Wednesday, November 9, 2011

FR. ROBERT BARRON'S CATHOLICISM: A JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF FAITH


I'm happy to say I have in hand a copy of Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of Faith by Fr. Robert Barron of Word on Fire Ministries (inscribed and sent by the good Father himself!).

When I first opened its creamy pages (with an insert of glossy color plates in the middle, like all the very best books you read as a child), I thought Oh I am not going to make one mark on this special tome. I am going for once to leave this pristine. Within five minutes I had my pen out, and was madly bracketing, underlining, making stars and N.B.'s and exclamation points, and sticking little Post-Its on ever other page.

Fr. Barron is an author, HIGHLY-EDUCATED scholar, and evangelist, and his book (out September 6) is at once an introduction, overview, and invitation for those who don't know much about, but may be interested in, Catholicism; and a deepening, widening, and heightening for those of us who are interested already.

From the jacket flap: "Starting from the essential foundations of Jesus Christ's Incarnation, life, and teaching, Father Barron moves through the defining elements of Catholicism--from the sacraments, worship, and prayer, to Mary, the apostles, and saints, to grace, salvation, heaven and hell--using his distinct and dynamic grasp of art, literature, architecture, personal stories, Scripture, theology, philosophy, and history to present the church to the world."

That, plus there's a photo of the Cologne Cathedral that alone...I mean there has to be something greater than ourselves because how could mere mortals make something so beautiful, how could they want to make something so beautiful, otherwise?...

COLOGNE CATHEDRAL
Photo: Robert Harding
With chapter titles like " 'That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Thought': The Ineffable Mystery of God," "Our Tainted Nature's Solitary Boast: Mary, the Mother of God," and "A Vast Company of Witnesses: The Communion of Saints" (with profiles of Katherine Drexel, Thérèse of Lisieux, Edith Stein, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta), you can dig in anywhere and find choice meat.

Herewith a small sampling:

"But let us consider another way of construing freedom, one more in line with biblical sensibilities. On this interpretation, freedom is not primarily a choice, but rather the shaping of desire so as to make the achievement of the good first possible and then effortless."

"Therefore someone who has ordered himself fundamentally toward God is, ipso facto, a peacemaker, for he will necessarily channel the metaphysical energy that draws things and people together."

"In Pope Leo's text [Leo XIII's Rerum novarium of 1891] Maurin [Peter Maurin, co-founder of the lay Catholic Worker movement] found the line 'once the demands of necessity and propriety have been met, the rest that one owns belongs to the poor'"...

"The twentieth-century theologian Karl Rahner commented that ' "God" is the last sound we should make before falling silent' "...

"...God does not wrestle a rival into submission, for he has no rival; nor does he intervene to shape matter according to his aggressive will, for there is no matter that confronts him. Rather, through a sheerly nonviolent, nonintrusive, non-interruptive act of speech, God gives rise to the whole of finite reality: 'Let there be light, and there was light'..."

"At her trial on trumped-up charges, Saint Joan of Arc was asked for her understanding of the relationship between Christ and his church. This is how she responded: 'About Jesus Christ and the church, I know only this: they're simply one thing and we shouldn't complicate the matter.' As an articulation of the peculiarly Catholic sense of the church, it would be hard to improve on that."

CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE, Chapel of Calvary
Photo: Medioimages/Photodisc
"Aristotle said that the best activities are the most useless...In this sense, the most useless activity of all is the celebration of the Liturgy, which is another way of saying that it is the most important thing we could possibly do."

Of Mother Teresa of Calcutta's decision to sever her formal ties to the Loreto Sisters so she could found her own community:

"In April of 1948, after several years of testing and waiting, canonical approval came from Rome, and Mother Teresa said to the archbiship simply, 'Can I go to the slums now?'
     In the first weeks and months of her new life, Mother experienced terrible bouts of loneliness, depression, and discouragement--and an accompanying desire to return to the relative comfort and security of the Loreto Sisters. But she persevered, for she knew that she had to become like the poor in every way--both physically and psychologically--in order to serve them effectively."

From "The Dark Night," by St. John of the Cross:

I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out by myself,
leaving my cares,
forgotten among the lilies.

(trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez)

Fr. Barron is engaging, funny, whip-smart, and peculiarly posed to go mano-a-mano (his "weapons" charity, truth, love!) with the youngish, often angry, seekers/attackers of Christianity who are drawn in particular to his youtube videos and for whom he has a genuine affection. Way thin-skinned myself, I often have trouble under similar circumstances remembering that the attack inures to Christ, not me.

But Fr. Barron--he gets it completely.

"As I have mentioned many times throughout this book, Christianity is not a philosophy or a universal mysticism. It is, first, a relationship with Jesus of Nazareth"...

DETAIL ISENHEIM ALTARPIECE
MATTHIAS GRÜNEWALD, 1515

9 comments:

  1. Hi from Minnesohtah!

    Like you, my skin is tissue paper thin when it comes to attacks on the Church. I too value Fr. Barron's ability to see past the anger of the attackers to their desire for God.

    Btw, Heather, I just finished your book on St. Therese. My mom is a long time devotee to the Little Flower, so she is a long time friend. I loved your book...found myself highlighting all kinds of stuff.

    Thanks so much for sharing your gift.

    Enjoy your time with the Word on Fire folks. As we would have said in grade school, "Ahhh.....lucky!"

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think it was Elias Canetti who wrote that there are two kinds of readers: those who leave the pages pristine, and those who write all over them. You have implicated yourself, Heather!

    Like you, I'm inspired by the patience, wisdom, and humility with which Fr Barron engages visitors to his combox - many of them hostile. Only a man of prayer could manage it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "freedom is ... the shaping of desire so as to make the achievement of the good first possible and then effortless."

    Can it really be so?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh I think so, EJF. Say you're madly in love, you're newly married, your wife's pregnant, new life, joy, love...of COURSE you're not going to cheat on her. Of COURSE you're not going to be going around lying, cheating, stealing, gossiping, hating...you wouldn't tear the fabric of this amazing tapestry for anything in the world! And I think a life with Christ... more and more, even if you live by yourself and have no real family, you understand that everything you do goes toward the family, the human family. Everything you do can be an act of love. (And conversely any act of violence or hatred or impurity goes toward tearing the human family apart). So it is effort in the sense that it costs us: our bodies ache; we get tired and discouraged; we sometimes do without companionship, touch, luxuries. But in another way it is not effort at all. Our will has become conformed to God's. We see this is the life was have been hungering for our whole lives. A decision has been made deep deep down so we don't fritter away as much energy on the surface things and in that way it is actually LESS effort.

    That's on a good day, or in a good moment, of course...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Also, thanks, Bill! Yes, only a man of prayer could manage it...because when people attack, it's not just anger that comes up, for me anyway, but fear. As a single woman, no real defense, no protector, no armor in the worldly sense...then again, none of us has any REAL armor...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Liz, in New Hampshire we'd say Wicked good! so glad to have a reader in Minnosohta--got sober there as you may know and have a couple of fine friends from there as well...I love that I'm highlighting Fr. Barron's book and you're highlighting MY book! Books are friends and I never feel they much mind our scribbles and notes and exclamations...

    Thanks so much for the kind words...

    ReplyDelete
  7. "... in another way it is not effort at all ... we see ... ".

    So something in the seeing changes us ... loving Him changes us -- realizing how much we love Him changes us, changes how we see.

    Words seem a paltry way of expressing this.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Heather, I share your love of Father. Barron. What a gift he is! As for how could we mere mortals have done all this on our own...I was thinking the other day about the color of the sky, and how taken I am with nature's hues. And I thought, you know, God could have made our world in grayscale. But He chose to splash the world with color. That's how much He loves us. :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you for introducing me to this priest. I was recently introduced (by a post on FB) to Father James Martin, SJ. I have been watching his clips on you tube and laughing. Laughter is very good medicine.

    ReplyDelete

I WELCOME your comments!!!