Helping families rebuild after a hurricane. One thousand ultrasounds. Insisting that the United States pay attention to a genocide of Christians in the cradle of their faith, in Iraq and Syria, where many Americans don’t even realize Christians are. Also, helping those displaced Christians rebuild, making it possible for them to stay and see a future there for their children. Paying attention to the history of the Americas, where the Mother of God is believed to have appeared pregnant with Jesus to a man named Juan Diego in 1531 and set off a flood of conversions that changed the face of Mexico — and the continent.
Since the Knights of Columbus became a political issue recently, a constant refrain I’ve seen on social media is something along the lines of “What do you mean, the pancake-breakfast guys?” The point being: Could you be picking on nicer guys? But it is so much more than that. The Knights of Columbus are about virtue and service. The United States — and the world — would not be the same without the Knights of Columbus. I’d have a lot less hope without the Knights of Columbus.
The Knights became an issue when two Senate Democrats questioned a judicial nominee about his membership in the Knights. Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard deserves some kind of Adult in the Room award for taking on the “fomenting religious bigotry” that the spectacle demonstrated. “While I oppose the nomination of Brian Buescher to the U.S. District Court in Nebraska, I stand strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers Buescher’s Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus,” she wrote.
Her op-ed was courageous and important. Because this is not a passing issue. It’s an ideological position, the idea that people who take their religious duties seriously should be relegated to a second class, punished for exercising their religious liberty. Think of the Little Sisters of the Poor having to go to the Supreme Court to protect their conscience rights during the Barack Obama administration, or the city of Philadelphia severing ties with Catholic Social Services. Such attempts to narrow religious liberty are happening at a time when we need more people to follow the example of those who practice their faith with enthusiasm — imagine how different the world might look, for instance, if every Christian took seriously the Beatitudes. We need that. We ought to want that, ecumenically.
In a series of videos last year, the Knights highlighted some “everyday heroes.” It wasn’t so much a commercial for the Knights — though it certainly couldn’t hurt them — as a challenge to be better. That’s what the Knights are about. They make money by selling families life insurance — a necessity in the world today — and then spend it to help families. The Knights help men know how to be good husbands and fathers in fellowship with other husbands and fathers who care about what’s going on in their communities. They are good neighbors. They are mentors.
Carl Anderson, the head of the Knights of Columbus since 2000, wrote one of the most sensible books about politics in recent years, Beyond a House Divided: The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street, and the Media. Backed by deep-dive polls that the Knights have been commissioning for over a decade now, he nudges us toward a better way, finding opportunities for common ground on some of the most contentious issues of the day.
As the Knights were in the news, I was at the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Indianapolis as 3,000 people waited in lines (45 minutes to an hour) one Friday to venerate a relic, the incorrupt heart of Saint John Vianney. Vianney was a priest who poured himself out in love for God’s people, hearing hours of confession every day and taking on acts of penance for the sin in the world.
Whatever you think of such pious practices and relics, the scene was remarkable and very K of C: families of all ages, with at least three generations in many cases. The sick. Priests. There was at least one active military man when I was there, sitting in the front row, praying for so many I know who are doing their best or don’t know how to do their best. There were people from clearly different income brackets and professions and states in life. That night after Mass, the heart moved onto the SEEK conference of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, with more than 17,000 in attendance, mostly college students. The Knight assigned to the relic’s current tour of the U.S. (its permanent home is a shrine in France) estimates that most of those in at the conference must have stopped by to venerate the relic as well, because the lines were always long. Just as soon as I returned to New York, a friend texted me a picture of her view of the same relic in a parish church in Columbus, Ohio. That heart is doing more to restore Catholic hearts in this time of scandal than we can ever know or understand — drawing us to prayer, rooting us in history, signaling to Heaven.
The Knights are far from an “extremist” organization that a judge ought to take leave of. To the contrary, we need more of the Knights. A judge needs the fraternity all the more. But every man, whatever his calling, can benefit. And we should be thankful that they’re a part of the life of our country. May they grow, and may we learn to treasure opportunities for virtuous fellowship and civic service, opportunities for encouraging one another to be our fullest and best.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.