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August 31, 2015 | Volume 90 Number 22


photo: Bishop-Elect Robert E. Barron speaking in Hampton August 14. (photo: Vy L. Barto)

Bishop-Elect Robert E. Barron speaking in Hampton August 14. (photo: Vy L. Barto)

Don’t ’dumb down’ Christ’s message, Bp.-Elect Barron says

B ishop-Elect Robert E. Barron, the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and creator and host of the award-winning documentary “Catholicism” outlined several recommendations as to how to evangelize when he addressed nearly 2,000 people at Bethel Church in Hampton Aug. 14 as part of the Bishop Keane Institute Lecture Series.

The Institute, a ministry of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Hampton, serves as a gathering place for learning, conversation and community.

Bishop-Elect Barron, recently appointed auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, has been the rector/president of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake/ Mundelein Seminary outside of Chicago, since 2012. His 10-part DVD series “Catholicism” has been widely viewed in parishes and Catholic schools.

Speaking on “Evangelizing with the Heart of a Good Shepherd,” he painted a rather grim picture of religious trends today. He said the fastest-growing religious group in America is the “nones,” a catch-all phrase for those individuals who have no religious affiliation. He also asserted that the second-largest religious group in the country is Catholics, and he said that only 25 percent of Catholics today regularly attend Sunday Mass.

“This is a serious, serious problem,” he said.

He recommended that Catholics evangelize by revealing the beauty of the faith, refusing to “dumb down” the message, ardently sharing the great story, emphasizing the teachings of Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and using technology such as websites, YouTube and social media to spread the word.

To illustrate how important it is “to lead with the beautiful” when evangelizing, Bishop-Elect Barron gave an analogy of how to inspire a child to play baseball. Rather than starting with an explanation of rules and theory, he suggested you first take him to a baseball game where he can soak up the ambiance of the game. Then let him play the game, and as he continues to do so, he’ll come to understand the game and its theories and strategies.

Likewise, in evangelizing, Bishop-Elect Barron emphasized that you start by allowing the individuals to see the beauty of the Church. For example, one could show them God’s people, highlight the saints or show them the wonderful works of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The individuals might be so “beguiled” by what they see that they would begin to ask questions, he said.

That analogy was particularly profound for Immaculate Conception Parishioner Alicia Spencer.

photo:  Bishop-Elect Robert Barron speaks to a packed house   at Bethel Church in Hampton.
Bishop-Elect Robert Barron speaks to a packed house at Bethel Church in Hampton.

“I would have normally started with the rules, with what we do, instead of talking about what a wonderful relationship you will have with Jesus, how Mass is wonderful because you are part of the whole, and how He wants us there,” she said.

Similarly, Mary Lou Ferralli, a parishioner at St. Nicholas Parish in Virginia Beach, found his advice helpful.

“He wasn’t there just to entertain us but to empower us, to inspire us, to go out and take action and talk about what is phenomenal about the Catholic Church,” she said.

He said the purpose of Vatican II, which he called “the great council of new evangelization,” was to bring the light of Christ out into the world, but added that it led to a “dumb-downed” message because theologians presumed people couldn’t understand “high-falutin’” language and theological concepts.

Oversimplification softens the edges of Catholicism so much so that it becomes “blandly acceptable but not vibrant and intellectual,” he said.

This “dumb-downed, babyfied, uncompelling, non-intellectual” doctrine, he said, does not rise to the challenges of adult life. It does not help when “life hits you in the face.”

When evangelizing, one should proclaim “the great story” with ardor, Bishop-Elect Barron stressed.

“If the speaker can’t get worked up about his message, how would the audience?” he rhetorically asked. “What grabs young people is intelligence and passion.”

Rather than explaining a spiritual truth in a drab, bland manner, proclaim the great story with ardor, he said, reminding the audience that the New Testament is “full of stories about people going to the ends of the world as they knew it to evangelize.”

“They wanted to grab everyone by the lapels and tell them something. They called it the Good News,” he said. “We need to remind the world of what story they are part of, this great story of Christ.”

Although it is essential to proclaim the resurrection, it is also important to share the stories in the Old Testament because they lead to the birth, life and resurrection of Christ, he said, emphasizing that the Good News, the resurrection, is “the climax to a great story,” not the whole story.

He advised including the teachings of Saint Augustine who maintained that we are not made for this world and therefore are not satisfied by this world. Our hearts are hungry for a deeper relationship with God, he said, yet we often try to fill them with something less than God, such as wealth, pleasure, honor and power.

“We tell ourselves that if we get enough of those four things, we’ll be happy,” he continued. But like an addiction, the more we get of our vice, the more we want.

As Jesus told the woman at the well, she can return every day to satisfy her physical thirst, but he could quench her spiritual thirst and offer her ever-lasting life.

So when we evangelize, Bishop-Elect Barron continued, we must show people that God can fill their lives.

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