While caring for the poor is important, Barron said, this work “in and of itself can never be evangelically sufficient.”
“This is not the time for anti-intellectualism in our Church! We have lots of young people, you know them, they're your friends and colleagues, who are leaving the Church for intellectual reasons,” Barron said.
He called for a kind of “bold speech” needed to proclaim the Gospel, pointing to the preaching in the early Church, which challenged the widely held belief at the time that “Caesar is Lord.”
“The bold speech of the Church is that not ‘Caesar,’ or any of his colleagues or predecessors or successors, but rather Jesus is Lord, Jesus is the king. And he is also Christos, anointed.”
The Roman empire at the time, Barron said, was rather liberal with regards to new religions, yet still rejected the early Christians because they identified Jesus – and not Caesar – as the only Lord.
“If he is Lord, everything in your life belongs to him. Your personal life, yes. Your body, yes. Your friendships, yes. Your political life, yes. Your entertainment, yes. All of it.”
When Christianity becomes reduced to a mere message that can be gained from the dominant culture, Bishop Barron said, it moves from the faith of early persecuted Christians to one which is rewarded lavishly by others.
“That’s what happens to a weakened, attenuated Christianity,” he said.
“In the Acts of the Apostles we hear that when those first disciples spoke, people were cut to the heart. Still true, still true to this day. Bland spiritual teachings, saying what everybody else says, that won’t cut anyone to the heart, but trust me, declaring the lordship of Jesus, that’ll cut them to the heart.”
Bishop Barron highlighted Jesus’ role in light of the Old Testament, saying that only as a fulfillment of laws and the prophets does Jesus make sense. He pointed to St. Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin before his martyrdom, in which the saint summarized the entire Old Testament and then described Jesus’ ministry.
When Jesus is cut off from his roots in Israel, he becomes just a philosopher or wise figure, a “flattened out, uninspiring Jesus,” the bishop warned.
(Story continues below)
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In contrast, he said, “when you present Jesus as the fulfillment of the great story of Israel, Jesus as the fulfillment of the temple that was meant to bring humanity and divinity together, when you preach him as the fulfillment of the law and the covenant and the Torah, when you preach him as the culmination of all the proclamation of the prophets, people will be cut to the heart.”
Bishop Barron related a story he commonly tells of a little girl he met while working in Chicago who presented to him a detailed account of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” movies. He said that kids’ aptitude to memorize such complex plotlines and character names dispels the notion that they cannot understand the Bible.
“This great, rollicking, complex, rich story that we have, full of weird names, yeah, but no weirder than Obi-Wan Kenobi, right? The kids have no trouble with that. Don’t tell me they can’t understand the Bible. And therefore don’t tell me that they can’t appreciate Jesus as the culmination of that great story.”
The bishop ended his talk by encouraging conference attendees in prayer and asking them to help “remind the world whom they are to worship.”
“Everybody worships somebody or something,” he said. “Everyone’s got a king, right? Our job is to stand up boldly and say, ‘No, Christ is your king. Everything in your life belongs to him’.”