America's new favourite priest

Robert Barron, Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, Doubleday

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The search for good resources for adult religious formation is not an easy one. There is the Catechism of the Catholic Church itself, of course, authoritative and imposing, but using it as a text in a parish setting is too much like trying to teach people about baseball with the Baseball Encyclopedia instead of taking them to a game. 

At another extreme, there are colourful four-page lesson handouts from many publishers, with quick, middle-school-level treatments of many Catholic topics, but studiously avoiding anything that might look too much like doctrine or history. For years, the field has been wide open for someone who could combine actual substantive content with an engaging yet adult-worthy teaching style.

Into this breach comes Catholicism, not just a book but a multimedia extravaganza with ten lavishly produced fifty-minute video programs along with teaching and discussion guides. It is not strictly speaking a catechism: there’s no systematic presentation of the sacraments, morality, Catholic social teaching, or many other staple topics. 

Instead, it’s a meta-introduction to all that, an attempt to ground us in some creatively presented fundamentals of Scripture and tradition supported by a huge dose of Catholic history and art. Catholicism is apologetics in the grand tradition: triumphant, literate, unashamedly partisan.

The confident tone is no accident. Catholicism’s guiding spirit, Chicago priest and Mundelein seminary professor Robert Barron, believes Catholics have been crippled by an era in which “the Catholic story is being told by the wrong people in the wrong way,” and he has set out to create an inspiring corrective in which the wrong story (whatever that might be) doesn’t have equal time. 

Several years ago, Barron coined the phrase “beige Catholicism” to describe a church leached of its intellectual traditions, great saints and art, history, and glorious rituals; on his Web site, Barron points to blandness as the main reason for such discouraging trends as the Pew Forum’s evidence of dramatically declining Catholic allegiance. 

You won’t, therefore, see neutral colours here: Barron wants to wring every ounce of spectacle from the tradition, and isn’t averse to black and white, either, when it comes to presenting a vision of church.

The credit for Catholicism’s successes goes to Barron himself. Erudite, interesting, and natural on camera, he generally avoids the professional apologist’s pitfall—condescension—and is nothing like the variously smarmy or hypertense clerics who often populate EWTN and other Catholic media.

With the release of this series, Jesuit James Martin may now have competition for the role of America’s Favourite Priest.

It must also be said that this vision is so intensely Catholic, so proud of all these riches, that the world outside can seem unnecessary at best. In Paris, looking at Notre Dame, Barron envisions the great cathedral as a ship, an image of the church navigating rough and dangerous seas, and in Catholicism it’s very much a ship that has little need for supplies from shore.

Yet it’s a sign of the overall quality of the series that despite this focus on a victorious, self-sufficient church, it is a valuable teaching resource, more creative and attractive than anything currently on offer, and it should certainly be tapped by anyone concerned about Catholic catechesis and evangelisation.

FULL STORY: The War on Beige (Commonweal)


Fr Robert Barron (Wikipedia)

The Catholicism Project (Facebook)

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