A Vision of Hope

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1/30/2008

What was the genesis of your book, A Civilization of Love?

Anderson: In one sense, the book began on Oct. 7, 1979, at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., when I attended Pope John Paul II’s Mass during his first visit to the United States. I still remember clearly the sky beginning to darken, the pope’s green vestments blowing in the wind, his hand resting on his silver pilgrim’s cross and the Capitol dome behind him.

John Paul II changed my life that day — although at the time I did not know how much. All I knew was that nothing would be quite the same.

Were you involved with the Knights at the time?

I was not yet a member of the Knights. There wasn’t a council in my parish. Later, I learned that the pope had given the Order’s officers and directors a private audience at which he thanked the Knights for their “solidarity with the mission of the pope.”

A few months later I was in Rome to speak at an international conference on family life. I met the Holy Father then for the first time. On another trip I was invited to meet with him privately in the papal residence to provide further details on some of the issues I had spoken about at the family conference. Then, for nearly 25 years, I had the privilege of similar meetings with John Paul on the themes he had spoken of that afternoon on the Mall: the nature of marriage, of the family and the value of human life.

How would you describe the book?

It is a collection of essays to explain what role Catholics are to play in society by exploring the implications of John Paul II’s call to build “a “a civilization of love.” During very few periods of history have Catholics confronted such profound and complex challenges as they have in the past 100 years. Catholics in North America have responded faithfully to challenges ranging from bigotry and poverty to world war and immigration. Some of these challenges still remain, and we face new ones as well. I wrote the book to encourage Catholics to make greater efforts to influence the culture precisely as Catholics.

Some of the themes and ideas are ones I have written about in Columbia and elsewhere since becoming supreme knight in 2000, so brother Knights will be familiar with them. The book allowed me an opportunity to expand upon those ideas and others for Knights and their families, and for a broader audience.

The overall message of the book might be summarized by the two-word phrase the Knights of Columbus has adopted over time as a fraternal greeting: Vivat Jesus! (May Jesus live!), which is to say, “May he live in my life and through me for others.”

In various ways, you address the claims that Christianity has no place in the public square and that it no longer has relevance for people’s lives.

Several influential thinkers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries vehemently opposed Christi-anity, seeing it as an irrational understanding of man and the world that enslaves rather than sets free. Today, their ideas have given way to what might be called a “culture of suspicion.” Many believe the theological and philosophical assertions of Christianity do not and should not have any application in the “real world.”

To the contrary, both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have responded by demonstrating that quite the opposite is true. They cite the teachings of Vatican II, particularly the insight of the pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes: “The truth is that only in the mystery of of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light” (22). In order for a society to be truly human, it must be grounded in Christian values.

Because natural law is rooted in divine law, and faith and reason are not opposed to one another, the truths of our faith are not irrelevant to how we understand the world and the nature of man. The Christian understanding of authentic freedom, human dignity and love are neither abstract articles of faith nor unattainable ideals. They are practical truths about reality. At the end of each chapter, I include a series of suggestions for both contemplation and action, so readers can meditate upon the principles discussed and implement them in their daily lives.

You cite a number of Knights and events from the history of the Knights throughout the book. The book’s introduction recounts the heroic death of Knight and New York firefighter Lt. Daniel O’Callaghan at the World Trade Centers on Sept. 11, 2001.

I never had the privilege of meeting Brother O’Callaghan or any of the dozens of other brother Knights who were killed on 9/11 as first responders or otherwise. But I have thought about them often. I was told that Lt. O’Calla-ghan had the habit of leaving little messages for his wife and children before he left for work in the morning; often he would write simply “I love you.” I believe he was helping to build a culture of life and civilization of love every day of his life as a Knight and firefighter. Each of us has that same choice to make. Do we have the courage to make that choice? The book draws inspiration — as do I — from the dedication and sacrifices of many Knights.

One chapter addresses the role of the family in transforming and shaping the culture. Why is the breakdown of the family today so significant?

Like the classical philosophers, the Catholic Church has always understood the family, not the individual, to be the most basic cell of the society. In fact, the Church goes a step further and sees the family founded on Christian marriage as a “domestic church,” with an indispensable role in evangelization and the formation of Christian character. The family stands at the center of building a culture of life, and the fate of all of humanity is intimately tied to it. For this reason, perhaps now more than ever, there is a need for Catholics to be witnesses of the beauty and indissolubility of authentic married love. Strengthening Catholic family life is one of the great contributions of our Order to society.

The prevalence today of divorce, cohabitation, contraception and adultery can be traced, in part, to false ideas about the nature of human love and freedom, and even to false ideas about God. The central mystery of our faith and Christian life is the doctrine of the Trinity, which tells us that God is an eternal communion of divine Persons, a communion of love. Because we are created, as Genesis says, in God’s “image and likeness,” we are not merely isolated “individuals” but fundamentally in relationship with others. Moreover, who we are as men and women has its source in the Trinitarian mystery, and every person is created with an innate vocation to love. This reality has vast implications with regard to both our most intimate relationships and all of society.

In another chapter you comment on an elite group of international political, business and intellectual leaders annually at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and how their meetings are shaping much of life today. In another chapter, you recount walking past a group of day laborers in a plaza in Mexico City. In a sense, these are the stark contrasts of the effects of globalization. What role do we have in bringing these two seemingly disparate realities closer together?

There is no reason why Catholics cannot build upon the foundation of the Church’s landmark teachings on the “gospel of work” explained in encyclicals like Rerum Novarum and Laborem Exercens to dramatically influence the future course of globalization. The great social encyclicals have told us that when business is viewed in terms of mere short-term profitability, morality and humaneness may never look advantageous.

Let’s consider the situation from the standpoint of the number of persons on the planet living in dire poverty — living on less than $2 per day. At the end of the 20th century, that was nearly 1 billion persons and approximately 300 million lived on less than $1. Helping them can only proceed in the long term when it is based upon spiritual and moral values.

Pope Paul VI insisted that we must work for economic and social transformation from less human conditions to truly human ones. Catholics especially should not permit the discussion of globalization to continue in terms of a false choice between material progress versus moral values.

Undoubtedly globalization will continue. What remains to be seen is whether Catholics and especially those in business and government will choose to adopt as that ethical criteria “serving the human person, created in the image and likeness of God.” Our answer to that question will make all the difference. Here again the Knights of Columbus provides a great example through our insurance program of a person-centered approach to business.

Indeed, the theme of the human dignity is one you often return to throughout the book. You suggest there has been an ideological shift in our culture, in its permission of things such as abortion and euthanasia.

The atrocities of the last century, such as what occurred at the Nazi death camps, are in a certain sense beyond comprehension. But the philosophical ideas that led to such horrors are also at the root of our current “culture of death.”

For one thing, the concept of human liberty has become distorted and disconnected from an understanding about the sanctity of human life. The common idea that a person can be “personally opposed” to abortion, yet see it as a fundamental human right is utterly incoherent.

Yet, it is still not enough to be simply against abortion. For John Paul II, it was also essential that people work to make abortion an unthinkable solution to problems, and he called for a “great campaign in support of life.” In order to embark on such a campaign, we must recover several fundamental principles, beginning with the acknowledgment of the incomparable dignity of every human being. Also, people have value in themselves, and should never be seen as objects or a means to an end. Lastly, the intentional killing of an innocent human being can never be justified.

These ideas extend beyond the “life issues” to every aspect of our society, including to how we relate to one another. We need to have the courage to become, in the words of John Paul II, “a people of life and a people for life.”

You state that the Synod for America which Pope John Paul held in 1997 was one of the important events for the future of the Catholic Church. Why?

First, John Paul II chose to speak not of the “Americas,” but of “America” in the singular in order to emphasize everything that the people of South, Central and North America share in common, including a common Christian identity.

Second, according to some projections, by the year 2020 Latin Americans, combined with Africans, will make up 60 percent of all Catholics. That’s a reality the Church in North America needs to embrace, and quickly. Most of us in the United States have not thoroughly understood the implications of these realities.

What needs to be done? Catholics in the United States must take up the challenge to transcend national boundaries in the work of charity and justice throughout the Western Hemisphere and ultimately around the globe. The Knights of Columbus is the largest Catholic organization in the world — not just in America. Therefore, the only conclusion is that the Knights of Columbus must take the lead on these issues.

One of the greatest tests of whether the Catholic Church is ready to help the nations of the Western Hemisphere move toward greater ethical maturity will involve our ability to integrate Hispanic Catholics into the Catholic community and then into the larger society within the United States. Today, 39 percent of American Catholics are Hispanic; in the not too distant future, the majority of U.S. Catholics will be of Hispanic heritage.

Our goal must be to create a vibrant American Catholic community that reaches from Alaska to Antarctica so that our shared values and faith become a light to the entire world.

Catholics on both sides of the North America-South America divide must take the initiative to promote a Catholic solution to the problems of poverty and economic inequity. That is the only way we are going to resolve the thorny issue of illegal immigration.

Your book is coming out near the close of the Order’s 125th anniversary year. Do you see its lessons guiding or shaping the Order’s work for the next 125 years?

Maybe not for the next 125 years, but I hope for the next ten. After all, the issues addressed in the book will still be with us. Father McGivney’s vision remains as relevant today as ever, and we Knights have never had greater resources to address them.

We’re on the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to the United States as pope, and I cannot help but think of something he said shortly before his election as pope in 2005. Our greatest need today, he said, is for people who will make God credible in this world.

I believe that an extraordinary expression of this insight can be seen in the daily work of the Knights of Columbus. Ours is a unique, family-centered approach to charity within local communities and it is based on a special unity of fraternal brotherhood within a Christian perspective. St. Benedict, in his Rule for his monks, wrote, “Let them practice fraternal charity with a pure love.” I think that we Knights must apply that teaching in our personal encounters within our family and the larger society. That is the primary path for building a culture of life and a civilization of love.

Your book is also coming out in the United States just as the presidential election campaigns are picking up steam as we head toward November. Any thoughts?

Having worked in the White House for President Reagan, I would say it is more important than ever for Catholics to be involved in public policy. I would say that ultimately the power of Catholics to transform our society into a culture of life and a civilization of love will lie in the power of their example more than in the ballot box, even though the ballot box is important.