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‘Catholicism: the New Evangelization’ – Review of Word On Fire documentary

Written By | Dec 23, 2014

CHICAGO, December 23, 2014 – Can you justify human rights without a belief in an absolute truth? Is our culture truly modern, or just a repetition of older ideas with a newer veneer? Is there any room for God in our society, given the continuous advances of science? How does religion relate to culture, and does it belong in the public square? These are just a few of the vital questions addressed with frankness and intellectual rigor in “Catholicism: The New Evangelization.”

It’s been a busy couple of years for Fr. Robert Barron, who has become popular in Catholic circles due in large part to his fascinating short online video commentaries. Covering topics ranging from moral theology to James Bond films, Fr. Barron’s sometimes-controversial commentaries and his willingness to openly and respectfully engage detractors have earned him a loyal following among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

If religion is a vital part of the cultural discussion, then Fr. Barron has something very important to say on the matter. A deeply erudite theologian and cultural scholar, he released his epic “Catholicism” series, a ten-part documentary about the history of the Catholic Church, in 2011. Filmed in glorious HD complete with lush musical scoring, the PBS-aired drama followed Fr. Barron as he traveled the world undertaking what was just as much a visual catechism as it was a “Travel Channel for Catholics’” event.

Through it all, Fr. Barron took an unflinching look at the modern Church and her history – saints and warts and all – and presented a far fairer and more intellectually honest portrayal of Catholicism than an increasingly anti-Catholic media establishment would be generally willing to endorse.

In his most recent effort, “Catholicism: The New Evangelization,” Fr. Barron makes fascinating observations on modern Catholic culture, taking aim at the concerns and woes of the modern Church while addressing a number of questions left hanging from his immense original film effort.

He begins the dialogue in Australia, one of the most secular cultures in the world.

Questions abound: why are so many young people leaving the Church? What of the supposed efforts to modernize the Church in Vatican II, or those who claim that the Church should move in the direction of the culture at large? Does this not contradict the fact that among those who are remaining in the Catholic Church, passionate orthodoxy is growing exponentially? What is the relationship between doctrine, faith, and modernity? These questions put us in the middle of the so-called “New Evangelization.”

Fr. Barron brings in such intellectual luminaries and authors as George Weigel, Dr. Brad Gregory, Ross Douthat, Brandon Vogt and Dr. Tracy Dowland to address these questions, while examining the work of great figures like Hans Urs Von Balthazar, Blessed John Paul the Second, and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Further, he explores a number of new Catholic groups addressing the culture in novel and innovative ways.

These current efforts not only address the criticism that there was a lack of such wider commentary in the original “Catholicism” series, but add considerable depth and variety of opinion to an already highly engaging 90-minute film.

The three remaining discs in the boxed set contain a number of extended interviews with the commentators featured in the film, along with additional commentaries and talks filmed during Fr. Barron’s travels.

Taken as a whole, this is a truly riveting dialogue that stands in stark witness against the continuous, ongoing attempts to paint the modern Church as an intellectually irrelevant organization. The ideas and commentaries presented in this set are a challenge to those who purport to call themselves Catholic as well as those who oppose organized religion in general.

While the original Catholicism series was directed at the broader public, this encore seems more of an internal discussion among orthodox Catholics. Even so, non-Catholics who would like to understand the goals and thinking of leading Church figures would certainly learn much from this effort. Catholics, for their part, will likely find this a rich and satisfying – yet highly challenging – film to digest.

Through it all Fr. Barron engages us with his charm, wit, and erudition while at the same time involving us in difficult conversations that are well worth having.

Rating *** (3.5 out of 4 stars.)


Mark Nowakowski

Dr. Mark Nowakowski is a composer whose works have been performed across the United States and Europe. He holds five degrees in various music concentrations