On Bishop Barron

Bishop Barron - Wikipedia.jpgBishop Barron seems to be getting some pushback for his talk at USCCB this week (like here), from his advocacy for Jordan Peterson (whom I had to look up–ick!), to his comment about “dumbing down the faith.”

I will confess to being a fan of the man. I’ve mentioned him on this blog now and then. I think he’s a five-star writer and a four-star filmmaker. If evangelization is the first priority of the Church, I didn’t think he was there four years ago, and I still agree on that point. Bishop Barron’s reach is to those who are already Catholic. I don’t think that’s traditional apologetics. his appeal is to those well-established on the Barque.

Maybe I give Bishop Barron one-and-a-half stars on evangelization (making believers from newcomers) because his real gift is inspiring believers to make the leap from country club members to engaged Christians. There;’s nothing wrong with that gift.

MSW at NCRep:

When Barron turned his attention to signs of hope, the first item was that most young nones are not hostile to religion, they are merely indifferent. Why is that hopeful? For someone who claims to have spent a lot of time around young people, I think Barron misses the mark here. I find indifference far more difficult to overcome than hostility.

I think this is true. Hostile people are engaged one way or the other. They might watch a Word on Fire film prepared to argue and fuss. They might delve into a contrary website and take some pokes. Indifferent people don’t even turn on the computer.

You can talk with someone who violently disagrees with you, but with someone who just doesn’t care, they tend not to listen. In both cases, nothing Barron said yesterday had half as much insight and evangelical wisdom as Pope Paul VI did when he said in Evangelii Nuntiandi #41: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

That paragraph got a brief commentary here. My conclusion on EN 41:

The importance of the witness of personal sanctity is something perhaps lost on many modern bishops. It is their way out of the collective shame and scandal in which they are buried. It is the only way people will listen.

Still true, seven years later.

As for Bishop Barron, I think he has undeniable ability to be able to tell the story of Christian faith. He tells it with words, pictures, and video. I feel a certain affinity to that. As a church musician, my main workspace is with those who are already believers, and my tools are music and liturgy. By the time a seeker gets to Mass, their curiosity is already engaged. If worship nudges them closer to Christ it is likely because they have already heard the Lord’s call.

I think Bishop Barron works in a similar place. Certainly as a presider at Mass and the sacraments. People who watch his films and read his books are already on the fish hook. People praise him for being an effective apologist. I think that’s correct if we’re talking the “new apologetics” to Catholics themselves. The distinction on “new” is that it’s no longer for non-Catholics. Apologists today think up arguments in their heads and then asnwer them. Regular readers here know I have little patience for that.

One thing we do need is to shore up the spirits of those who already believe. That’s not a bad thing. Just let’s not call it evangelization. And don’t ask for help from internet celebs. I think Catherine of Siena and Francis de Sales are far better guides.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in bishops, Commentary, Evangelii Nuntiandi, evangelization and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to On Bishop Barron

  1. Liam says:

    FWIW, there may well be a lot more people now engaged by Jordan Peterson than Bishop Barron.

  2. Devin Rice says:

    I think you may underestimate the role of apologetics, but I can agree that apologetics in isolation can be futile or even self-defeating in terms of evangelization. I also have some concerns about Bishop Barron’s social media marketing.

    That said I have never understood the degree of hostility towards Bishop Barron from people like MSW. I always feel that there is an unvoiced problem or concern behind the criticism just lurking below the surface.

    • When I first heard the term “apologetics,” I thought, what do we have to apologize about? The people I know who have gotten excited about apologetics are solid Catholics. I don’t presume to guess the motivations. Having been in and on the edges of RCIA in parishes for forty years, I have a hard time recalling anyone who was drawn in due to apologetics.

      Not being a regular reader of MSW, I don’t know his thing with Bishop Barron. I like both guys. Each has an important piece. Neither has the whole.

      • Devin Rice says:

        I have know a few people who were not Catholics who have made their way into the Church d/t apologetic material. I also there is a local OCA (orthodox parish) that has a lot of converts, a lot due to apologetics. In March, I met a woman who is considering becoming Catholic based in part of her reading of C.S. Lewis and Scott Hahn. That surprised me considering I live in Pennsylvania and didn’t think anyone would consider joining us given what happened last August.

        Though I make no claim that the people who I run into are representative of the larger movement of peoples. Most others who join the Church do so because of marriages and many more just leave or stop attending services.

        I respect MSW a lot and he can like who he likes and dislike who he likes. It is just based on his prior writings, I would definitely see him being skeptic of Bishop Baron, I just don’t understand the degree. I suppose some of it is MSW is a columnists and having strong opinions comes with the territory.

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