Catholicism: Living Tradition is not Trendy

We’ve been talking about Robert Barron’s Catholicism — both the book and the DVD series — for for months, and I am surprised that with all of my reading, I had missed Maurice Timothy Reidy’s review at America magazine in which Reidy — while liking a great deal about the series — complained that the thing does not adequately embrace the now:

It is wonderful to contemplate that we share a faith with the men who crafted the rose windows at Notre Dame and the African martyrs who died in Uganda. And “Catholicism” is a valuable reminder of this rich patrimony. Yet in general the film fails to convey that the church is a living tradition, one that continues to inspire artists, musicians and writers, as well as young theologians and lay ministers. Shots of worshippers in Mexico and the Philippines are not enough to capture the vitality of the church today.

In his column this week, Matt Emerson responds:

That last sentence is almost self-refuting and ought to incentivize everyone to watch the series for themselves. The pilgrims in adoration before the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe; the thousands crowding John Paul II at the first World Youth Day in Manila; the exuberant cries in St. Peter’s Square greeting the new Pope Benedict XVI; the vibrant, colorful liturgies in Uganda: these and more were dramatic vignettes of not only the vitality of today’s church but, equally, its universality.

And what, I wonder, would better convey a living tradition? Kitsch church mosaics? If that’s the tradition we’re preserving, to hell with it.

Emerson, who teaches at a Jesuit college preparatory school, is seeing the real-time effect the DVD series is having upon his students:

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.

Yes, it seems to me that education should be “first things, first” with enlargements later — after students have gotten those “first things.”

You’ll want to read Matt’s whole piece.

Then check out Heather King, writing about a recent working visit to Word on Fire ministries, Barron’s organization, and she has some thoughtful tidbits!

If you have not been adequately enticed into checking out the series and book, yet, do check out Matthew Warner’s “10 Sneak Previews”.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • jcd

    The series sounds excellent. Does Fr.Barron speak at all about the changes in the Church since Vatican ll ? New vortex on “CHANGE”:

  • Linda Lee

    I’ve caught the first 3 1/2 episodes on EWTN the last couple nights and LOVE IT!!! It is tops on my Christmas list:)

  • Todd

    I read Reidy’s review, and I didn’t get the idea he was touting trendy. Fr Barron is a marvelous mystagogue, and appropriately inspiring and challenging in his public ministry. But he does have blind spots. It’s why we need more than the cult of celebrity, and illustrates why Catholic must be much more broad and deep than any single man.

    Ken Burns contributed much to the understanding of jazz, for example, in his miniseries. But I sure hope people didn’t stop there. I don’t expect people will stop with Fr Barron, either.

    It’s almost predictable that some conservatives would fall back on their favorite caricatures. Speaking as an artist working in a Catholic culture, I would hope that the people are prepared to support what I do and what my artistic colleagues in architecture, iconography, sculpture, music, etc. provide for the evangelical and spiritual ministries of the Church.

    So if we’re going to focus on a 21st century producer and the good things he’s doing, let’s keep our eye on the ball on other fronts, too, people. It’s only Catholic.

  • Jane Hartman

    The beauty, splendor and magnificence of the church is what brought me into it. I’m delighted Fr. Barron is showing just that. And thankfully, much of the silly music written after Vatican 2 is left out.

  • Todd

    I’m grateful, of course, that nearly all the silly music written before 1962 was left out, too. Kudos to Fr Barron for not dwelling on pre-conciliar plaster kitsch as well.

  • Jeanne

    Reidy writes….”The Catholic Church presented in “Catholicism” comes across as a bit old-fashioned. Consider the art and music. After 10 hours of stained glass windows and Gregorian chant, I found myself yearning for kitschy church mosaics and the strains of the St. Louis Jesuits. The cathedrals of Europe are awe-inspiring, but they can seem far removed from the reality of parish worship today.”

    Yes! It’s pure tragedy that I and my children are forced to listen to a “bongo & bango” ensemble at every Sunday Mass in hideous late 1960s church….We would love some of that “old fashioned Gregorian Chant” and a few stainglass windows ANY DAY! PURE TRAGEDY..this IS the reality of most parish worship today! Bring on the Reform of the Reform and New Evangelization!

  • Carl

    The left at American magazine and elsewhere can’t seem to accept that the Catholic Church is being corrected now for the huge mistakes undertaken in the name of the spirit of Vatcian II. This series is but one of many signs that sanity is returning to the Catholic Church. Now of course we must also repair the damage done to our Churches to match the wonderful changes coming to correct the liturgy and the songs during the mass. I find it amazing how much Pope Benedict has been able to do to put fire into many of the things Pope John Paul II started. I also was able to see the speech (finally found it) by Archbishop Dolan in opening the conference as its new president as well as other discussions and presentation and it was heartening to see and hear. It is refreshing to see after all the outright distortions and dissent over the last 40 years. Of course there is much more to do, but as you now see the new young lions who came in under Pope John Paul II gaining power, you really do begin to feel it is the springtime of the church.

  • Greta

    Excellent program on EWTN tonight in what appeared to be a Polish production on early years of Pope John Paul II. It left off with him just becoming a priest. Excellent work in this fine production.