by M. Francis Mannion
One of the brightest moments in the history on the Church in the U.S. in the past year was the appointment of Robert Barron as auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles. I got to know Fr. Barron over a decade ago when I was director of the Mundelein Liturgical Institute and he was professor of theology at Mundelein Seminary. Even then I was a fan.
In the intervening years, Barron has become what his late bishop Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I., described as “one of the Church’s best messengers.” He promises to be the first bishop since Fulton Sheen in the 1950s to gain a national reputation as a television evangelist.
In 2000, Barron established “Word on Fire Catholic Ministries,” which began to produce books and videos that gained international attention. He pioneered a new kind of evangelism, positive, beautiful, and compelling. He followed the formula proposed by Pope Benedict XVI and the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar that the two most attractive and irresistible aspects of Christian faith are its beauty and its holiness. In this, he rescued the word “evangelism” from the narrowness, dourness, and negativity that one so often finds in television evangelism.
Barron gained international reputation when he produced a ten-part documentary series called “Catholicism.” The series gained attention even in the secular media such as PBS. I could not exaggerate the power and beauty of “Catholicism,” which George Weigel, a national Catholic writer and commentator, described as “The most important media project in the history of the Catholic Church in America.”
Barron has long lamented the split in pre-Vatican II Catholicism between the intellectual and the spiritual. This had led to a theology that was dry and unappealing, and a spirituality that lacked much substance and depth. Furthermore, he has lamented what he calls the “beige Catholicism” that developed after Vatican II (not because of Vatican II!). By this he meant a watered-down understanding of Catholicism that lacked conviction and was minimalistic in content and tone. “Beige Catholicism” sadly led to a colorless style of catechesis and liturgical practice. This sort of Catholicism allows the culture to set the agenda for the Church, and to underplay the power and beauty of the Catholic tradition.
I could not recommend Barron’s books and DVDs highly enough. While some of his works (like “The Priority of Christ”) require some theological background, most do not, thanks to Barron’s crystal-clear writing style.
Here are the books I recommend for the general audience:
*And Now I See: A Theology of Transformation (1998)
*The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path” (2002)
*Word on Fire: Proclaiming the Power of Christ (2008)
*Seeds of the Word: Finding God in the Culture (2015)
*Vibrant Paradoxes: The Both/And of Catholicism (2016)
All of Barron’s DVDs are outstanding. Besides “Catholicism,” there are
*Untold Blessings: The Three Paths of Holiness (2005)
*Conversion to Christ (2006)
*Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Lively Virtues (2007)
*Catholicism: The New Evangelization (2013)
*The Mystery of God (2015)
All of these are available through “Word and Fire Catholic Ministries,” and through local Catholic bookstores and internet suppliers.
As a member of the Catholic hierarchy in the U.S., Bishop Barron will bring a new and fresh voice to the initiatives of the episcopate, and he will, I would guess, become the leading light in the U.S. Bishops’ ongoing commitment to finding new and compelling ways to proclaim the Gospel.
Robert Barron is a great gift to the Church in the U.S. and, indeed, throughout the English-speaking world. May he prosper in his new ministry as bishop!
Msgr. Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. Reprinted by permission of Catholic News Agency.