Finishing his tour of Australia in Canberra, American priest Fr Robert Barron presented to a huge crowd at Guinness and God on Tuesday night, an event akin to Spirituality in the Pub which draws young people from across the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.
Having completed trips to every ACU campus including Brisbane, Ballarat, Melbourne, and the two Sydney Campuses, Fr Barron was enthused and said he saw many “signs of life” in the Australian Church.
Fr Barron has received notoriety of late for his epic television series “Catholicism”, a series which has been picked up by over 200 television stations across the United States.
The American priest founded “Word on Fire Ministries” (www.wordonfire.org) in the year 2000, and uses new technology to podcast Homilies, write blogs and articles, to tweet and to share a message of what he calls “authentic Catholicism”.
Fr Barron spoke about growing up with a reasonably “watered-down” version of Catholicism, and how he has made it his mission to show people another side, to help them see the beauty and rich tradition which has endured two thousand years.
Through story and anecdote, and by referencing scripture, he shared his message with thousands of Australians over the one-and-a-half week trip sponsored by Australian Catholic University.
In a conversation with young leaders and teachers at Archbishop’s House in Canberra, Fr Barron spoke of the evangelising mission of Catholic schools, and the huge numbers of young people who leave the Church after attending Catholic schools.
“I went to see my brother recently, and he was telling me about his daughter, my niece who has just finished her senior year at an exclusive Catholic girls’ school in Chicago.
“My brother showed me a pile of textbooks which she was reading. She had Virgil in Latin, Hamlet for English class, and something resembling quantum physics for her science textbook. Then I arrived at the bottom of the pile and saw her religion text book. There were large comic book illustrations and large type”, he said.
“I asked my brother if it bothered him that they trusted her to read Shakespeare and Virgil; they give her quantum physics equations and yet for religion class, they give her a comic book?”
Fr Barron wondered about how sometimes the messages being taught in Catholic schools are made a little bit “beige” because people are so worried about offending.
Though some might have seen that Fr Barron as on something of a tirade against modern culture, he was quite positive about meeting people where they were at.
“My view is that you shouldn’t wag the finger at the culture, because that’s where the people are. You need to use Facebook and Twitter and YouTube because that is the world of our young people.”
In conversation with groups of people working in the Church, he challenged what he sees as a tendency to “dance at the altar of false Gods.”
“We all have addictions; they can be anything from addictions to sex, alcohol, even power. One of the most difficult addictions is that of power, a hunger to be honoured and esteemed by others”, he said.
In a Homily on that same theme on his website Fr Barron talks about cleansing our hearts, and that Lent is an opportune time to do that.
“The moral framework of the 10 Commandments is intended to keep us pure of heart, to keep God the centre. Jesus’ actions in the temple, making a whip out of cords and driving the money changers away, are intended to keep hearts pure, keep God the centre.
“It’s a sort of “house cleaning” we need to consider as we let distracting “false gods” enter our hearts, a place that should be devoted to keeping Him the centre”, he said.
He speaks of prayer and constant communication with Jesus as a key for young people to find the grace to escape addiction, but also to find their true purpose and mission in life.
People listening to his final presentation were invited to tweet questions to Fr Barron, and one was focused on how young people might practically break through the noise and find their truest desires.
He answered with practical advice which was centred very much on using the resources already available to us.
“The word is there for us in scripture, we just need to stop and listen. The number one thing we need to do is pray.
Authentic desires which are given by God will reveal themselves. As St Augustine said, “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee”,” he said.
“I had 45 year old man who came to my door and asked to talk to me. He was successful in worldy terms – he had a great car, a great house and was the CEO of a big company. In Chicago we have an area which is called “the North Shore” and we talk about getting those “North Shore dreams”. He said to me, I have all of these things, and I’m miserable”.
“Pleasure is good, success is good, but one of the ways in which you can discern if it is from the true God is how it makes you feel afterwards. Do you feel satisfied? Or do you feel enslaved by it?”