As Advent dawned at These Stone Walls, Nate Chapman, Fr. Wilfred Deschamps, Jean Fafard, David Kemmis and Jim Preisendorfer set the Word on Fire with “Catholicism.”
There they go again, shaking up our complacency and challenging the state of our faith among this captive audience. You have met these marauders before. In 2013, Nate Chapman, Fr. Wilfred Deschamps, Jean Fafard, David Kemmis, and Jim Preisendorfer all showed up here with an invitation that my friend, Pornchai Moontri, and I first scoffed at to our peril.
Or at least it was to the peril of our grayest days in the living of our faith, the days when hopelessness caused faith to bend under the weight of a daily and sometimes dismal grind. I think most of you can relate. Pornchai-Max and I were dragged kicking and screaming in the clutches of these Catholic evangelists who invaded our lethargic Catholicism.
Don’t be shocked by that. I know many priests whose faith has become reduced to barely glowing embers. So when you find your own life of faith diminished, you might want to read of our first journey with these good men who guided us through “33 Days to Morning Glory.” The Marians at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy published our journey as “Behold Your Son! Behold Your Mother!”
Their invitation challenged us to participate in the promise and practice of Divine Mercy. These ordinary guys did something extraordinary just by being themselves while participating in a basic tenet of faith in action in response to a Gospel passage, “When I was in prison you came to me” (Matthew 25:36).
It was at the heart of my post, “A Harvest Moon Before Christ the King.” Their faith in action set off a chain reaction here that changed everything both in and around us. It even altered the course of These Stone Walls. In my first five years of writing for TSW, I had no posts about the work of Divine Mercy or Marian Consecration. In the last three years, I have posted well over twenty such titles.
WORD ON FIRE
Now, for the last ten Sunday evenings leading up to the Second Sunday of Advent, these men have been meeting with us to view and discuss a video presentation of Bishop Robert E. Barron’s magnificent series, Catholicism published by his Word on Fire ministry.
Word on Fire is a global media ministry that has reached millions through its productions on WGN America, EWTN, Relevant Radio, and the Word on Fire YouTube channel. Its centerpiece production, Bishop Robert Barron’s highly acclaimed series, Catholicism is described as “a groundbreaking 10-part documentary and study program about the Catholic faith.”
But that stodgy description in no way captures the full impact of this series. The video presentations are ‘a stunning feast of Catholic art, architecture, literature, music, history, and a brilliant tour of theology exploring over 2,000 years of the life of the Church. I cannot recommend this series more highly for parishes and Catholic organizations wanting to deepen the life of faith for their communities.
When Catholicism was created, Bishop Barron was Father Robert Barron, Rector-President of Mundelein Seminary/University of Saint Mary of the Lake near Chicago. His impressive theological credentials include a master’s degree in philosophy from The Catholic University of America and a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Institute Catholique in Paris.
And it shows. Bishop Barron is an engaging and charismatic presenter. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame, a Scholar in Residence at the Pontifical North American College at the Vatican, and has served as a professor of systematic theology at Mundelein since 1992.
Word on Fire has also published a Catholicism Study Guide written by Carl Olson, editor of Catholic World Report. Readers of These Stone Walls might recall his book, The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius Press, 2004) featured at the end of my recent review and expose’ of “Origin by Dan Brown.” Carl Olson’s Study Guide has proven to be an important tool for the Catholicism series.
I was amazed at how much I was moved, renewed and enlightened by Catholicism I came away from each of the ten hour-long video presentations in awe of their clarity, depth, and inspiration. My theological credentials pale next to Bishop Barron’s, but having earned undergraduate degrees in philosophy and psychology a Pontifical degree in Sacred Theology, and a Master of Divinity, I like to think that I’m not a theological lightweight.
But there is something very special in this ten-week series. Watching the video presentations week after week, I was surprised by how much I didn’t know. I don’t mean how much I didn’t know in the mind, but rather in my heart.
IN THE COMPANY OF SAINTS AND VILLAINS
That is the real power of Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism. He has a masterful command of Judeo-Christian traditions, and calls on the Law of Moses, the Prophets, the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Bible, the gathering of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, the Early Church Fathers, Augustine, Aquinas, the great theologians of the life of the Church.
I have studied them all, but by putting them together in a guided tour through the wisdom of faith, Bishop Barron has created a revelation in the heart that deeply moves faith beyond doctrine. After watching the presentations, I entered into the review and discussion sessions humbled by what I had seen and heard, and by how forcefully it set the Word on Fire in my heart.
Saint Anselm defined theology as “faith seeking understanding.” I think this is what makes these presentations so powerful. They transcend the dry, academic foundations of Catholic beliefs to reach the realm of real understanding. I cannot count the number of “Aha!” moments these presentations triggered.
Right from Lesson One, titled “Amazed and Afraid,” these explorations of Sacred Scripture, the Mass, and our beliefs are filled with the great gems of understanding that make our faith more than a set of doctrines, but a burning in the heart.
Here’s a timely example: In Advent a few years back, I wrote one of my own favorite Christmas posts for These Stone Walls, “Upon a Midnight Not so Clear, Some Wise Men from the East Appear.” I only wish that when I wrote it, I had a simple but wonderful interpretation of one small verse in the story of the Gifts of the Magi from the Gospel According to Matthew:
“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, [the Magi] left for their country by another route.” (2:12)
Reflecting on this account, Bishop Barron quoted the great Archbishop Fulton Sheen who sifted from the symbolism of that story that the Magi leaving by another route means that no one comes to Christ with the gift of themselves and leaves the same way they came, Wonderful!
For ten weeks, Pornchai Moontri and I, ‘along with’ seventeen other Catholic prisoners, journeyed with our friends and guides through Catholicism. Most remarked that Lesson Seven, “Communion with the Lord,” is breathtaking in its power to transform in our hearts what we have all experienced for some or most of our lives: the Mass.
By seeing the Eucharist through the eyes and minds of the early Church, Bishop Barron creates an understanding of the True Presence of Christ that deeply moved us. This is a brilliant and highly acclaimed trek through the life of faith we call Catholicism. I recommend visiting CatholicismSeries.com.
Editor’s Note: Please share this post and these other special Advent posts from These Stone Walls:
- Joseph’s Dream and the Birth of the Messiah
- The First of the Four Last Things: An Advent Tale
- I’ve Seen the Fall of Man: Advent East of Eden
- ‘Phasers on Stun, Mr. Spock!’ Captain Kirk’s Star Trek Epiphany