Abp. Charles J. Chaput: Strong Families, Strong Selves

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By Charles J. Chaput, First Things, 3 . 12 . 21

Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is the archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia.

This essay is excerpted and adapted from the author’s forthcoming book (Holt, March 16), Things Worth Dying For: Thoughts on a Life Worth Living.

To borrow a thought from Catherine of Siena, nothing great is ever achieved without suffering. No one wants to suffer. No healthy person seeks to do so. But most people do know that accomplishing anything important is hard. Suffering can be fruitful if we understand its roots and channel it toward good ends.

Tocqueville saw that democracy isolates the individual in the name of liberty. Wendell Berry attacked the gigantism of modern life; how it turns persons into passive recipients of meaningless choices. And Christopher Lasch often spoke of “the minimal self.” Under siege, he claimed, a person’s self shrinks to a defensive core. Its focus becomes little more than psychic survival. In effect, despite all our culture’s noise about the wonders of “you” and “me” as individuals (i.e., each of us as consumers), the scope of our problems and institutions leaves us feeling powerless. …

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