The West’s Christian heritage cannot be preserved by looking back, but only by looking forward and building “a genuine culture of Christian witness,” the former Knights of Columbus leader said Thursday during a a conference in Rome.
“The Church indeed carries within her the future of the world and that future depends in many ways on the extent to which each of us can build a genuine culture of Christian witness,” Carl Anderson said March 17.
Speaking at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, also known as the Angelicum, Anderson delivered a lecture for the St. John Paul II Institute of Culture in the alma’s aula mater of the Polish pope.
Former Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus says while it’s still important to ‘resist efforts to undo two millennia of Christianity in the West’, now is also the time to consider how Christianity can be ‘reintroduced’ in secular societies. .
“The Christian heritage of the West cannot be preserved by looking back. It can only be preserved by looking to the future,” Anderson said.
“Pope John Paul II clearly saw the problem when he challenged us to throw the doors wide open to Christ. To his saving power, open the borders of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development.
Anderson quoted Larry Chapp, a retired theology professor, who argued that “the Church in the West has made a deal with bourgeois, liberal modernity, creating a form of Catholicism that is boring (and) unattractive “.
“He argues that only a radical living of the gospel, as seen in the lives of individuals such as Dorothy Day, for example, ‘will suffice as an answer to the unique challenges of liberal modernity'”.
Anderson, who served as Supreme Knight from 2000 to 2021, added, “My experience leading more than 2 million members of the Knights of Columbus and their families tells me that when it comes to a life of Christian witness , the harvest may be more abundant than us. to know. Perhaps the problem is not so much that the workers are few, but that we have called on so few to show up to lead such lives.
He added that he believed what was needed was to provide “structure, training, guidance, accountability and opportunity to lay people, especially at the parish level.”
“And above all, calling our Catholic brothers to a better understanding of the Christian state of life, of the lay vocation and of the call to discipleship,” he said.
Beauty and transcendence
In his live-streamed lecture, Anderson also addressed the observation of political philosopher Charles Taylor, who wrote that human beings now live in a time when an entire population has “succeeded in experiencing (their) world entirely as immanent.”
He noted that Joseph Ratzinger, who was a well-known theologian before being elected pope and taking the name Benedict XVI, noticed something similar.
He writes: “It has been asserted that our century is characterized by an entirely new phenomenon: the appearance of persons incapable of relating to God. As a result of spiritual and social developments, it is said, we have reached the stage where a kind of person has developed in whom there is no longer any starting point for the knowledge of God.
Faced with this problem, Anderson said the question becomes “how do we introduce a sense of transcendence”.
“Historically, this has been a function of art,” he noted.
“I think that’s our situation today. After decades of static imagery and styles influenced by secular culture, it is time for this secular matrix to be broken by Christian artists with a coherent theological vision,” he said.
Anderson highlighted the work of Slovenian artist, Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ, and his community of artists in Rome at Centro Aletti, who designed the Redemptor Hominis Church at St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington , DC, as well as many other churches. .
He quoted Saint Augustine, who wrote: “all that is beautiful comes from the highest beauty, which is God”.
“Writing in Communio, David C. Schindler asserted that “beauty is not accidental to religion but an inevitable expression of it: the divine cannot enter into the physical differentiation of matter in time and space without thus revealing its unity conferring meaning, which is to say, without radiating this material with a beauty that transcends it”, he declared.
The power of testimony
Anderson also praised the work of American director Terrence Malick, who he said “succeeded in introducing a spiritual and transcendent style into a contemporary artistic medium that opens up access to mystery and the sacred”.
Malick’s film, “A Hidden Life”, released in 2019, tells the story of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, the martyr who was executed in 1943 by the Nazis for refusing military service.
“A farmer, parish sexton and Third Order Franciscan, Jägerstätter had many opportunities to avoid martyrdom, but he refused to participate in the Third Reich military service which required him to swear allegiance to Hitler – everything what he considered a modern form of paganism,” Anderson said.
“A few months before his execution, Jägerstätter wrote: ‘What is expected of us Christians today? … Wouldn’t it be worth learning from the lives of the saints so that we know how the early Christians would have responded to the evil commandments of today?
Anderson said Christian witness provides a profound response to the horrors of tragic 20th century history, as also seen in the lives of Saint Edith Stein and Saint Maximilian Kolbe, who were “spiritual lights” in the darkness of Auschwitz.
“We are a pilgrim Church and the implications of this reality are many. But one of the implications is certainly that we remain faithful to our fellow pilgrims along the way – to keep the faith, especially with those who gave their lives in places like Auschwitz, Aleppo, Nineveh and now Kyiv,” did he declare.
Noting that John Paul II called Kolbe “the patron of our difficult century,” Anderson suggested that Kolbe, Stein, and Jägerstätter could be considered “the patrons of Christian witness in our century.”
Anderson also recalled that in the last hours of St. John Paul II’s life, thousands of young people gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray.
Informed of their presence, the pope behind the first World Youth Days is said to have said: “I looked for you. Now you have come to me and I thank you.
“This ultimate encounter between young Christians and John Paul II, as well as the remarkable history of World Youth Day, testifies to the expectation of a new generation eager to experience the sacred and spiritual depth, but also to to have the opportunity for a Christian witness,” Anderson said.
“Reflecting on this during his homily for the inauguration of his own pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI said: ‘It has become marvelously clear to us that the Church is alive. And the Church is young. It carries within itself the future of the world and thus shows each of us the way to the future.’”