BISHOP ROBERT BARRON
It’s simply a fact … that the most powerful force for evangelization in the first decades and centuries of the Church’s life was precisely the goodness of the Christian people. That wonderful remark [is] reported by Tertullian: “How these Christians love one another!” That’s what galvanized the world, that’s what grabbed the attention of the pagan society. … It was the goodness, it was the radicality of the Christian life, that got the attention of the world.
Fast-forward a few more centuries … the monastic movement begins with someone like Anthony of the Desert and his followers endeavoring to live the Christian life in its radicality … poverty, simplicity, utter trust in God’s Providence. Anthony gives rise to the monastic movement which influences, eventually, Benedict [of Nursia], whose movement then re-evangelizes and re-civilizes Europe after the fall of Rome.
Fast-forward several more centuries … at a time of deep corruption, especially among the clergy, Francis [of Assisi] and Dominic [of Guzman] emerge. Again with a back-to-basics evangelicalism — simplicity of life, poverty, trust in God’s Providence — and those mendicant movements grab the attention of Europe and eventually of the wider world.
Fast-forward to the Reformation, and the great Jesuit movement emerging — same inspiration! Look at Ignatius [of Loyola] on radical detachment, surrender to God’s purposes and Providence. And the Jesuits, too, re-evangelize Europe, and they evangelize much of the world.
Fast-forward to the period after the French Revolution and the rise of these great religious orders to address the problem of a rising secularism. Twentieth century: figures like Charles de Foucauld, and the greatest evangelist of the 20th century … Mother Teresa of Kolkata — who by the sheer intensity of her living the Christian life evangelized.
The Good — living the Christian life in its radical form — still has a powerful evangelical impact.
Here Pope Francis comes readily to mind. What has grabbed the attention of the world but precisely these displays of love, compassion, inclusion, simplicity of life, trust in God’s Providence? Pope Francis has put on international display the radicality of the Christian life. And that has evangelized. …
We have been living through a very painful time in the Catholic Church [in] the last 25 or 30 years. In fact, the worse period, clearly, in the history of the American Church.
What do we need to do? And I mean all of us — all of us — those priests, bishops, religious, but all the baptized, all those involved in the life of the Church. We need to recover what all these great figures found: this splendidly radical form of the Christian life. When it is lived publicly, it evangelizes. …
It is precisely at these great times of crisis that these great orders and movements emerge. … I think we all have got that responsibility now to do something radical for the sake of evangelization.
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Bishop Barron’s capstone talk at the 2017 USCCB Convocation of Catholic leaders in Orlando, Florida. It is used with permission. You can find the entire talk via video at CATmag.us/2ERpkWz.
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He serves as chairperson of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
PHOTOS (T-B): MUSEUM COMPLEX OF SAN FRANCESCO (MONTEFALCO)/PD, PD, UNTERLINDEN/PD, MUSEUM COMPLEX OF SAN FRANCESCO (MONTEFALCO)/PD, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, (BOTH IMAGES OF TERESA OF KOLKATA) CIRIC INTERNATIONAL
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, April/May 2019