I am in Los Angeles, California tonight, on the eve of Fr. Robert Barron’s episcopal ordination tomorrow (September 8). Earlier this summer on July 21, Pope Francis appointed Fr. Barron auxiliary bishop of the vast (largest in USA) archdiocese named for the angels. The Pope also named that same day two other outstanding Los Angeles priests auxiliary bishops: Frs. Joseph Brennan and David O’Connell. Many here are speaking about their outstanding pastoral skills and ministries among God’s people. While I have not yet had the privilege of meeting Bishops Brennan and O’Connell, I know Bishop Barron well. Los Angeles is on fire with three outstanding pastors who will work closely with one of the great Archbishops of the United States: José Gomez.
I have had the privilege of knowing Fr. Barron for the past 10 years and consider him a cherished brother priest, good friend and colleague in the area of the new evangelization, communication, priestly formation and television ministry. My long friendship with the late Cardinal Francis George, OMI, Archbishop emeritus of Chicago, was the bridge between Fr. Barron and myself. During my frequent visits with Cardinal George over the years, he often told me: “Tom, you must meet Bob Barron!” I later discovered that the Cardinal was also telling Bob Barron that he “must meet Tom!” The meeting finally happened in 2005. The rest is history. I remember well Cardinal George telling me that Fr. Barron and I needed one another for mutual encouragement, friendship and support as we both labored in the area of the New Evangelization long before people really understood what that word meant. Last August 2014, Cardinal George, Fr. Barron and I would be together for the last time at a Vocation Conference in Chicago. The Cardinal told me that night how happy he was that “Bob and Tom” were working together.
Fr. Barron has been a “regular” on our Salt and Light Television network for many years. His videos brilliantly prepared by his “Word of Fire Catholic Ministries” and his masterpiece productions “Catholicism” and “New Evangelization” have been tremendous additions to our lineup! And they will continue to be present on our network and many media platforms. Several years ago I invited Fr. Barron to deliver the John Kelly lecture at the University of St. Michael’s College. He came to a Canada that didn’t really know him yet. That lecture, to a packed audience at the university, introduced him to many Canadian Catholics.
When I think of Robert Barron, three things come to mind: 1) outstanding priestly presence and kindness; 2) clarity of thought and teaching; 3) a witness. In 2008, I had the privilege of serving as the English language media attaché at the Synod of Bishops on the “Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” One of the most moving interventions (talks) at that Synod was given by Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, then-prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. He offered a deeply moving reflection on the role of bishop in the Church. Drawing from the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution “Lumen Gentium,” Cardinal Re spoke about the principle role of the bishop as being a “herald of the word of God, an authentic doctor, invested with the authority of Christ, one who points out the word and passes it on to others; a master who faithfully keeps this word, a witness who proclaims it even with the example of his own life.”
The cardinal ended his presentation leaving us with a very compelling image. He evoked the significant moment during the episcopal ordination ceremony when the open book of the Gospels is held over the head of the newly ordained bishop, who is kneeling beneath the open book. Cardinal Re went on to say that the entire ministry of the bishop is placed under the word of God, with the unique purpose of announcing the word, proclaiming it and living it with fidelity.
He said the image of the open book of the Gospels suggests a roof that has been placed over a house: “The Word of God is for bishops the home from which we leave each morning to go and meet the flock that has been entrusted to us and the home to which we return each night. …The word is that sure roof under which we find shelter in the storms of life and it is that intimate place where our relationships, memories and sentiments, as well as our anxieties and pastoral concerns come together, allowing us to find in Christ refreshment for our soul and the energy to face the problems and challenges associated with our ministry.”
On Tuesday afternoon, I will concelebrate my friend, Robert Barron’s episcopal ordination in the beautiful Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. I will join Cardinal Roger Mahony, many bishops and hundreds of priests as we pray for the three new bishops being ordained in our midst for service of the Church in Los Angeles. And I will quietly thank God that for the past ten years of my priestly ministry, Robert Barron has had a very significant role. We have shared much in common – not to speak of the fact that we were born in the same year (1959) and ordained priests in the same year (1986). I will join the large assembly of people in the Los Angeles Cathedral, and those from the Archdiocese of Chicago in thanking God because a priest named Robert Barron has been recognized and commissioned as a “herald of the word of God, an authentic doctor, invested with the authority of Christ, one who has pointed out the word and passed it on to others; a master who faithfully keeps this word, a witness who proclaims it even with the example of his own life.”
Each time I attend an episcopal ordination, I am deeply moved during the moment in the ceremony that Cardinal Re described at the 2008 Synod when the open book of the Gospels is held over the head of the newly ordained bishop, who is kneeling beneath the open book. The ministry of the newly ordained bishop is placed under the word of God, with the unique purpose of announcing the word, proclaiming it and living it with fidelity. “The Word of God is the home from which we leave each morning to go and meet the flock that has been entrusted to us and the home to which we return each night.”
If anyone has any question of where Fr. Robert Barron has lived all these years – whether it was in Washington or Paris for his graduate studies, or at various universities around the world for courses and lectures, or Mundelein Seminary or Word on Fire Ministries, I have this certainty. Though the geographical addresses changed in different countries, and cities, Robert Barron’s address has always been the home of the Word of God. From that home he left each morning to go out and sow the Word. And to that home he returned each evening for safety, comfort and consolation. Bishop Barron’s home address will continue to be the place where he has always resided: the house of the Word of God.
Ad multos annos, Bob! Los Angeles is but the beginning of the next leg of the journey. Thank you for teaching, guiding, inspiring and befriending us. I am certain that our Oblate mentor and friend in heaven, Francis Cardinal George, is smiling upon you and us these days.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, is the CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and the English Language Assistant to the Holy See Press Office.