Saturday, January 14, 2012

Catholicism by Father Robert Barron

The book Catholicism and its accompanying television series of the same name, have been the talk of the Catholic world for some time now. Pre-publication reviews for Father Robert Barron's books were unlike that for any other Catholic publication in recent years. His documentary series offers viewers both Catholic and non-Catholic alike, an inside look at the Catholic faith in a way never quite presented to the world.

Barron is a visionary in the use of social media and electronic media to push forward the new evangelization that John Paul II challenged all Catholics to undertake in the new millennium. His website, WordOnFire, is the virtual home for his nonprofit Catholic ministry dedicated to "draw people into or back to the Catholic faith." Word On Fire is a beautiful, tantalizing cornucopia of Catholicism at its best and I highly recommend it. There are articles, commentary, radio and video, and Father Barron definitely continues the tradition that Mother Angelica pioneered with her television station EWTN.

In 2008 Father Barron began to film a 10 part series about the Catholic faith, utilizing his travels throughout the world. The trailer for the series which ran on PBS in 2011 is below.

I'm reading the accompanying book, Catholicism. A Journey To The Heart Of The Faith. The timing of this book couldn't be better, with Catholics and the Catholic faith itself under intense pressure by many different segments of society today.

I'll be reviewing this book over the next two weeks.

There are ten chapters in the book; the first titled "Amazed and Afraid: The Revelation of God Become Man.
This chapter's focus is on God become man: Jesus, and his mission on Earth. Father Barron explores the Jesus' mission in the context of the expectations of the nation of Israel. Jesus' purpose or mission what four-fold:
"He would gather the scattered tribes of Israel; he would cleanse the Temple of Jerusalem; he would definitively deal with the enemies of the nation; and, finally, he would reign as Lord of heaven and earth....that through these actions Yahweh would purify Israel and through the purified Israel bring salvation to all."

Gather the scattered tribes of Israel.
Father Barron then commences to demonstrate just how Jesus fulfilled each of these purposes. He begins by discussing the uniqueness and even peculiarity of Jesus who unlike other "prophets" asked the daring question, "Who do people say that I am?". His intent was to draw people to himself, unlike others before him who focused on words and actions. Only God, or the God-Man would do this; in effect showing us what it means to be a Christian disciple. When we understand who Jesus is, we can begin to comprehend why he behaved as recorded in the Gospels. Jesus went against the social conventions of his time to establish the importance of forming the Kingdom of God here on Earth. This was to transcend duty, family, religious ritual - in short, everything.

Cleanse the temple.
Father Barron demonstrates how God chose a people - the descendants of Abraham to form a "priestly nation" to model the Kingdom of God.
"The people Israel were shaped primarily according to the laws of right worship and derivately by the laws of right behavior so that they could model to the nations how to praise and how to act."
However,time and again as Israel failed in its mission to bring God to other nations, and as its faith was corrupted, so was its worship.
The temple was a symbol of the Garden of Eden (when man was in union with God) and represented Israel's mission to evangelize or as Barron states, to "Eden-ize" the pagan world. With Jesus on earth, he redefined the temple - as himself.
"If Jesus is, in his own person, the true Temple, then he should be the definitive source of teaching, healing, and forgiveness, and this is just what the Gospels tell us."
Jesus' actions of cleansing the Temple and his response that "in three days I will raise it up" when confronted by the Pharisees suggest that he was "telling the people that the entire purpose of the earlier temple would be transfigured in him, transposed, as it were, into a new key." There is also a wonderful exposition of how there is no way to explain the development of Christianity as a messianic movement without the resurrection. All the apostles, save one, died in their efforts to evangelize the world. They did not die for a "good man" who "symbolized the presence of God" but for a man who was both man and God.

Definitively deal with the nation's enemies.
The ancient nation of Israel had many enemies and had been overpowered and sugjugated by numerous nations throughout its history. The Jewish people therefore,had a strong expectation that the Messiah would be a military conqueror. As did C.S. Lewis, Father Barron suggests that the baby Jesus was born in a quiet, backward town to very humble parents so as to "slip in behind enemy lines". And as the Gospels indicate, the military leaders took seriously the prediction of a great kind out of the Jewish nation, to the point that they slaughtered all the children 2 years of age and under.

Reign as King of heaven and earth
Barron demonstrates that the circumstances of Jesus birth redefined the nature of "kingship" from one of power and self-interest, to that of love, sacrifice and "the willingness to be bound for another." He contrasts "two very different personifications of power" by describing Augustus Caesar and Jesus Christ.

This first chapter was rich with wonderful insights into the life of Jesus Christ and sets the stage for the next chapter which discusses the teachings of Jesus. For although the "Christian faith centers on who Jesus is", his teachings have transformed the world and continue to do so.

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