On November 18, Archbishop Blase Cupich will begin his tenure as the Archdiocese of Chicago’s 9th prelate. My wife and I were blessed a few weeks ago to attend one final young adult “Pub Night” with the archbishop before he vacates his seat as Bishop of the Diocese of Spokane, where he spoke on the pope’s encyclical “Joy of the Gospel” and took questions from the audience on anything and everything. Lots of people have been saying lots of things about Pope Francis’ recent selection–good and bad, Christian and un-Christian, smart and dumb–but at the end of the day, I think Archbishop Cupich is a perfect choice to lead Chicago’s 6 million residents and 2 million Catholics, and here’s 5 reasons why:
1. He’s humble.
“If nobody cares who gets the credit, you can get a lot of work done.” -Blase Cupich
The best bishops are: a) ones who aren’t seeking the job before they get it; and b) the ones who do the job they’re called to do by putting their flock and the Church ahead of themselves. From living in an apartment in the diocese’s seminary building while in Spokane, to robust campaigns for helping Spokane’s poor population, to the creation of a fund to support Spokane’s Catholic schools and striving to meet his flock wherever they are, Archbishop Cupich has his priorities straight, which is always a good sign.
2. He’s prudent.
“Listen intently, respond forthrightly.” -Blase Cupich, written in America Magazine (2011)
Trained as a diplomat, Archbishop Cupich’s best work happens as a result of dialogue, not sound bytes. He strikes me as having no interest in providing pithy phrases to satisfy a 140-character limit, but, like Pope Benedict XVI, instead prefers to have multi-layered and complex answers to the questions he’s faced with.
His relative lack of “secular quotability” is something that might disappoint our dear friends in the media, but is sure to edify anyone who is willing to dive deep into the context and depth of Archbishop Cupich’s managerial and pastoral choices as the leader of a diocese and as a successor to the apostles.
3. He recognizes the importance of evangelizing young people.
“Wanting to see how everything will work out before you commit to something–you just have to get over it. You’ve got to seize the moment!” -Blase Cupich
One of the hotter topics at the pub night we attended, considering it was made up of 30 or so young adults, was the advice he had for young people looking to grow in their faith. Archbishop Cupich emphasized heavily that we, “must not lose our ethos, our Catholic identity,” while also mentioning the importance of staying faithful and not making the journey through life alone. It’s much easier to want to be on our own, he said, but “staying with it” in terms of our faith and our families, trusting God to call the shots and surrounding ourselves with people who love us, is what will bring us joy in the long run.
4. He loves the Church.
“The truth will win out.” – Blase Cupich, Homily for 2013 Respect Life Mass
As much as journalists like to limit their opinion of bishops to the monikers “conservative” or “liberal,” the world outside the 24-hour American news cycle likes to use full sentences (or paragraphs, or pages even! Gasp!) to describe individuals tasked with caring about the well being of souls. It’s insulting to classify Archbishop Cupich as a “liberal”, as many have done, when he is, in reality, so much more than that. Thomas Peters at CatholicVote.org said it well last month, “Yes, Bishop Cupich talks in a way that makes liberals feel comfortable, but the substance of what he says is almost always sound and orthodox.”
Archbishop Cupich is solid and stands firmly with the Church on the “pelvic issues” (abortion, contraception, marriage) and religious freedom right along with his pastoral and Christian commitment to social justice. That’s not to mention he’s stout on all things liturgy, obedience, hierarchy, doctrine, and the like. It’s not his fault that the media only reports on a small portion of it. Archbishop Cupich isn’t liberal or conservative, he’s a Catholic Christian. To call him anything else is a great disservice.
5. He trusts and loves the Lord.
“I think St. John XXIII said it best, ‘Well Jesus, it’s your church, I’m going to bed!'” -Blase Cupich
A bankrupt Spokane Diocese was what Archbishop Cupich inherited in 2010. After 4 years of hard work, he had literally just launched a 4-year pastoral plan to lead the diocese into the future when the call came from Rome that he was moving eastward. How easy it would have been for him to rail against Pope Francis’ decision, mentioning all the work he had left to do in Spokane, and how leaving now would spell failure for the diocese. Instead, however, he accepted his new role graciously and humbly, trusting that “The Lord will provide,” as the Pope’s American ambassador told him on the phone. If that isn’t trust, I don’t know what is!
When asked at pub night about his personal habits in the spiritual life, Archbishop Cupich shared with us, in his typical humble manner of speaking, his robust daily prayer life and devotion to Jesus. He rises early each morning (around 4:30 or 5 a.m.), spending at least an hour in prayer and another hour doing spiritual reading, not to mention saying Mass most days. Citing the physical therapy exercises he also has to do in the morning due to a bad back, he likened the spiritual life to a form of “stretching,” saying that without regular exercises of prayer we tend to tighten up spiritually and be less equipped to follow the calling the Lord has for us.
In light of the 5 things above, here’s some good guidelines for avoiding a misunderstanding about Archbishop Cupich, or any new bishop or pastor you encounter (Note: I’ve been guilty of breaking all three of the below, and speak from experience)
A great policy for assessing the beliefs of bishops and determining where they fall on the doctrinal spectrum is: a) check yourself before you wreck yourself…you might be being judgy and disrespecting the office of bishop at the same time; b) remember that they’re human and they sin, just like you; and c) do more homework than just reading Fox News or MSNBC before forming your opinions.
Early reports after Archbishop Cupich’s placement was announced had people calling him “The American Pope Francis.” Well, I think that’s correct, but for a different reason. Archbishop Cupich is like Pope Francis in that he tries to be more like Christ to the people he serves each day. That’s the kind of person I’d want leading me. May God bless his ministry in Chicago.
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