If you are only going to read one faith-centered book this year, please make it this one.
You'll be doing yourself and the Church a favor.
In to Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age we get John Allen's experienced hand filling in the context to the backstory of Bishop Barron's Word on Fire ministry, in a collaborative work that depends greatly upon Barron's contributions. (That's why Bishop Barron is credited as the principal author: "Robert Barron with John L. Allen, Jr.") It's a twofer! Two phenomenal Catholic authors, teamed up to share a vision for the New Evangelization. Well, the vision is Barron's, and it is already being implemented with very positive fruits.
I received a review copy of the book a few days before its official release and thought to myself, "This is great! I will be able to publish my review on the actual release date!" I planned to zip through the text, sum up my thoughts and just put them out there for you. But this is not a text to be zipped through, as I realized in the first chapters. I gave up the idea of issuing a timely review and let myself enjoy the book, reflecting on the way Bishop Barron looks at our culture and its questions and makes himself available (with all his many gifts) to do what Bl James Alberione said is the essence of the media apostle's task: "to give Jesus to the world using all the inventions that human ingenuity produces and that the needs and conditions of the times require." For Bishop Barron the "means" are clear: social media, he says, is the greatest development in human communications since the printing press. (He knows he is skipping over TV; social media surpasses it in scope and effectiveness.)
We get Barron's analysis of the greatest challenges facing the Church in contemporary society ("scientism" is toward the top); the chief obstacles to evangelization (how not to evangelize!); his own personal pastoral priority for Word on Fire (as a bishop his pastoral priority is a given!); his dreams for the future.
But mostly we get what makes Robert Barron tick, and how his interior world is organized.
Unsurprisingly (especially for those who know that his chief academic publication is entitled "The Priority of Christ"), it is all centered on Jesus:
"Robert Barron is a man who believes that while Catholicism propounds a galaxy of truths to the world, its core truth, the claim that must never fade from view, is that Jesus Christ is the center of history and the answer to the meaning of human life."It is a turn of phrase that sounds exactly like Bl. Alberione, who famously wrote: "At the center is Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life." Alberione was driven by the desire that every aspect of human life and culture be established in and centered on Christ. Keeping an all-night vigil during the opening hours of the 20th century, he had prayed "that the new century might be born in the Eucharistic Christ; that new apostles would regenerate laws, schools, literature, the press, customs; that in the Church there would be a new missionary thrust; that the new means of apostolate would be used well..." Barron puts it this way: "The idea is that everything revolves around and returns to Christ so that relationships, theology, politics, art, philosophy—all find their center in Christ.”
Like Alberione, who early in his life felt the need to work with others in order to launch new missionary enterprises, Barron, too, is gathering not just collaborators, but the first members of what he hopes will become a new ecclesial movement, a new foundation along the lines of the Focolare, Communion and Liberation, and Opus Dei movements in which priests and laity share a common spirituality grounded in the Bible and the Eucharist and a common commitment to media evangelization. In a way it has already been done. Alberione, after all, founded the Pauline Cooperators--priests and laity who share the Pauline spirituality and collaborate in the media apostolate--100 years ago this year. When the Holy Spirit wants to accomplish something in the Church, you can be sure that more than one seed will fall on good soil!
Every one of us faces, in one way or another, the exact challenges that Barron sees facing the Church as a whole. Our families, offices, and favorite coffee shops are populated with the people Robert Barron is reaching out to, but he is offering us an evangelizing style and some pointers on content that we can begin to implement right at home or in the workplace.
It seems to me that every active Catholic would do well to delve into this book and reflect deeply on Barron's insights and priorities.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. In addition, I received a review copy of the book mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. I am committed to giving as honest a review as possible, as part of my community's mission of putting media at the service of the truth. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”