Bishop Robert Barron of LA says that trust in the risen Christ is what should give us the courage to preach the truth boldly. Speaking to a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) Leadership Summit in Chicago this week, he applauded their evangelization efforts.
“Through the Holy Spirit, the ascended, risen Christ commands his mystical Body the Church to do what he did, and to say what he said. That’s it…that’s the task of the Church to the present day.”
The bi-annual conference trains student leaders and others for evangelization and missionary work, mostly on college campuses. This year’s conference had the theme of Equip and Inspire.
In his talk to over 8,000 participants, Bishop Barron focused on the Acts of the Apostles, a Biblical book that he said “sets the agenda for us” in the work of evangelization.
He noted that this book begins with an account of Jesus’ ascension, comparing Christ’s glorified position in heaven to that of a general who commands his army at a vantage point from above.
“It tells us very clearly who’s in charge, and what I mean by that is, the ascended Christ who now commands his Church.”
Barron said that the descent of the Holy Spirit compels us to spread the Word of God. and that the Holy Spirit comes to guide the Church.
“In myriad ways, according to your particular missions, bring something of heaven to earth, doing as Jesus did,” the bishop exhorted attendants.
But in doing so, Catholics have to be vigilant not to water down the Gospel or fall for half-truths, he said.
For example, helping the poor is important, Barron said, but this work “in and of itself can never be evangelically sufficient.”
“This is not the time for anti-intellectualism in our Church! We have lots of young people, you know them, they’re your friends and colleagues, who are leaving the Church for intellectual reasons,” Barron said.
He said what’s needed is “bold speech” to proclaim the Gospel, much like the preaching in the early Church, which challenged the common belief that “Caesar is Lord.”
“The bold speech of the Church is that not ‘Caesar,’ or any of his colleagues or predecessors or successors, but rather Jesus is Lord, Jesus is the king. And he is also Christos, anointed.”“If he is Lord, everything in your life belongs to him. Your personal life, yes. Your body, yes. Your friendships, yes. Your political life, yes. Your entertainment, yes. All of it.”
When Christianity becomes reduced to a mere message that can be gained from the dominant culture, Bishop Barron said, it moves from the faith of early persecuted Christians to one which is rewarded lavishly by others.
“That’s what happens to a weakened, attenuated Christianity,” he said.
“In the Acts of the Apostles we hear that when those first disciples spoke, people were cut to the heart. Still true, still true to this day. Bland spiritual teachings, saying what everybody else says, that won’t cut anyone to the heart, but trust me, declaring the lordship of Jesus, that’ll cut them to the heart.”
Bishop Barron highlighted Jesus’ role in light of the Old Testament, saying that only as a fulfillment of laws and the prophets does Jesus make sense. He pointed to St. Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin before his martyrdom, in which the saint summarized the entire Old Testament and then described Jesus’ ministry.
When Jesus is cut off from his roots in Israel, he becomes just a philosopher or wise figure, a “flattened out, uninspiring Jesus,” the bishop warned.
In contrast, he said, “when you present Jesus as the fulfillment of the great story of Israel, Jesus as the fulfillment of the temple that was meant to bring humanity and divinity together, when you preach him as the fulfillment of the law and the covenant and the Torah, when you preach him as the culmination of all the proclamation of the prophets, people will be cut to the heart.”
Students at the conference were encouraged to lead children to the compelling stories of the Bible.
“This great, rollicking, complex, rich story that we have, full of weird names, yeah, but no weirder than Obi-Wan Kenobi, right? The kids have no trouble with that. Don’t tell me they can’t understand the Bible. And therefore don’t tell me that they can’t appreciate Jesus as the culmination of that great story.”
The bishop urged attendees to “remind the world whom they are to worship.”
“Everybody worships somebody or something,” he said. “Everyone’s got a king, right? Our job is to stand up boldly and say, ‘No, Christ is your king. Everything in your life belongs to him’.”