Bishop Robert Barron, in addition to his duties as auxiliary bishop in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, the host of the Catholicism series, and writer at WordOnFire.org, somehow found the time to write, with the help of journalist John L. Allen Jr., a book designed to draw people to the Church by concentrating on its intellectual and artistic traditions, saints and martyrs, and popular culture: To Light a Fire on the Earth.
Subtitled “Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age,” To Light a Fire on the Earth is no puff piece. It challenges the reader to think about everything from discerning the truth to using social media to finding ways to reach out to people who have abandoned the Faith — or never been introduced to it. He’s not here to preach to the choir so much as he is to commission that choir to proclaim the Good News in unexpected ways in order to reach the people who aren’t venturing through church doors.
As a product of the era Bishop Barron describes as “banners and balloons Catholicism” myself, I appreciate his balanced approach to the developments in the Church in the past fifty years as well as his implicit invitation to make up for the evangelization I didn’t receive in CCD or Catholic middle school and high school during the 1970s and early 1980s. Unlike many authors who have found fault with the way Vatican II has been implemented, Barron does not advocate a return to preconciliar ways, but instead invites consideration of the ways in which the Council’s recommendations never came to fruition.
Dialogue between religion and culture dominated the conversation when I was a young man, and when I was coming of age as a student of theology. Yet it seemed to me it was always the Church reaching out to the culture, and not vice versa. The call for dialogue was coming almost exclusively from the Church. I didn’t see a lot of the avatars of culture interested in making themselves understandable to us, on our terms, and making contact with religion. A slogan I hears a lot as a young man was “The world sets the agenda for the Church.” That’s simply not the case. Vatican II called us to “read the signs of the times, ” and let me tell you, that phrase was used to produce a lot of beige Catholicism. It was taken to mean, “See what’s going on around you, and become like that.” No, the point wasn’t to accommodate those signs, but to read them in the light of the Gospel. Now, when you read culture through the Gospel, you’ll find good things, but also lots of bad things. The point is, the culture is not the interpretive lens for the Church. It’s Christ, and everything must be read through him. (p. 94)
Partly a biography/memoir, partly theological challenge, To Light a Fire on the Earth gives important insight into the way the Church works in the modern world and how Catholics need to reach out to others to engage them in the spiritual life of the Church.
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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
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