Darn you, John Allen. Darn you.
From the time I began writing for Patheos (thanks to the infinite grace of Elizabeth Scalia) until my recent days writing for Aleteia, Word on Fire and the National Catholic Register, I had this pipe dream that, someday, I was going to reach out to Fr. (now Bishop) Robert Barron and ask for an in-depth interview about who he is and how he came to realize the magisterial work that is Catholicism. The ten hour DVD series featuring the winsome linebacker-of-a-priest, Fr. Barron, literally spans the globe from Uganda to Italy, from Fatima to Mexico City, and speaks seriously, intelligently, and in a most winsome way about art and architecture, saints and sacraments, the Christ and the Church. After years of shaking my fist at the Catholic Church followed by years of deeply warming up to it, Bishop Barron’s (along with Fr. Steve Grunow and others) Catholicism is a masterpiece that pulled together all (and more) that I have come to love about the Catholic Church.
And so my pipe dream?
Because John Allen, the eminent and award-winning writer, Vatican analyst and editor of Crux, wrote a book (in collaboration with Bishop Barron) named To Light a Fire on Earth which offers an up-close and personal biography as well as intellectual and spiritual road map that has informed Barron’s direction on his many and varied endeavors on behalf of the Faith.
And the book is extraordinary.
Story after story, anecdote after anecdote bring Bishop Barron and his vision to life in this deeply approachable book. Barron’s is the story of God writing straight with crooked lines: The fisherman’s thread allowed the free-play of a young Catholic Barron born in Chicago, moved to Detroit, returned to Chicago for high school with the Dominicans, moved off to the University of Notre Dame, the Catholic University of America, ordination to the priesthood in Chicago, a stint at the Institut Catholique de Paris…and then, with the twitch upon the thread, Fr. Barron was back in Chicago teaching at Mundelein Seminary. With advocates like Fr. Andrew Greeley and Robert Cardinal George, and friends like Fr. Paul Murray and Fr. Steve Grunow, Fr. Barron began to see his life’s call (or pull) not in the traditional, celebrated life as a parish priest or a Catholic professor at a premier university. Instead, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the pull of events, Fr. Barron would launch upon the most beautiful and sophisticated evangelization campaign since Fulton Sheen graced the television screens in mid-20th century America. Though rooted in humble beginnings (a 15 minute television program on WGN at 5:45 in the morning), with proper support technology Fr. Barron’s endeavor was soon cutting edge with movie producers and filming budgets, air travel hither and yon, YouTube and Twitter, FaceBook and Instagram. The staff was extraordinary with the addition of the creative, intentional Brandon Vogt and the bright, winsome Jared Zimmerer. And the engagement was unparalleled. Debates and dialogues, discussions and deliberations on anything and everything: Commentary on the latest movie? Sure! Breaking down the Church’s sex abuse scandal? Absolutely. Thoughts on Bob Dylan? Why not? Arguing the Protestant Reformation? Of course.
The philosophy of Bishop Barron and the Word on Fire team (the name ultimately assigned to the ministry) was simply this: Catholicism sells itself. It is beautiful and mysterious, it is brilliant and confounding, it is penitential and salvific. Let us simply travel around the world, film unparalleled glimpses of this extraordinary faith and supplement it with stories and descriptions of the lives of the Saints, the corporal works of mercy, the art and music of the masters, the holiness of the sacraments, and the incomprehensible love of God. Let us talk about it and show it and engage about it and demonstrate to people that (as Chesterton might say) “Catholicism hasn’t been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Let us show people how Beautiful this Faith is…and in so doing, naturally lead them to how Good the Faith is…and, ultimately, how True. And perhaps, just perhaps, in so doing, they will meet God.
And that’s just what they did.
John Allen’s book (co-written with Bishop Barron’s extensive quotes and involvement) is a compelling biography of a man (and a movement) literally on a mission. And along the way, we unearth the sturdy foundation at the root of Barron’s ministry – sturdy in that it is the root of the Catholic Faith itself. Beauty, Goodness, Truth, Evangelization, the Bible and Obstacles to the Faith are all chapters in a book aiming to untangle daunting complexities and open a reader to the richness, warmth and ineffable beauty of the Catholic Faith.
It is simply extraordinary.
Darn you, John Allen. Darn you.
And thank you.
But can I help you and Bishop Barron write the next one?
Photo Credit: Word on Fire