Bishop Robert Barron says there is nothing challenging in going along with the drifting, relativistic secular culture, and to therefore: “stand up and be a true radical,” by joyfully living the Catholic faith.
In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with Zenit in the Vatican during the Synod, the Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, said this, noting: “Everyone has a hungry heart for God.”
In the interview, the American prelate and Synod Father, participating as part of the US delegation, reflects on the synod, young people and the faith, the upcoming February Summit in the Vatican on the protection of minors, the fact that this global encounter of bishops takes place in the same period as the 40th Anniversary of the election of Pope St. John Paul II as Pope and much more.
Bishop Barron explains how young people want the Church to teach, in addition to listen, and how saints remain an effective portal to bring young people to the faith.
ZENIT: What concerns you most about young people? What do you see as being important to address?
Bishop Barron: I am very concerned…At the Synod, I eventually want to bring up the “nones”—the n-o-n-e-s. In some ways, we are possibly still looking too inwardly, at those connected to the Church. I am interested in those with no religion, those who left religion. How do we find them? And what I discover in my work, in reaching out through the internet as a lot of people have, is what I would call fundamental intellectual blocks when it comes to religion. So, when you mention Jesus to a lot of people who are “nones,” Jesus is a distant figure from an ancient legend. You talk about God and it is a holdover from a pre-scientific time. I agree with C.S. Lewis who long ago said that before the evangelists work, the apologists have to do some basic work. In other words, clearing up some fundamental intellectual issues. I think that is a very important dimension of the way the Church both listens and teaches. It is a dimension of the Church’s accompaniment that I think needs to be heard more.
ZENIT: In reflecting on this idea of listening and teaching, we have heard a lot about this listening to young people…this teaching element, what would you say the Church is offering to young people? What are its proposals?
We are offering eternal life. I think a lot of young people growing up in our postmodern culture—which is so marked by relativism, indifference, and a culture of self-invention—are liberated by the clarity of the Church’s teachings, both in the area of doctrine and the area of morals. I think when they hear clear teaching, it thrills them and lifts them up. I hear that a lot from young people: they want the Church to teach. No one wants a Church that is overbearing and arrogant and gives ready-made answers. Of course not; the Church has to listen, because as Jesus said to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “What are you talking about?” So, the Church has to say that too to the young people: “What are you talking about?” What is on your mind? But I think young people are liberated when hearing the clarity of the Church’s teachings.
ZENIT: As you listen to the other Synod Fathers or the other people participating in the Synod, has there been some proposal in particular that has struck you on how to teach?
On that score, I don’t think that theme has been signaled too often. I have been struck by a lot of things from the Synod Fathers: how good these men are and how dedicated they are to the Church. And the young people too, in the room with us: how they testify has been very moving. The sex abuse scandal, which is on everyone’s mind, is also prominent. And we all know that you cannot evangelize effectively if you cannot be trusted. The Church has lost a lot of credibility. A lot of the Synod Fathers keep saying we have to address this issue. I think that is one thing that has really stood out for me.
ZENIT: And what do you believe for the February summit is a necessary outcome for it to become effective, to regain credibility?
I think transparency. The Church is putting the structures and moves into place that will guarantee that we respond well when these accusations are made and are transparent in regard to what we are doing. I think that is the key when it comes to this matter: honesty and transparency. If we walk the road of self-protection, that is not going to help our credibility.
ZENIT: Do you think a system of accountability for bishops, is something the that will be discussed or will come to fruition eventually?
I think so, and that probably is a good thing.
ZENIT: We know that during the course of the Synod there is the 40-year anniversary of the election of John Paul II as Pope who was able through his pontificate to attract and be loved by millions young people who always hold him close to Church teachings. What do you think this can teach the Church today?
It’s funny, because I hadn’t actually thought of that. We knew the canonization of Pope Paul VI and Oscar Romero was coming up, but it hadn’t occurred to me that this month would be the 40th anniversary of John Paul’s election. John Paul embodies to me what we are talking about. He knew how to listen to young people; he spoke their language, and took the time to draw them to himself with World Youth Day; he taught them clearly, very directly, and challenged them. To me he struck that balance beautifully. That is why young people responded so well to him. I mentioned that in my summary today: the power of World Youth Day that endures. John Paul is gone from the scene, and yet these World Youth Days still have enormous resonance. And I think that is a great sign. So he is a wonderful embodiment of that principal.
ZENIT: I am curious of your own pastoral experience: is there something in particular that gives you hope for the future of the Church, with your relationships with young people in your diocese?
I have done this work on the internet for a long time. And with the internet—on YouTube, Facebook or whatever—you get a lot of opposition to religion. There are a lot of people voicing negative opinions. Nevertheless, they come to listen—and to respond.
Everyone has this hungry heart for God. Even in their resistance, I can sense in young people their interest in the things of God. The Church ought to exploit that; we should take advantage of that fact. I mentioned that in my summary. I think the image of Augustine, the restless heart, is still something that sings to people across the ages.
ZENIT: I was about to ask you as you mentioned about St. Augustine, are there certain models that you think are helpful to young people?
I think that the saints are a huge way in; they still are. I spoke of going back to ancient times, like Augustine; but in the 20th Century we have Edith Stein. This great intellectual seeker went through an atheist period, but came to faith and even gave her life as a martyr. The obvious choices are Mother Teresa, Pier Giorgio Frassati, and many of the people that were reverenced by Saint John Paul. I think they are still great models. And Pope Francis himself, although not a canonized saint, has obviously galvanized the world and caught the attention of a lot of young people by his powerful pastoral gestures. That is how it works. I think all these figures are hugely important. I feel strongly about the intellectual aspect, but I think that the saints, liturgy and prayer, the sacraments, and World Youth Day are all part of that picture.
ZENIT: And for Americans who sometimes their culture tends to not always coincide with the values of the Catholic faith, for instance how are they to go against the current and not be alienated from their friends, and their social environment?
Live it joyfully. That is the revolutionary stance now. To go along with the drifting, relativistic secular culture…so what? Everyone is in that boat. The people that go with the classic Christian faith are the revolutionaries today. They are the radicals today. I tell young people: be a real radical not one of these phony radicals. There is no challenge in drifting along with the postmodern culture. Stand up and be a true radical, I say.