us.”
Harrisburg Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, President of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, said the Mass, breakfast and meetings that week afford the state’s Catholic bishops with occasions to work as one for the Church and her people.
“For me, it’s always wonderful to be with my brother bishops and especially to have the opportunity to gather and be able to discuss our leadership of our people,” he told The Catholic Witness. “We work together in communion so that we can be effective witnesses throughout the state of Pennsylvania and speak with one voice.”
The bishop’s gatherings with the legislators were taking place as both chambers of the General Assembly returned to Harrisburg to find pro-life legislation and school choice among the forefront of several issues. Archbishop Chaput said he was eager to address elected officials on those topics.
“The same thing is true about school choice,” he added, referring to its application to both private and public – which he defined as “government”
– schools. “Parents should have a choice and be helped by tax money to send their kids to school, especially those who for some reason or another aren’t comfortable with the government school. They should have a choice to consider private education as well as government education.”
Archbishop Chaput also stressed the obligation that Catholics have to participate in political life, whether as elected officials or as voters.
“Our citizenship is informed or guided by what we believe. We carry the faith of Christ into the marketplace, into the political arena,” he said. “The Church isn’t called to be present, the people of the Church are. The role of the bishops and pastors is to encourage the people to become politicians, to vote and to be engaged in political issues and to transform society through that engagement. We do believe in separation of Church and state, but we don’t believe in the separation of faith from the individual.”