Bp. Barron at the synod: Catholicism has consistently embraced the beautiful

Bishop Robert Barron, speaking at the Synod on youth, called for catechesis and apologetics that goes beyond the superficial to look in depth at the questions people are asking.  Among other things, he said:

Our apologetics and catechesis should walk the via pulchritudinis, as Pope Francis characterized it in Evangelii Gaudium. Especially in our postmodern cultural context, commencing with the true and the good—what to believe and how to behave—is often counter-indicated, since the ideology of self-invention is so firmly established. However, the third transcendental, the beautiful, often proves a more winsome, less threatening, path.

And part of the genius of Catholicism is that we have so consistently embraced the beautiful—in song, poetry, architecture, painting, sculpture, and liturgy. All of this provides a powerful matrix for evangelization.

And as Hans Urs von Balthasar argued, the most compelling beauty of all is that of the saints. I have found a good deal of evangelical traction in presenting the lives of these great friends of God, somewhat in the manner of a baseball coach who draws young adepts into the game by showing them the play of some of its greatest practitioners.


“God does not promise a sterile existence but a life that is itself beautiful”

This week at the Synod on youth, Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport urged participants to look to the way of beauty as the transcendent value particularly needed in efforts at evangelization:

It was Saint Thomas Aquinas who taught that the human person can encounter God by three privileged paths: truth, beauty and goodness. In terms of technology’s formative influence on young people, I would respectfully suggest that it is the path of beauty that must be better explored for the sake of evangelization and catechesis.

In my experience with young people, the questions that haunt them are not simply intellectual ones. They are first and foremost affective questions (i.e., “questions of the heart”), that ask about their self-worth, the reasonableness of hope, the ability to commit to another and to be loved in return. We must unlock the power of beauty, which touches and captures the heart, precisely by utilizing the many opportunities now afforded by digital communication and social media to accompany young people to experience beauty in service of the Gospel.

Let us offer the sacred liturgy as a celebration of the beautiful, the transcendent, with an engagement of the affective senses. Let us work to capture the heart of all believers to encounter a God who does not promise a sterile existence but a life that is itself beautiful, rich in meaning, that invites one’s heart to dare to believe that this earthly life is worth living and worth fighting for in light of an eternal life where the restlessness of the heart will find its final rest in the salvation that alone comes from Christ Jesus the Lord.


A 30 year old pop song, at a “youth” Mass, during Communion, at a major basilica

…made famous by a singer who tragically overdosed over half a decade ago.

Once again, efforts to appeal to youth through relevance fail badly.

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At youth synod, Abp. Fisher apologizes for failures to hand on Catholic tradition

At the Synod on Youth, Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P., of Sydney has made a quite unconventional apology to Catholic youth: not only for wrongful acts committed, but also for failures to hand on the faith in its fullness, including “unbeautiful liturgies” and poor preaching.

The Catholic Herald writes:

In addition to apologising for the Church’s failures with clerical sexual abuse, the archbishop also apologised for the ways in which the Church had failed to “introduce you to the person of Jesus Christ, his saving word and his plan for your life.”

“And for the times when you were searching for your sexual, ethnic or spiritual identity and needed a moral compass, but found Church people unsympathetic or ambiguous: I apologise,” he said.

The Catholic Church, Archbishop Fisher said, often “sold you short” by not challenging young people to live up to their baptismal call to holiness, by offering them “unbeautiful or unwelcoming liturgies” and by not sharing with them Church traditions such as the sacrament of reconciliation, pilgrimages and Eucharistic adoration.

He apologised for “poor preaching, catechesis or spiritual direction” that failed to inspire conversion and for families, dioceses and religious orders that adopted a “contraceptive mentality” that did not even try to give birth to new vocations.

In addition to his apology, the Sydney archbishop pleaded with young people: “Never give up on Jesus because of our failures. Never give up on the Church that you can help make more faithful. Never give up on the world that, with Christ and the Church’s help, you can make a better place.”

Photo credit: screenshot from Twitter.

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Listening to young Catholics of Scotland

In some of the discourse surrounding the synod, we have noted a trend of suggesting that difficult aspects of the Church’s teaching, in matters of morals and matters of faith, need to be downplayed, or even put aside, in order to be relevant to people’s lives and sensitive to their difficulties. Some even imply that priests who hold to orthodox teaching are out of touch with the lives of lay people, and of young people especially. However, it is in fact this line of thought that is utterly in contradiction to our lived experience. What made us become and/or remain Catholic, against ever increasing cultural pressure, are those aspects of the faith that are uniquely Catholic, not things that can be found in social clubs, in NGOs, or in political parties. What matters is precisely the Church’s claim to truth; Her liturgy and Sacraments; Her transcendent doctrine, communicated in teaching but also through beauty and goodness; Her understanding of the human person, laid out so powerfully for the modern world by St John Paul II; and Her moral teaching, that while so very challenging, also offers the only path to true joy and human flourishing as we see in the lives of the saints. These are the things that convince us that here is something worth the sacrifice, something good for us and for every human being.

Young Catholics are inspired by the heroic virtue espoused by the Church, in opposition to the cynicism and pessimism of postmodern culture. A faith that merely legitimises the habits we would otherwise have anyway is simply not worth it. Far from being “out of touch”, it is those priests who proclaim orthodox teaching in its fullness with joy and courage who have brought the light of Christ into our lives, and really offered us His Mercy – the remedy for a broken world, which does not pretend human brokenness is irremediable, but truly heals and gives the grace we need to live new lives of virtue. To those priests, we are unendingly grateful.

Much more here.


Listening to Young People: Same-Sex Attraction Edition

Like Christ remembered me from the cross, I pray that you would remember me, and my brothers and sisters like me, dear Bishops, as you pray about and discuss how to help young people in matters of faith and vocation, especially in regards to the topic of homosexuality.

Please remember that, as St. Therese the Little Flower, a dear patron of mine, so greatly put it, “My vocation is to love.”

Much more here.


Listening to Young People–Indian Subcontinent Edition

A young Catholic writes:

Unfortunate as it may be, the hierarchy simply does not have the trust of a significant portion of the laity. This trust must be regained, and it certainly won’t be regained by speaking as though they have something to hide. People are already familiar with this type of evasive language with built-in loopholes, having heard it from con men in the form of politicians and businessmen.

Much more here.


Are we listening to young people?

The young person in the final panel is of course referring to the beautiful and heartfelt letter that Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote in 1966 to the Benedictine abbots of the world, pleading, begging them to maintain their tradition of Gregorian chant.

The Holy Father’s plea was specifically that of heritage. This is not only a linguistic heritage, he writes, but of prayers and chants that have grace, beauty, and inherent strength. Who but Benedictine monks would keep these prayers alive?

In his autobiography, Rembert Weakland explains candidly how he and his colleagues carefully avoided obeying the Holy Father’s instructions. They justified their disobedience by an expedient proposed by one of the English bishops, who said that as abbots, they would want to listen to their monks, and so the Holy Father would want to listen to them. They ignored Pope Paul, because he should not ignore them.  This method of obedience is probably not entirely true to the spirit of the Rule.

That was the 60s, and everything was a little confused back then. The media was eager to help everyone divest themselves of whatever shackles they had. Dr. Elvis Presley fell in love with Sr. Mary Tyler Moore, while Sr. Julie Andrews fell into the arms of a stern widower. I’ve spoken to folks who went through these times: a Norbertine priest who became a diocesan priest, because, as he said, when the Norbertine liturgy was no longer allowed, why bother? An active sister I know decided to leave the convent on the very night The Sound of Music was screened for free for all of the women Religious in DC.

Thankfully we are less confused now. Above all, from the example of liberal Protestantism, it is clear that playing Neville Chamberlain to the secular world’s sense of manifest destiny is a fast way to lose our identity, our mission, and our credibility.

Part two of the procession for the Global Climate Action Summit Multi-Faith Service. The cathedral was nearly silent. #GCASfaith #GCAS2018 Episcopal Diocese of California #GraceSF

Posted by Grace Cathedral, San Francisco on Wednesday, September 12, 2018


In my experience, the young people of today would be more likely to heed Blessed Pope Paul VI than Rembert Weakland and his colleagues. They are more formal than I am. As likely as any young people of any era to be fun-loving and exuberant, they do not seem to want to carry that casualness into Mass.

This was the first thing I noticed as a parish Music Director: the religious seriousness of the young people. The altar servers stood tall and seemed to pray at the Mass. Young families went to confession–a lot. Children wore scapulars. While I certainly wanted to provide them with solid hymnody and proper texts, what drew me to introduce chant and polyphony to them was my desire to respond to their own prayerfulness, with music that could feed their souls and lead them forward in their prayers.

The flourishing religious communities of today, those that attract the young, are truly religious. They are doctrinally solid, communal in practice, reverent in liturgy.

In parish life, the young are more reverent than the old. Young people are more likely to receive Communion kneeling and young women are more likely to wear veils.

Some would say that these young people are “rigid”–but that is not the perception of those who are truly listening to them. They have found the pearl of great price and they are responding enthusiastically in great numbers throughout the world. It is up to pastors of souls to hear the joy of the Holy Spirit ringing in their hearts and elevating their lives, to minister to their holy desires, and to safeguard the good things the Lord has in store for them.