Whither American Catholicism?
Pope Francis may be the leader of a great awakening in America and the world.

Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus


LOPEZ: What can be done about bad Catholic public witness in America? As you know, it can lead to confusion and anger — and bad public policy.

ANDERSON: We are familiar with the observation that “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” We might say the same about public witness.

Bad public witness comes from not reconciling one’s life to the Gospel. We have to have the courage to say that this is the case. The solution is for people to commit first and foremost to living out their faith — including not only the teachings that may be easier for them to accept but also those that are difficult. The measure of faithfulness is not when we agree and it is easy, but when we may not agree or are in doubt or when it costs us something socially, economically, or politically to be faithful. This is the path we must pursue, and I think Pope Francis is a good example of how to do this.

LOPEZ: What’s going to happen to religious freedom in America?

ANDERSON: That will depend entirely on what people of faith do in the next several years. Our recent Knights of Columbus/Marist poll showed that nearly six in ten Americans will attend church on Easter. The real question is whether these people will be able to continue to influence American society for the better in the thousand different ways that people of faith have traditionally done so in America. Much of this will turn on whether religious freedom in America continues to be understood in terms of the First Amendment’s protection of the “free exercise” of religion or whether our freedom will be limited to a more narrow “freedom of worship.” In other words, will Americans continue to be able to live according to their fundamental religious beliefs or will the political order be able to have the last word regarding our values? What our nation’s strong tradition of religious freedom has meant in part is that it has been impossible for the state to have the last word on our values and our moral code. The protection of religious liberty depends on whether people of faith are willing to stand up for their beliefs in a respectful and civil manner, and whether our political and judicial institutions are willing to respect the opinions and contributions offered by religious people and institutions.

LOPEZ: How can Catholics in America live as Easter people?

ANDERSON: First of all, there is no Christianity without Easter. As Christians, we need a deeper understanding of this reality in our own lives in all its dimensions. We have to resist the secular temptation to reduce Christianity to merely a lifestyle or value system. Christianity is about a personal relationship with a living person. This changes everything and the more this reality enters into our own lives, the more it will be exhibited in our own relationships with others. This is the fundamental dynamic of Christian witness, and for Catholics this is the fundamental dynamic of the new evangelization. It is very clear that today there is a strong tendency toward a militant secularism in the United States. Ultimately this tendency will not be reversed by words alone. It will require both a personal and a community witness that there is a life that is more abundant than that of the closed horizon of materialism. The challenge, of course, is that we cannot share what we do not first possess.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.