In this time of world crisis brought on by advancing inroads of materialism and godlessness, first-line Christophers have it in their power to snatch faith from disaster if they can be found in sufficiently large numbers to carry Christ into the marketplace.
Father James Keller, M.M. who founded The Christophers sixty-five years ago wrote those words then, but their relevance holds true today.
Born in 1900, the young James Keller developed an interest in missionary work and the priesthood. Though he entered the seminary for a time, he felt unsure that this was his true vocation and opted to work in a family candy store until he could decide. One day, a priest named Father Ryan came into the store to buy something and Keller started discussing his decision to leave the seminary, seeming to want confirmation that he had done the right thing. But Father Ryan told him, "I'm not going to take it on my conscience to tell you not to go back to the seminary. After all, in God's plan, there may be thousands of people whose salvation depends on what you may do for them as a priest."
In his autobiography, Father Keller wrote, "I began to see that failure on my part to be an instrument of the divine plan could, in a minor way at least, deprive others of blessings that rightfully belonged to them and that were to be sent through one person like myself." This notion that we each have a particular mission to fulfill in life became an integral part of Father Keller's philosophy.
Father Keller eventually joined the Maryknoll order because of their missionary zeal. During a trip through the Far East in 1928, he grew troubled at the ever-increasing destruction wrought by communism in China. Communists, he observed, instilled their followers with a sense of personal mission in shaping the world. It was a mission, however, contemptuous of God-given human dignity. Christians, on the other hand, were often apathetic about changing the world despite Christ's command to share His love with everyone. From then on, Father Keller encouraged the concept of constructive action in all his talks.
Another pivotal moment for Father Keller came during a meeting at New York's Metropolitan Opera House during which he entered the completely darkened auditorium and couldn't see a thing. The person he was with lit a match and set off to find the light switch. Father Keller recalled, "The sight of that tiny flame made an indelible impression on me. Insignificant as it was, it was greater than the darkness. All that was needed to banish the darkness completely was to multiply that flicker of light."
That's exactly what Father Keller set out to do when he founded the Christopher movement in 1945. He chose the name The Christophers because it means "Christ-bearer" in Greek, and adopted as the movement's motto the old Chinese proverb, "It's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness."
Though some people initially saw The Christophers as an anti-communist organization, Father Keller was quick to point out that his central goal was not to be against something bad, but rather to support something good. He said, "One of the best ways to cure a starving patient is to build him up with nourishing food; the best way to cure this disease in our society is to build up society itself with good ideas and ideals."
Father Keller realized this wouldn't be an easy task. He wrote, "To be a Christ-bearer must mean sacrifice, loss of time, inconvenience, suffering, misunderstanding, and countless disappointments that truly try men's souls. Still, the answer is in our hands."
The popularity of The Christophers grew -- even among non-Catholics -- and eventually attracted the attention of Hollywood. Academy Award-winning director Leo McCarey (Going My Way, The Bells of St. Mary's) signed on to create a half-hour film that conveyed Christopher ideals in an entertaining way. Father Keller likely never envisioned that he would someday share the screen with celebrities like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Loretta Young, and Ann Blyth but such was the case with the film You Can Change the World, which was based on his best-selling book.
The advent of television presented an opportunity for more Christopher films and eventually a weekly talk show that featured Father Keller and guests discussing their lives, work, and the application of Christopher principles in the world.
Other initiatives (which are ongoing) included Christopher News Notes, bulletins that show how people can apply divine principles to modern life; the Christopher Awards, which honor books, films, and TV programs that affirm the highest values of the human spirit; and the Christopher Leadership Course, which trains people to improve their public speaking and interpersonal skills.