The Catholic world in the US has been bursting at the seams in the past few months, following the release of Catholicism, an adult catechesis program produced by Word on Fire and under the guidance of Fr. Robert Barron. The program includes 10 episodes on DVD and has been described as a visual catechism. It also has a workbook for participants at parish programs and a hardback book that comes in slightly under 300 pages that gives some detail not found in the video presentations.
A Champion of the Catholic Story
Fr. Barron has so often said in his Youtube videos (which are an incredible resource in and of themselves) that too often in the modern era, the Catholic story is being told, but it is being told by the wrong people. He says it's been told from the outside looking in. And just like it's hard to appreciate a stained glass window from the outside of a cathedral, so too is it impossible to capture the beauty of the Catholic faith when standing on the outside, looking only to the surface and seeing the problems and scandals as they float through the headlines.
Fr. Barron is a writer in his prime. His use of the english language is a great example of authentic freedom, something he discusses in the book. Being a great athlete doesn't mean playing by your own rules; you learn the rules of the game to enable you to be able to more freely play it. Being a great speaker means you learn a language so as to be able to more freely express yourself in that language. Fr. Barron certainly is a master communicator and an excellent teacher. Though his academic background is teaching graduate-level theology, he is able, like the inimitable Fulton Sheen, to bring his teaching to a level that can be appropriated by almost anyone.
Though the book is rife with great explanations and very good ways of opening the mind's eye to the beauty of what Fr. Barron calls "the Catholic thing," my favorite idea is the image he uses of the Church being like Noah's Ark. He wonderfully shows that the Church must at times close itself in, to protect it from the storm out in the world, and at times be thrown about on the waves of a great storm.
But the Church is not primarily a ghetto; it's not a place where you simply hide from the reality outside. Must it at times cut itself off from some of the world's influences? Certainly. But it also, when the time is right, is called to go back out into the world and "be fruitful." When the storm resides, the Church should open the Ark and bring its contents out, and show them to the world.
Fr. Barron uses the example of John Paul II, who lived during the Nazi, then Communist regime. He was, during those dark times, storing up his knowledge of love and beauty and goodness, and sharing it in small form with those he was able to teach. But so much of that time, those dark years, was spent buttressing against the storm.
When he finally could let out the goodness of the Church, after becoming Pope, it brought about a whole new flood. And that flood of goodness and light and beauty ultimately led the people of Poland to cry out "We want God! We want God!" In due time, the communist regime would fall without a single gunshot being fired. This is, for Fr. Barron, an archetype of what the Church ought always to do: shut out the evil of the world (but also let in anything truly good and noble), and share the beauty and wealth of the Church's faith to respond to the world's needs.
Intriguing Selection of Saints
Throughout the book, Fr. Barron makes constant references to saints. He explains that the light of Christ is so powerful that no single person can ever fully radiate it; a full Christian life will thus always be expressed with slightly different shades. We call these shades the saints. He does, however, devote one chapter to looking at the lives of four saints. I found it extremely interesting that he chose four women. So much for the Church being sexist. He covers the lives of St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Katherine Drexel, St. Edith Stein, and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta in a span of thirty pages or so. Fr. Barron knows how to whet one's appetite for more information, but he does so without giving such a small amount of information as to merely gloss over some of the details of their lives.
My only criticism of the book is that it doesn't stand alone very well. Fr. Barron's description of artwork, particularly the Rose window at Chartres, leaves one begging to see the beautiful places described in full color. But, from what I understand, the e-book version fills that gap rather well. And there is, of course, the DVD series.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the Church who is willing to go beyond reading headlines in the major newspapers. If you give someone a single book this year on the Catholic faith, it should be Fr. Barron's Catholicism. His book is one that will become a classic.