Robert Barron. To Light A Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age. With John L. Allen, Jr. New York: Image Books, 2017. 260p.
In the introduction to this book, John Allen compares Bp. Robert Barron to Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Allen admits that they are two very different men. Fulton Sheen was a philosopher who taught at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC and began to be known for his early evening talks on radio before the age of television. He began to be known “big time” when his program on television overshadowed Milton Berle’s comedy hour. Barron spent a good amount of his time as a professor at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago until Cardinal George of Chicago asked him to become an evangelist for the Archdiocese and beyond, after his stunning success with a series of lectures called Catholicism which spread throughout the United States.
Becoming an evangelist was already in Barron’s DNA. He was born in a Catholic family in West Kansas that did not wear its faith on its sleeve, yet he was attracted to the priesthood and was ordained in the Archdiocese of Chicago by Cardinal Bernardin and Barron requested to study at the Institut Catholique de Paris rather than in Rome. He earned his doctorate in theology at the University of Tubingen in Germany.
As an evangelist, Barron chose to target three categories of audience that needed attention in a secular age and culture: lapsed Catholics, “none’s” and “buffered selves”. He had already become a familiar person to television viewers (Fox News, NBC, CNN, and EWTN) but Barron says the fact that he included the social media and you tube, though he also used other social media such as facebook and blogs, to reach his audience. He grew with the growing social media used by young adults and drawing every larger audiences.
The first chapters of Barron’s book begin with the beauty of the Catholic culture and faith. This first choice follows Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of his favorite contemporary theologians who focuses his writing on a theology of beauty. Barron continues with goodness which characterized the theology of St. Augustine and is central to the preaching of Jesus Christ. Finally, Barron proclaims the truth of Catholicism which is at the heart of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Suma Theologica. The sheer beauty of the places and churches and cultures around the world tell the story of the history and culture of Catholicism.
Chapter six, on prayer and the supernatural, struck me as an outstanding presentation of Barron’s spirituality. It reveals a relaxed, likeable and scholarly clergyman who wants a solid spiritual foundation to his relationship with God. In the eighth chapter on obstacles to faith he engages bright young adults in a dialogue about the value of Catholic teaching in a secularized world. He is not afraid to enter the fray and face the hard questions about the existence of God, the relationship and complementarity of religion and science, the saving power of love over sex without chastity. Barron wanted to help the seminarians he taught at Mundelein how to respond to God’s call and vocation by a solid spirituality that could help them for a life-long dedication to God rooted in a culture that has a two-millennial foundation, featuring some of the greatest minds and hearts of all time, The Catholic faith and culture has much to offer to the young people of a secular age.