He noted that Joseph Ratzinger, who was a well-known theologian before he was elected pope and took the name Benedict XVI, noticed something similar.
He wrote: “It has been asserted that our century is characterized by an entirely new phenomenon: the appearance of people incapable of relating to God. As a result of spiritual and social developments, it is said, we have reached the stage where a kind of person has developed in whom there is no longer any starting point for the knowledge of God.”
In the face of this problem, Anderson said that the issue becomes “how to introduce a sense of transcendence.”
“Historically, this has been a function of art,” he noted.
“I think this is our situation today. After decades of static imagery and styles influenced by secular culture, it is time this secular matrix is broken by Christian artists with a coherent theological vision,” he said.
Anderson highlighted the work of the Slovenian artist Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, S.J., and his community of artists in Rome at Centro Aletti, who designed the Redemptor Hominis Church at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., along with many other churches.
He quoted St. Augustine, who wrote: “everything beautiful comes from the highest beauty, which is God.”
“Writing in Communio, David C. Schindler has asserted that ‘beauty is not accidental to religion but an inevitable expression thereof: the divine cannot enter into the physical differentiation of matter in time and space without thereby revealing its meaning-conferring unity, which is to say, without causing that matter to radiate forth a beauty that transcends it,’” he said.
The power of witness
Anderson also praised the work of the American film director Terrence Malick, who, he said, “has succeeded in introducing a spiritual and transcendent style into a contemporary artistic medium that opens an access to mystery and the sacred.”
Malick’s film, “A Hidden Life,” released in 2019, tells the story of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, the martyr who was executed in 1943 by the Nazis for refusing military service.
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“A farmer, parish sacristan, and Third Order Franciscan, Jägerstätter had numerous opportunities to avoid martyrdom, yet he refused to participate in military service for the Third Reich that required him to take the oath of allegiance to Hitler — all of which he considered a modern form of paganism,” Anderson said.
“Some months before his execution, Jägerstätter wrote, ‘What is demanded of us Christians today? … Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to learn from the lives of the saints so that we would know how the first Christians would have responded to today’s evil commands?’”
Anderson said that Christian witness provides a profound response to the horrors of the 20th century’s tragic history, as is also seen in the lives of St. Edith Stein and St. Maximilian Kolbe, who were “spiritual lights” in the darkness of Auschwitz.
“We are a pilgrim Church, and the implications of this reality are many. But surely one implication is that we remain faithful to our fellow pilgrims along the way — to keep faith especially with those who have given their lives in places like Auschwitz, Aleppo, Nineveh, and now Kyiv,” he said.
Noting that John Paul II called Kolbe “the patron of our difficult century,” Anderson suggested that Kolbe, Stein, and Jägerstätter could be considered “patrons of Christian witness in our century.”
Anderson also recalled that in the last hours of St. John Paul II’s life, thousands of young people gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray.