By Allan F. Wright
“To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age” by Bishop Robert Barron with John L. Allen Jr. Image Books (New York, 2017). 260 pp., $27.
“To Light a Fire on the Earth” is written by John Allen Jr. who poses various questions to Bishop Robert E. Barron on a wide range of topics, including Bishop Baron’s early life, his seminary days, early influences, beauty, truth, goodness and, of course, evangelization.
Those familiar with Bishop Barron’s work including his books, video series “Catholicism” and numerous YouTube videos will not be disappointed in the lively dialogue where the reader seems to eavesdrop on an engaging conversation between two friends.
The subtitle of the book, “Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age,” is Bishop Barron’s bread and butter and the conversation between the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and Allen bears this out.
In responding to a question about the church’s teaching on sexual ethics and people’s obsession, at times, with sexual morality Bishop Barron takes a step back and uses a baseball analogy to get his point across: “I want people to see the infield again; I want them to smell the ballpark. I want them to feel Catholicism, to know the essential stuff. Furthermore, we won’t get the sexual stuff right until we get that right.”
Bishop Barron understands that many outside the church and even those who have been poorly catechized within the church don’t know the basics of what the church teaches. Focusing on the essentials is what drives his evangelization efforts as he desires to enter into conversation with those who are away from the church.
Bishop Barron is one of the prophetic voices in the Catholic Church today who creatively uses the tools of social media to engage his audience in a way not seen since Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. He has the ability to stand toe to toe with intellectuals and can quote the “angelic doctor” St. Thomas Aquinas with the same ease and spontaneity that he quotes the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan.
Bishop Barron is adamant that the teachings of Catholicism are true, and that those who practice them will live joyful and more fulfilled lives. As a man who was ordained in the mid-1980s, he knows that in a postmodern, secular world, new methods and means are necessary to engage a culture that has dismissed Christianity as irrelevant.
Bishop Barron models through his writing not only the way Catholics can engage others with intellectual arguments but more importantly by deploying the basics of our Christian faith, which seeks the good of the other through serving our neighbor as we would serve Christ himself.
“To Light a Fire on the Earth” is an excellent resource for understanding the gap between the thinking of Catholics in era before the Second Vatican Council with regard to the Bible and Scripture study. He states, “Part of the problem was that the intelligentsia became so dominated by the historical-critical approach, they didn’t preach. There was a rupture with the spiritual experience of ordinary people, which is an important point because it has crucial evangelical consequences.”
Bishop Barron provides the biblical worldview throughout the book from which the faithful Catholic can stand on a firm foundation and propose Christ and the teaching of the Catholic Church and its life-changing power.
The reader will find references to Pope Francis, St. John Paul II, Richard Dawkins, Springsteen, Father Andrew Greeley, Donald Trump and various movies and movie characters. This is an excellent book for Catholics to further understand the essential mission of the church, which is evangelization, and an easy book to give to those who may be apathetic or even hostile to the church to spur conversation and dialogue.
Wright is the former academic dean for evangelization for the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey.