Catholicism's Living Church Is no Passing Trend
Echoing other reviews, Reidy questions the documentary's Eurocentricity: "The cathedrals of Europe are awe-inspiring, but they can seem far removed from the reality of parish worship today." Thank God. Putting aside whether modern parish worship is fairly included in a series presenting the "heart of the faith", for many Catholics (especially those under 30) parish worship is the only Catholicism they know, if that. While I do not want to marginalize the heroic work that I've seen in today's parishes, modern parish worship can be bland and uninspiring, even detrimental to the religious impulse. The world needs to be reminded of the majestic images and heartbreaking detail, in stone and on canvas, born of a great faith.
I see the power of this documentary in the reaction of my students. I'm not halfway through the series with a group of seniors and already they are more captivated by "Catholicism" than probably anything I've ever shown or taught, whether book, article, or movie. One student walked into class the other day and said, "Mr. Emerson, I love this movie." To be with these students as Father Barron speaks in San Chapelle or as he explains the Beatitudes in the shadow of Grünewald's Isenheim Altarpiece is as remarkable a moment as anything I've experienced as a teacher. To be sure, they aren't necessarily understanding it all; they aren't necessarily rushing to be baptized or ordained: but they are, more than ever, hooked. The images, the cathedrals, Father Barron's refusal to make Christ the buddy on the dashboard: this is speaking to a culture hungry for truth and for something worth fighting for.
Reidy's review also raises a ghost that will stalk Catholic intellectuals and those in the media for at least the next generation. Father Barron, Reidy notes, makes "only passing mention of the clergy abuse scandal." While Reidy doesn't explicitly criticize this brief mention, his comment leads me to wonder: How much of Catholic self-reflection must address or discuss the sexual abuse scandal? Is there a venue (like Father Barron's "Catholicism") where it need not be raised and dealt with in detail? Can a Catholic feel good about his Church and celebrate the grace and beauty it provides without summoning images of a cowardly priest and a complicit bishop?
Or is clergy sexual abuse now, in some contorted way, part of "the heart of the faith" such that no contemporary overview of Catholicism can avoid it? I ask without irony. For many, the clergy sexual abuse scandal is the defining feature of Catholicism, the event that has irredeemably destroyed its credibility as a witness to the incarnate God.
In making only passing mention of the scandal, however, Father Barron is taking a risk and implicitly attempting to respond. I like his answer.
Matt Emerson writes from California, where he teaches at Xavier Prep.