By Traci Osuna
SKOKIE, Illinois, JUNE 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- In the 24 years that Father Robert Barron has been a priest, he has witnessed great advances and profound lows in the priesthood.
As one of the leading Catholic evangelical priests, Father Barron uses today’s technology to its fullest extent to bring God’s word to the world. His Web site, WordOnFire.org, his books, his television and radio programs and his many You-Tube Videos and DVD’s have captured the attention of millions worldwide.
He is a highly sought after speaker and serves as the Francis Cardinal George Chair of Faith and Culture at University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois.
Father Barron has dedicated his life to sharing his faith and in this interview with ZENIT he offers words of wisdom and support to those struggling to understand the role of the priest today amidst such hardship and controversy.
ZENIT: How did you come to be a priest?
Father Robert Barron: I came from a devout Catholic family, and I attended Mass regularly and went to Catholic school as a young man. But in my grade-school years, I wanted to be a baseball player, and then a lawyer and politician.
My interest in the priesthood was awakened one spring day in 1974 at Fenwick High School outside of Chicago. A young Dominican friar presented Thomas Aquinas’ argument from motion for God’s existence to my freshman religion class. I’m not quite sure why this should have been the case, but that lecture lit a fire in me. I became convinced of the reality of God in a way that I hadn’t been before, and I wanted to learn more and more about philosophy and theology.
I went to the local library and found excerpts from Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae in Mortimer Adler’s Great Books series. Though I only barely understood what I was reading, I began to devour those texts on God’s existence and attributes. This was the beginning of an intellectual quest, which grew into a spiritual quest, which led, eventually, to my wanting to give my whole life to God.
ZENIT: Will you describe the “Catholicism Project” and what prompted you to start it?
Father Robert Barron: Another important intellectual experience of my teenage years was watching Lord Kenneth Clark’s “Civilisation” series on PBS. Clark, the director of the National Gallery in London, initiated his audience into the glories of Western civilization through words, but even more importantly through images. He demonstrated the best of the European spirit by showing the great cathedrals, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the sculptures of Bernini and Rodin, the paintings of Rubens, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh, the buildings of Jefferson and Palladio, etc.
I had long felt that Clark’s style would be particularly well suited to an exploration of Catholicism, which is both a smart and a beautiful religion. I proposed to my board the idea of filming a documentary around the world, and one member of the group said, “You should drop whatever else you’re doing and do that.” In time, Cardinal George from the Archdiocese of Chicago gave me permission, and we managed to raise the requisite funds, around three million dollars. We’ve been filming now for just about two years, and we’re almost finished with the project.
ZENIT: With your You-Tube videos, both your EWTN television program and a radio program, as well as several DVDs, you have several projects that draw millions of viewers, listeners and readers. What do you think attracts people to your message?
Father Robert Barron: If people are attracted to my work it is, I hope, because they are sensing something of Christ’s power in it. I try to be deeply Scriptural and to follow the theological and spiritual masters of the Catholic tradition. But I also try to weave themes from contemporary culture — movies, music, books, etc. — and perhaps people find the juxtaposition of the two interesting.
ZENIT: Do you feel the abuse crisis currently rocking the Church has affected the way you preach, or the way the faithful respond to the Church and its ministers?
Father Robert Barron: I have said many times that the sex abuse crisis has been the perfect storm, for it has undermined the work of the Church in almost every way.
Many who had trusted in the Church have found their confidence shaken, and many who were pre-disposed to be suspicious of Catholicism have had their prejudices confirmed. In general, the credibility of the Church and its ministers has been seriously compromised. My conviction is that, in the history of the Church, crises have called forth great figures who have brought Catholicism back to its evangelical roots. As the Roman empire crumbled in the West, St. Benedict inaugurated the monastic movement; during a period of intense ecclesiastical corruption, Sts. Francis and Dominic founded orders predicated upon poverty and Gospel simplicity; in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, St. Ignatius of Loyola and his companions led the re-education and re-evangelization of Europe; after the anti-religious violence of the French revolution, a bevy of missionary orders sprang up and helped to evangelize large parts of Asia and Africa.
I’m no saint, but I’m trying to play a small part in re-invigorating Catholicism after the scandal. I’m attempting to bring forth the truth and beauty of this ancient tradition which has shaped all of Western culture and which feeds the soul in the deepest way.
ZENIT: What do you see as the role of the priest in today’s society?
Father Robert Barron: The priest’s role today is what it has always been: to be an alter Christus (another Christ). The priest operates in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), speaking the Lord’s words, mediating the Lord’s compassion, making really present the Lord’s body and blood. The priest thereby is essential to the renewal, not only of the Church, but of the wider society, for Jesus is the very soul of a healthy culture, and the priest is a continual reminder — especially in his celibacy — of values which transcend the goods of the world.
ZENIT: What advice would you give to a young man considering the priesthood?
Father Robert Barron: I would echo John Paul II’s “be not afraid.” I realize that it is extremely difficult to consider a priestly vocation at a time when the priesthood is seen by so many as corrupt and dysfunctional. I know how hard it is to think about being a priest when the priesthood is so often held up for ridicule. But don’t be afraid! If God has called you, he will give you the strength and the grace necessary to persevere and to be a great priest.
I would also encourage you to see this time especially as a privileged moment to be part of the renewal of the priesthood. And I would encourage you to pray, both publicly and privately, to preach with verve and intelligence, to love your people as passionately as parents love their children, to conduct yourself with integrity both when people can see you and when only God can see you. Follow the call with abandon and with a sense of adventure.
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On the Net:
Word on Fire: www.wordonfire.org[This article is part of the column God’s Men — a series of reflections on the priesthood that ZENIT is offering its readers during this Year for Priests, which ends Friday.]