Filming began last week in Italy and France for Fr. Robert Barron’s latest project: a documentary which seeks to explore “the people who have most shaped the Catholic imagination.”
Entitled Pivotal Players, the documentary will examine the lives of 10 key figures who, through their art, scholarship, mysticism, and lives of holiness helped to shape the life of the Church and of civilization as a whole.
Fr. Barron, founder of the online initiative Word On Fire, told ZENIT that the inspiration behind Pivotal Players came from an episode in his previous documentary series, Catholicism, in which he explored the lives of four saints.
“It was a very popular part of the series,” he said, “and I thought, why not do something on the people who have most shaped the Catholic imagination?”
As they were developing the project, the team kept coming back to the phrase “pivotal players,” be they saints or theologians.
“Let’s go to their places, let’s show their locales, and have the same cinematic sweep as the Catholicism Series, but focus now on these ten figures.”
During this first stretch of filming, the documentary team focused on the lives of two Dominican doctors of the Church: Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Catherine of Siena.
Although St. Thomas lived in the 13th century, Fr. Barron said that his contributions to the Church remain relevant today specifically with regard to the questions surrounding faith and reason, making him “an exceptionally important figure for the Church.”
“Thomas shows you can be as rigorously intellectual as you want to be within the context of faith,” he said, “and there’s no final discrepancy between faith and reason.”
“Especially now, with all the attacks from the New Atheists, and the attempt to sweep religion under the carpet as an old irrational superstition, Thomas Aquinas is the great figure, the pivotal figure even today, to stand athwart that tendency.”
Like St. Thomas, St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th century mystic, also maintains her relevance as “someone who’s utterly in contact with the supernatural world,” Fr. Barron said.
As a mystic, she “lived in steady contact with the higher world,” conversing with the “Lord and the Blessed Mother and the Saints as though they were friends.” After receiving Holy Communion, he said, St. Catherine would “fall into a 45 minute reverie of prayer.”
At a time when “secularism wants to flatten everything out, and say the only world we know is the world of our sense experience,” he said, “Catherine is a great challenge to that … a great reminder of this mystical dimension of life. That makes her a pivotal player.”
In addition to her mysticism, Fr. Barron said, St. Catherine was a crucial player in bringing the papacy back to Rome after it had been displaced to Avignon, France.
By ensuring “that the Successor of Peter was the one who leads the Church from his proper See,” he said, St. Catherine contributed to the “rediscovery of the centrality of the papacy that she helps us to claim.”
As he mentioned in an earlier interview with ZENIT, Fr. Barron noted that we are currently living through a golden age of the papacy. “In some ways, Catherine of Siena intuited that central importance of the papacy,” he said, compelling popes “to live up to their own calling.”
“The saints always have that perennial quality, don’t they? Even though they are from this very distant time, in a very alien culture in many ways, holiness is this universal language.”