Our very own Trustee, Mr. James T. Brett, was the recipient of the Knights of Columbus Lantern Award last week in recognition of a lifetime dedication to public service and defense of the rights of our most vulnerable citizens. After receiving the award he delivered these remarks, urging all present to remember that "It is time – it is past time – for each of us to take the light from under the bushel basket. It is time for each Christian to be a lantern." I am grateful to Jim for his permission to reproduce his remarks for the benefit of our readers.
Thank you very much for that kind introduction. And thank you for choosing me to receive this prestigious award. It puts me in the company of people I don’t deserve to be in the company of. I am humbled and honored.
The lantern is an ancient symbol, but it is one that continues to have meaning for us. It is a symbol of light, of a light shining in the darkness, that the darkness could not grasp. A lantern can also be a signal beacon, a helping guide to show the way to travelers. It can be a sign of welcome, like Lady Liberty’s torch, held aloft beside the Golden Door. And it can be a call to action, as it was for Paul Revere and the embattled patriots of 1775. A lantern can be all of those things.
Our need for a lantern that is a light, a beacon, and a summons to action has never been greater. Anti-religious, and specifically anti-Christian, voices are dominating the elite culture. Some years ago, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger noted with sadness but also with some realism that Europe had entered a post-Christian phase. We in America owe a good bit of our heritage and traditions to the “old country,” and now we seem to have imported a post-Christian worldview from Europe as well. As Cardinal Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has plainly put it, traditional American Christians, whether Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Protestant, now find themselves to be “strangers in a strange land.” Those who hold and preach traditional Christian doctrines are branded by the self-appointed censors of the new post-modern worldview as bigots and even outlaws. It is religious belief itself that is being scorned.
Truth be told, we American Christians did not see the post-modern tsunami coming, and it washed over us before we recognized its danger, as tsunamis will do. Perhaps we recognized too late that we were not going to be helped by people we once thought, wrongly it turns out, were our friends. If Hollywood were to remake “On the Waterfront” today, Father Barry would be a bad guy.
There are inconvenient truths. And for many “forward looking thinkers” there are too many inconvenient people. People who believe in and value ancient truths, for example. Also, people who can’t be sufficiently productive; or people who use too much health care; and so on.
One example. The columnist George Will once wrote that the world would be a better place if it had in it more people with Down’s syndrome, who, Will said with his characteristic wit, “are really quite nice as human beings go.” Many people, however, including the cultural elites, are getting impatient with people with disabilities such as Down’s. People with disabilities are, or will soon become, an inconvenience. More and more they are prevented from being born in the first place, and more and more the agitation is rising to help them into death. Equal rights for all is current mantra. Nothing wrong with that. But for the disabled? The new rhetorical pitch is, “Death with dignity.” Dignity? Do you think when they say that they mean dignity as in being a precious child of God? It’s up to American Christians to take this, and similar challenges, with the seriousness they deserve.
The clock is ticking. We may already be in the second half. And we can’t pin our hopes on the emergence of a St. Doug Flutie who will rescue us at the last minute with a Hail Mary pass. A more realistic strategy will be to adopt the doctrine of old Woody Hayes of Ohio State, and concentrate on a relentless ground game. Remember? “Three yards and a cloud of dust.”
This game is not going to be won from the top down, but rather from the bottom up. It is not going to be won by politics, at least not politics alone. The Christian people of America have to reenergize themselves not as voters, but as Christian people. The field of battle will be the ordinary events of daily life.
The Knights have always done and continue to do great work at evangelization. And they can and should continue that great work. But I am talking about something else. I am talking about how we live and interact with those around us. It is time – it is past time – for each of us to take the light from under the bushel basket. It is time for each Christian to be a lantern.
I remember a time when someone might say of another person with a bit of disapproval, “He wears his religion on his sleeve,” as if that were show-offy, or too pushy. Now we know what pushy can get you.
Now more than ever, it is important for Christians in their daily lives not only to live their religion, but be seen to do so. To quote Cardinal Chaput again, “Real faith is always personal but never private.”
What do I mean? A couple of examples: On Ash Wednesday, get your ashes in the morning, not on the way home at night, and walk around all day making the proclamation: I am not embarrassed for being a practicing Christian. Make sure your friends and colleagues know that you have someplace to be on Good Friday afternoon, and it’s not a college basketball game. Perhaps prepare for yourself a little “elevator speech” about your faith, so that when somebody looks at you with puzzlement and says, “You really believe that, don’t you?”, you can reply, “I sure do, and here’s why.”
The lantern that called simple farmers into action against a mighty empire was hung in the steeple of a church. Remember that.
Thank you very much for this award. Be children of the light. Be a light to the world. In the face of the advancing darkness, be a lantern.