Father Barron launches new ‘Catholicism’ series

By Catholic New World
Sunday, May 8, 2011

Coming to parishes and groups this fall is “Catholicism,” a 10-part series for TV and DVD that explores the heritage of the faith and is hosted by Father Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire Ministries in Chicago.

“Catholicism” is a study program that features Barron explaining of the faith while on location in various locations around the world, such as Rome, India, Mexico and Israel. The goal of the program is to educate those inside and outside the faith about what the Catholic Church teaches and why.

Barron is the Francis Cardinal George Professor of Faith and Culture at Mundelein Seminary. He attended St. John of the Cross School as a child, going on to Fenwick High School and Benet Academy. He celebrates the 25th anniversary of his ordination this year.

Barron is a sought-after speaker and served as a correspondent for NBC News and the Chicago Sun- Times for the beatification of Pope John Paul II.

He spoke with editor Joyce Duriga about the “Catholicism” project.

Catholic New World: How did the idea of “Catholicism” come about?

Father Robert Barron: The idea for the “Catholicism” series germinated in my experience watching Kenneth Clark’s documentary “Civilization” many years ago. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to do for the church what Kenneth Clark did in highlighting the achievements of western culture?”

I proposed this idea to the board of directors of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and they were unanimous in their support of the project. In fact, they indicated that of all the many projects to which Word on Fire is committed, the “Catholicism” series should be the top priority.

CNW: There are several DVD and workbook series out there to help people understand their Catholic faith. What makes “Catholicism” different than anything else?

Barron: The first thought that comes to my mind is the scale of our production. The “Catholicism” series is not just a videotaped lecture. I journeyed with the Word on Fire team around the world so that the content of the Catholic faith could not only be explained, but presented in relation to the magnificent, global culture that the beliefs and practices of Catholicism has engendered. The viewer of the series does not only hear about the faith; they will see it.

I was also insistent that the church that produced the Sistine Chapel, Chartres Cathedral, Sainte Chapelle and commissioned artists such as Michaelangelo, Bramante, Dante, El Greco and Mozart should use the artistic vision of contemporary cinematography to present its unique way of life.

Thus, the “Catholicism” series is, in terms of both its style and its substance, a beautiful example of the documentary as art. The culture of the church is vivid and interesting and so is the “Catholicism” series — from start to finish.

In terms of the study materials, I am convinced that we have to stop “dumbing down” the presentation of the faith. I have been distressed for some time at the manner in which the rich cultural and intellectual content of the faith has been presented — a diminishment that has only been exacerbated by a secular culture that so easily caves in to the worst characterizations of the church as being backward, ignorant and irrelevant. Catholics know that these caricatures of the faith are not true — or do we?

I made sure that the series’ accompanying study materiels presented the content of the faith in all its integrity and truth.

CNW: You draw on art and architecture to help illustrate what our faith teaches. How do these things help us to learn our faith more and understand it better?

Barron: The central truth of the Catholic faith is that God took for himself a human nature and lived a real human life in Jesus of Nazareth. The implications of this are vast, one of which is that the material can become a means to communicate the truth of God’s revelation.

Catholicism is so enamored of the Incarnation that it seeks to present its reality through the creation of beautiful art and architecture and, through these creations, communicate the mystery of God who fully immersed himself in the human condition.

It is because of the Incarnation that the Catholic faith is not just a religion of abstract ideas but a sensual faith — a religion that seeks to present the mystery of God in Christ in things that can be seen, heard and touched.

CNW: “Catholicism” appears to be a massive undertaking. How much did it cost to produce?

Barron: “Massive” seems like an understatement. The cost of the production was around $3 million. Now that might seem like a lot, but I believe that the benefit to the church far surpasses the dollar amount spent on the production. Further, the series is in a format that will be able to reach literally millions of people, introducing them to Christ and inviting them to partake of his life in his church.

The “Catholicism” series was produced by Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and was funded entirely through the generous donations of the Catholic laity, whose efforts to make the series happen can only be described as heroic.

In terms of how the funding happened, that is a story of not only human generosity but of the mysterious workings of God’s providence and the intercession of the saints. Simply put, people came forward to support this project. I think that they were inspired by the vision and wanted, to borrow a phrase from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, to “do something beautiful for God.”

“Catholicism” afforded them this opportunity. Those people close to the work of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries know that one of our heavenly patrons is St. Therese of Lisieux.

I say this not as pious sentiment but based on direct experience — whenever we needed anything, whenever we faced a crisis (financial or otherwise), we invoked the intercession of St. Therese, and our needs were met in surprising ways. God’s providence works to serve those purposes that seek to serve Christ and his church.

The “Catholicism” series has been completed, but we still need resources to realize our strategy for global distribution and make sure that those parishes and institutions that lack funds can have access to the series and the study program.

CNW: You use a lot of media in your ministry. Why is this so important?

Barron: The forms of contemporary media allow us to fulfill the missionary mandate of the Lord to preach the Gospel to all nations and extend to all people the invitation to share Christ’s life in his church. We can do this on a scale and with an effectiveness that has never before been possible.

The Internet apostolate of Word on Fire has the capacity to reach millions around the globe 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The more traditional forms of media outreach still have the capacity to reach millions.

Why is it important? Because through our use of the media, we can serve the Lord and also build up the Body of Christ, efforts which, if offered in humility and truth, can effect the positive transformation of the world.