Denver archbishop speaks with Catholic cadets

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Don Branum
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
The head of the Catholic Church's Denver archdiocese visited the Air Force Academy Oct. 25 to speak with some of the Academy's Catholic cadets.

Archbishop Charles Chaput discussed military service as a vocation and how traditional Christian knighthood concepts apply to the present-day military.

"I'm going to skip telling you how talented you are," Bishop Chaput said. "You already know that. You wouldn't be here if you weren't. What you'll discover as you get older is that the world has plenty of very talented failures -- people who either didn't live up to their abilities, or who did but did it in a way that diminished their humanity and their character."

The archbishop went on to explain how the nation needs wise leaders, not simply talented or "clever" leaders.

"Wisdom -- not merely the knowledge of facts or a mastery of skills, but wisdom about ourselves, other people and the terrain of human life -- this is the mark of a whole person," he said. "We need wise leaders, and the wisest leaders ground themselves in humility before God and the demands of God's justice."

Bishop Chaput asked the cadets in the audience to protect the character they build here and remember the leadership they learn here, as they will need both traits in both their military and civilian careers.

"I think it's true -- I know it's true -- that my generation has, in some ways, been among the most foolish in American history," said Bishop Chaput, who was born in 1944. "We've been absorbed in our appetites, naïve about the consequences of our actions, overconfident in our power and unwilling to submit ourselves to the obligations that come with the greatest ideals of our own heritage."

The bishop said that while most Americans inherited a nation that is "different in degree" from prior generations, the cadets will inherit an America that is "different in kind": a nation with different views toward family, religion, sexuality and the nature of the human person.

"My generation created this new kind of America," he said. "Soon we will leave the consequences to you. Where the leadership and moral character of my generation failed, you need to succeed. The task of Christian moral leadership that will occupy much of your lives in the future will not be easy. It will place heavy demands on people like you who learned discipline and integrity in places like this."

Military service, he said, is more than a profession: it is a vocation, a calling that the Catholic Church recognizes as not only "acceptable" but potentially much more.

"When lived with a spirit of integrity, restraint and justice, military service is virtuous," Bishop Chaput said. "It's ennobling because, at its best, military service expresses the greatest of all these virtues: charity, a sacrificial love for people and things outside and more important than oneself."

Sacrificial service rooted in a living Catholic faith is the essence of Christian knighthood, the bishop said. St. Bernard of Clairvaux described the ideal Christian knights as men "who live as brothers in joyful and sober company (with) one heart and one soul."

"There is no distinction of persons among them, and deference is shown to merit ..." St. Bernard wrote. "They rival one another in mutual consideration, and they carry one another's burdens, thus fulfilling the law of Christ."

While life has changed since the 12th century, the basic Christian vocation has remained the same, Bishop Chaput said, and so have the virtues of every truly Christian knight: "humility, austerity, justice, obedience, unselfishness and a single-minded zeal for Jesus Christ in defending the poor, the weak, the Church and persecuted Christians."

The Church and the nation need courageous and Godly men and women more now than at any time in its history, the bishop said.

"This is why the catholic ideal of knighthood, with its demands of radical discipleship, is still alive and still needed. A new 'spirit of knighthood' is what we need now -- unselfish, tireless, devoted disciples willing to face derision and persecution for Jesus Christ. We serve our nation best ... by proving our faith with the example of our lives."

Archbishop Chaput is a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe and a native of Concordia, Kan. He was named archbishop of Denver Feb. 18, 1997, by Pope John Paul II, making him the first Native American archbishop. He was ordained bishop of Rapid City, S.D., Feb. 18, 1997, to become the second Native American to be ordained bishop in the United States.

Editor's Note: This story is part of an ongoing series covering religious expression and diversity at the Air Force Academy.