Since Bl. Pope John Paul II called for a “new evangelization” in 1983, the phrase has become common in Catholic circles, yet too often it’s been a slogan with little substance — or success. Father Robert Barron’s work with Word on Fire Ministries is among the most gratifying exceptions to this unfortunate rule.
Fr. Barron’s magnum opus is his magnificent 10-part 2011 series, Catholicism, a veritable cathedral in video form that George Weigel reasonably hailed as “the most important media project in the history of the Catholic Church in America.” Blending documentary with apologetics and catechesis, Catholicism brings the riches and beauty of the Catholic Church’s history, culture, and beliefs to life with compelling power.
Fr. Barron’s latest project, Catholicism: The New Evangelization, is not so much a new chapel to go along with the cathedral of Catholicism — it’s more like a school for cathedral builders. Filmed in part during a 2012 lecture tour of Australia, during which the priest spoke in the parishes, pubs, and college campuses of one of the world’s most nonreligious nations, Catholicism: The New Evangelization brings Fr. Barron’s customary spirit of upbeat, affirmative orthodoxy to the challenges facing the Church’s mission in our increasingly secular world.
While The New Evangelization boxed set comprises four DVDs, the feature presentation is a single 95-minute documentary, with various supplementary materials on the remaining discs. With a mix of location shooting, interviews with Catholic talking heads (including Ross Douthat, author of Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, and new Word on Fire content director Brandon Vogt, author of The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet), the feature presentation explores the factors behind the secularization of culture and the tools and methods the Church’s new evangelists are using to bring the gospel to the world today.
Dispelling the widespread modern misconception of God as a rival or impediment to human well-being, Fr. Barron affirms Christianity’s claim as the foundation of true humanism. Against the disenchanted or desacralized view of the world, he stakes the fundamental human religious impulse memorably encapsulated in St. Augustine’s dictum about our “restless hearts.”
Beginning with 20th-century figures such as J.R.R. Tolkien, who wove Catholic themes into The Lord of the Rings, and Archbishop Fulton Sheen, whose expert use of radio and television gave him unparalleled access to the American public, The New Evangelization highlights groups and ministries successfully organizing locally and leveraging the power of new media.
The supplemental materials on the additional discs offer much food for thought. Interviews excerpted in the main feature with Weigel, Vogt, Douthat, and Brad Gregory (author of The Unintentional Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society) are presented at greater length, and a number of Fr. Barron’s lectures are also included.
In the end, The New Evangelization is a call to action. As Vogt pointedly observes, every priest and every parish can create a Twitter feed or a Facebook page. For that matter, so can almost any Catholic…and while many Catholics might not know what to say or how to say it, watching Catholicism: The New Evangelization is a good place to start learning.
For a video trailer of the program or a sample first lesson, visit catholicismnewevangelization.com.
Inspired by Kenneth Clark’s groundbreaking 1969 BBC series “Civilisation,” which ushered in a generation of globe-hopping documentaries, Fr. Barron and his crew employ a worldwide backdrop that includes the Holy Land, Europe, Africa, India, the Philippines — at least 50 locations in 15 countries. Unabashedly a work of advocacy, even evangelization, Catholicism offers a confident, upbeat overview of the scope of 2000 years of Catholic history, belief, thought and practice.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.