Tom Hanks stars in a scene from the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.(CNS photo/Sony)
This year, the Christophers celebrate the 75th anniversary of our founding. It was way back in 1945 that Father James Keller, M.M., set out to remind a world recovering from war about Christ’s profound message of hope for us all. The Christophers became Father Keller’s vehicle for sharing that message in his own unique way.
God calls each of us to find unique ways to bring hope into the world, and looking at how others have done this can provide the necessary inspiration for us to chart a course that best fits our talents. One figure who continues to get much deserved attention for the influence he has had on our society is Fred Rogers. Last year, The Christophers honored a documentary about him, Won’t You Be My Neighbor; and now another film, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, is shining a spotlight on his life and work.
In A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, makes an appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show in a recreation of an interview that actually took place. In that interview, Hall laments the problem of hopelessness among young people and then asks Rogers what we can do about it. Rogers says, “We need to let people know that each one of them is precious.”
Those familiar with The Christophers will recognize the similarity between that answer and the message of Father Keller, who never tired of preaching about the inherent value of each individual. It’s safe to say that Father Keller and Fred Rogers were kindred spirits in many respects. This is evident in the acceptance speech Rogers gave in 2001 when we honored his work with a Special Christopher Award.
He reflected on the “holy ground” that exists between the needs of others and our good faith efforts to meet those needs. Rogers said, “The Holy Spirit can use whatever we offer to speak to another person’s heart.” Then he added, “The Christophers have recognized this for many years. You have known that the most important part of any communication is what takes place in that holy ground…beyond human control. And that will always be.”
The revival of interest in the work of Fred Rogers indicates that our society yearns for the culture of respect and love of neighbor that he tried to foster. This is a yearning near and dear to The Christophers’ mission, and it’s one that all people today can be a part of.
Consider the ways in which our society could grow in respect for human dignity–and then consider the gifts or talents bestowed on you, your family, or your community. Are there ways to direct those talents towards making the world a better place? There are situations most of us already find ourselves in where a renewed effort to bring joy and camaraderie would lift the spirits of those around us.
These are the kinds of things people like Father Keller and Fred Rogers would have done. Both had confidence in God’s ability to use their efforts to speak to another person’s heart. This confidence is essential if we are going to make the most of our own talents in working towards a better world. So know you are gifted by God with a purpose all your own, cultivate your talents, and do not hesitate to act for the greater good. God will meet you in that holy ground and add whatever else is needed to turn your efforts into a perfect offering.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note FATHER JAMES KELLER: MAN OF HOPE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org