Father Robert Barron, rector of Mundelein Seminary outside of Chicago, has produced a new video series emphasizing the primacy of beauty in drawing people to Christ.
“Let's start with the beauty of the faith … I wanted to start with the splendor of it,” Fr. Barron, a priest of the Chicago archdiocese, told CNA June 27. “I don’t talk about any of the hot button issues.”
Slated for release on DVD this August, “Catholicism: The New Evangelization,” explores the Church's mission in contemporary culture. The program follows Fr. Barron's critically acclaimed, high-definition “Catholicism” series of 2011, which aired on PBS nationwide.
His approach to the new evangelization – the late Blessed John Paul II's term for reaching formerly Christian societies – tends to begin with “something in the culture that people are watching or paying attention to.”
The priest, who founded global media group Word on Fire, said is able to find in these things something “that speaks to the Catholic faith, that reflects the Catholic faith.”
“So it’s more of affirmative orthodoxy; a positive approach,” he said. “And I think that intrigues people.”
The series focuses on the new evangelization because “it's what we need, as a Church.” It grew out of conversations Fr. Barron had on trips to Australia and England, looking at what is “drawing people in these very secularized societies back to the Church.”
The election of Pope Francis has given the Church the opportunity of a new, more positive narrative in the mainstream media, and Fr. Barron suggested that “maybe they are captivated by Francis.”
In concert with his focus on beauty as a route for the new evangelization, the priest said, “I want to get people off of the one-sided stress on sexual ethics.”
While acknowledging that sexual ethics are “very important,” he said the singular emphasis on this one facet of Church teaching “distorts the message.”
“If you read the New Testament, yes there's a sexual ethic implicit in the New Testament, but would you get the impression that's the one thing that we're supposed to do – we're supposed to get people clear on their sexual lives?”
No, he answered, the primary calling of Christians is “declaring the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, declaring the kingdom of God breaking into history, declaring this revolution that's wrought grace.”
“Now an implication of that is, get your sexual lives in order, towards love.”
But rather than focusing all one's message on sexual ethics, he declared, “I'd like to widen the lens a little bit.”
CNA spoke with Fr. Barron at a Catholic media conference in Denver shortly after a talk he gave, which touched on the “balloons and banners” era following the Second Vatican Council. A time, he noted, when there was a “dumbing down” of catechesis in much of the Church.
Asked if he thinks that era is starting to change, he responded, “not enough.”
“I worry about that … it needs to change.” The Church needs “a couple of saints, who will really raise up armies of teachers,” Fr. Barron said.
The generations of Catholics formed under Benedict XVI and in John Paul II's later years need “to go for advanced studies in philosophy and theology, so they can pass the thing on in a sophisticated way,” he reflected.
Going along with this, he said Catholics colleges must “become a breeding ground of Catholic intellectual life,” having professors, not only in philosophy and theology, but all the disciplines, “whose teaching is informed by their faith.”
Fr. Barron called it a “tragedy” that so many Catholic universities have “secularized themselves … aping Princeton and Harvard.”
He promoted Vatican II's idea that Catholic laypeople are called to be “great Catholics in the world.”
Rather than privatizing their faith, Catholics – whether business leaders, politicians, or media personalities – should let that faith inform their “decisions, approach, attitude.”
This is “tricky,” he emphasized, saying that “if you're a media person you can't say, 'I'm going to be announcing Jesus Christ risen from the dead as I do the evening news.'”
And yet, he calls for the “still unrealized Vatican II vision … of the laity Christifying the world” by refusing to privatize their Catholic faith.
Letting faith inform one's decisions in public: “that's evangelization,” Fr. Barron said.