United for Life

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9/1/2008

Being a Catholic means accepting the Church in its entirety, especially in respecting the lives of all.

by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson

Carl A. Anderson

In his 1968 book Introduction to Christianity (Ignatius), Pope Benedict XVI — then Father Joseph Ratzinger — takes up a question that he describes as a “basic stumbling-block” to the Christian faith. He puts the issue this way: “It irritates us that God should have to be passed on to us through outward forms: through Church, sacrament, dogma…. All this provokes the question, Does God dwell in institutions, events or words? As the eternal Being, does he not make contact with each of us from within? … God needs no intermediary channels by which to enter the soul of the individual…nothing can reach more intimately and deeply into man than he” (p. 183).

We have all heard these concerns before. Protestants sometime object to what they regard as the manmade structure of the Catholic Church and defend the lack of similar structure in their own faith communities. We also hear from those who do not belong to any church because they see no need for organized religion; they are quite content with their own personal relationship with God.

Both these arguments seem to resonate well in societies with a long Protestant tradition and also where increasing secularism finds little place for strong Church institutions.

Interestingly, Pope Benedict agrees with the fundamental insights of both questions: God does not dwell in manmade institutions and he has no need of anything, including intermediary channels. But Benedict insists there is a further truth to consider.

He writes, “precisely at this point we must also add the further statement: Christian faith is not based on the atomized individual but comes from the knowledge that there is no such thing as the mere individual, that on the contrary man is himself only when he is fitted into the whole.” He later adds, “Being a Christian means essentially changing over from being for oneself to being for one another” (p. 190).

In other words, to be a Christian is to be brought into a community and into a tradition. As Christians we find a new unity, and no one can really speak or act as a Christian simply on his own. Msgr. Joseph Murphy, author of Christ Our Joy: The Theological Vision of Pope Benedict XVI (Ignatius, 2008) and an official at the Vatican Secretariat of State, puts it this way: “To speak or act as a Christian means that one is never simply an isolated self. To become a Christian entails accepting the Church in her entirety into oneself or, more precisely, it means allowing oneself to be interiorly accepted into her.”

This observation has deep meaning for the Knights of Columbus, committed as we are to the principles of charity, unity and fraternity. It gives rise to our strong tradition of solidarity with our priests, bishops and popes, and explains why we work so hard to help build up our parishes. It is also why, following Pope Benedict’s trip to the United States last April, we seek more strongly to follow him in building up our Church.

It also has great meaning as we continue to strive to be what Pope John Paul II called us to be: a people of life and a people for life — united as Catholics in the great cause of defending life, especially at its most vulnerable stages. Unfortunately, being pro-life remains a “stumbling-block” for some Catholics. On this issue they have isolated themselves from the Catholic tradition. As Knights, our duty is always to promote unity within the Church. We must increase our efforts to help every Catholic see more clearly that being Catholic means accepting the Church in its entirety, especially in respecting the lives of all. Building up the culture of life is the task of every Catholic.

Vivat Jesus!