On Sept. 8, Robert Barron will be ordained as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. That’s great news for L.A., since it’s likely that the founder of the Word on Fire media apostolate — and host of its popular 10-part miniseries “Catholicism” — will soon be interfacing with the entertainment industry.
But, since L.A.’s Archbishop Jose Gomez, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano and Pope Francis haven’t shared with Barron the reason why he’s being moved from his native Chicago to Los Angeles, that’s just a guess.
Click here to go to my Pax Culturati blog at Patheos.com to hear Barron speak more about his hopes for his new home and the evangelization he’ll be able to do there, but here’s a taste:
“What most people know of the Catholic Church,” he said, “are the moral positions, especially on sexual issues, and the trouble with that is, it gives you an extremely narrow take on what it means to be a Catholic Christian.
“I found, over the years, that most people don’t know about God, about the Trinity, about Revelation, about the Incarnation, about salvation, about sin, eternal life, etc., all these great teachings — and the moral teachings are all consequent upon that.
“That’s the conviction that I’ve had for a long time, that one of our problems is, we just launch the moral teachings without the proper context and background. So, the establishment of the context and background has been a large part of the work I’ve tried to do.”
While many Catholics in Los Angeles are eager for Barron’s arrival, many others, in L.A. and beyond, are concerned for the future of Mundelein, where Barron was appointed in 2012. As one friend commented to me on hearing the news about Barron’s new job, “There goes the seminary.”
I asked Barron about that, and here’s what he had to say:
Who knows? We met yesterday [that would have been July 23], the board, Archbishop Cupich was here, and a lot of the bishops on the board — sure, there’s always the anxiety. We’ve done well the last three years, and our numbers have gone up rather dramatically. Whenever there’s a transition, people get afraid and wonder what’s coming next.
Right now, the archbishop is choosing a new rector. That’s an important choice, because he has to appeal to the bishops and students, and they’re trying to get a feel. We just had a change in archbishop, now a change of rector, so it’s a little unsteady.
But so it goes. We find a way to survive.
One thing Barron addressed in his remarks at the press conference with Archbishop Gomez — click here and here for video of that — was the erosion among baptized and confirmed Catholics, many of whom leave the practice of the Faith, never to return.
[The biggest issue] is attrition by our own people. I don’t know how more people don’t see that, as problems go on in the Catholic Church. Let’s face it, the vast majority of people that we baptize, confirm, educate and catechize do not stay in the Church.
It’s an illusion to say, ‘They’re all coming back.’ To be quite frank, people don’t realize that. The number-one area should be how to re-engage Catholics who have fallen away. Now, there’s a whole strategy around that, and it’s the fruit, in many ways, of bad catechesis. People get confirmed, and that’s the last we see of them; that’ s the last contact we have with them.
So, all of that has to be looked at, has to be addressed. That’s problem number one. So we get to used to, ‘Oh, yeah, 75 percent of Catholics don’t come to Mass,’ that’s a tragedy — and completely opposed to Vatican II, which wanted to revive the Mass and get more people involved in it, with full, active participation.
They’re not even coming, in startling numbers. That should be our first priority.
I mentioned to Barron my experience of the Latin Mass community in Los Angeles and Orange County — outlined here in a story I did for Breitbart. From my observation, attendees at the Tridentine Mass (or the Extraordinary Form, as it’s also known, since the modern Novus Ordo Mass can also be celebrated in Latin), tend to be very diverse, but age-wise weighted in favor of young families and Millennials.
They’re very educated about the Faith and eager to learn more, engaged, enthusiastic, orthodox and interested in building relationships with the other attendees. Barron would like to see that in all parishes, whether they offer the Tridentine Mass or not.
We need to universalize that. What are some elements that you just identified that can be part of a real reconstruction? You’ve named them — it’s the focus, the intentionality, the enthusiasm, the sense of the transcendence of God, the sense of mission. So, all of that, whether you’re into the Latin Mass or not, that can be part of a recovery, a rediscovery, of Catholicism.
Image: Courtesy Word on Fire
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