Film is ‘how-to’ for Catholics to share Faith

Calling all “Catholicism” fans: Father Robert Barron is back on screen starting Sept. 2 with a new 90-minute documentary, “Catholicism: the New Evangelization.”

Father Barron, founder of Word on Fire Ministries and creator of the 10-part “Catholicism” series, uses the film to explore how to put the Church’s call for a new evangelization into action.

Father Barron told Our Sunday Visitor that the documentary is based on Blessed Pope John Paul II’s call for a “new ardor, expression and method” of evangelization in the Church.

A matter of necessity

Through interviews with young, active Catholics as well as notable authors such as George Weigel and Brad Gregory, and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, Father Barron said the film explores what’s new in the world of Catholic evangelization. It also looks at the factors that have played into creating an increasingly secularized culture, and it outlines specific action steps for Catholics who want to share the Faith with others.

Pope Francis
Father Robert Barron with 2011 World Youth Day pilgrims in Madrid. Photos courtesy of Word on Fire Ministries

In a culture that has seen the number of people who do not believe in God triple in recent years, sharing the Faith with others — and doing it well — is not only a challenge, it’s a necessity.

“I think we’ve been exceptionally bad, we Christians, at articulating who God is,” Father Barron said. “(For) the atheists it’s open season. We’ve got to get a lot better at naming that God is not the enemy of humanity, he’s not the rival to us, but is the ground for our own glorification.”

The new series wasn’t planned, Father Barron said, but rather resulted from promoting his “Catholicism” series in Australia, England and the United States. He brought a camera crew to film his talks, and they also filmed what evangelization efforts are happening on the ground in those countries.

Joyful witness

Keys of effective evangelization include leading with the beauty of the Faith and simply being joyful, Father Barron said. In many ways, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, New York archbishop, is Father Barron’s shining example of new evangelization in action. With his omnipresent joyful attitude, the cardinal is the “happy warrior.”

Father Barron
Father Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire Ministries.

“It’s that affirmative orthodoxy approach,” Father Barron said. “You don’t say what we’re against, you say what we’re for, and we’re for allowing the love of God to surge into the world.”

Another example of the power of evangelical joy is Pope Francis himself.

“He has a real feel for how to do basic evangelization,” Father Barron said. “He’s joyful, but he’s a tough guy when he has to be. He also knows that the Church itself has gotten off the beam in some ways with clericalism and careerism. So he’s a very cool model.”

Leading with beauty was a strategy in “Catholicism,” and it continues through the many examples of evangelization efforts in the new film.

“The true and the good tend to put people off,” Father Barron said. “But if you say, ‘hey look at that, isn’t that beautiful?’ it’s a good way in. I think that’s part of the genius of Catholic evangelizing — that we have that card to play.”

Concrete examples

Brandon Vogt, author of “The Church and New Media” and founder of strangenotions.com, a website fostering dialogue among Catholics and atheists, worked with Father Barron to create a supplementary five-part study guide to “Catholicism: New Evangelization.”

Vogt said the new film is both practical and comprehensive, giving needed insights into what exactly the Church means by new evangelization.

“For too long the new evangelization has become this sort of nebulous buzz phrase that many people talk about and hear about, but don’t really have a concrete picture of what it is,” Vogt told OSV. “We wanted to present tons of examples. Father Barron travels across the Western world collecting examples of the new evangelization playing out on the ground.”

These examples, which include a robust Theology on Tap program for young adults in Sydney, Australia, can be helpful for emulation and inspiration.

“(For Catholics) watching these different examples, we hope … that these will act as sparks and seeds for their own ideas,” he said.

For Vogt, one of the most insightful elements of the film is Father Barron’s expertise as he traces the “philosophical devolution of God” over the last several centuries. Having this understanding is key to knowing how to evangelize, Vogt said. “For the new evangelization to be effective you have to understand keenly the context in which it’s operating. Once you understand the problem, then you’re able to choose the right antidote.”

New media tools

As a new media connoisseur, Vogt appreciates the inclusion of the role new media can play in evangelization.

“These new media tools feature very prominently in the series,” he said. “That holds one of the greatest potential for lay men and women: to evangelize through one of the most powerful tools the Church has ever had access to. Through these very simple and on-the-ground methods of the new media, that’s where each of us has some very serious potential to evangelize.”

Besides invigorating the Catholic faithful and enlightening fallen-away Catholics, Father Barron also hopes to reach others who see evangelization as their mission.

“Derivatively I am also addressing fellow evangelists, teachers, writers how can we do this job better than we’re doing,” he said.

For everyday Catholics ready to start evangelizing, Father Barron urged greater catechesis in the tenets of the Faith.

“Make it a point to get to know it much better than you do,” he said. In that way, Catholics can “give a reason for the hope that’s in you.” 

Gretchen R. Crowe is editor of OSV Newsweekly.