Church Selects a Professor for Divine Inspiration

By Margaret Ramirez
Chicago Tribune
February 15, 2006,1,6436309.story?coll=chi-newslocalnearnorthwest-hed

To some, the assignment may have seemed impossible. But Rev. Bob Barron chose to accept it.

His mission: help revitalize the nation's third largest Roman Catholic archdiocese as it struggles with lower Sunday mass attendance, new allegations of sexual abuse by priests and piercing questions about faith. The straight-talking boss in the red skullcap offered Barron just one weapon: the power of the Gospels.

So began an ambitious effort by Cardinal Francis George focused on inspiring devout believers and drawing inactive Catholics back to the church.

The resulting project, called Mission Chicago 2006, is a yearlong series of masses, prayer novenas, discussions and other events that kicks off Thursday with the three-day Catholic Festival of Faith in Rosemont. It is being touted as one of the largest concerted evangelization efforts among Catholics in recent memory.

To lead this revival, the cardinal tapped Barron, a popular theology professor from the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein who often mixes religious lessons of life with his love of classic rock.

As part of Mission Chicago 2006, Barron will lead six revival talks or "special missions" at parishes across the archdiocese beginning Feb. 23 and culminating on Palm Sunday, April 9. In those talks, Barron said, he'll be using a Billy Graham-type approach for Catholics, asking them to consider what's missing in their lives, why they are unhappy and why turning to Christ is the answer.

Barron is also spearheading another unique event next month called "24 Hours of Grace," where five parishes will stay open all night to offer round-the-clock confession. Participating priests will wear purple stoles blessed by Pope Benedict XVI.

With new allegations of child sexual abuse against Chicago priest Rev. Dan McCormack emerging in recent weeks, there is undoubtedly some concern about their possible effect on the evangelization effort. Yet, for Barron, the crisis makes it even more important and relevant to remind Catholics about the essence of their faith.

Business of evangelizing

"My take has been throughout this thing, even before the more recent allegations came forward, that the church has to be about its business," said Barron. "The business of the church is proclaiming the Gospel. The business of the church is evangelizing, it's the liturgy, it's the Eucharist. We should be about that business."

"I would hope people still find that attractive and find that compelling," he added. "We're always going to be sinful. There's always sin in the church. But yet we still bring the treasure of the Gospel forward."

Though the campaign had been planned months before the recent abuse allegations were revealed, archdiocese spokeswoman Colleen Dolan said the events now take on a new significance.

"All the more reason why people will want to attend these masses; all the more reason why people will want to attend these prayers and talks," Dolan said. "It's a time like this that our faith is challenged, and we really need some spiritual guidance to help us through."

Best known for his dynamic preaching style and his broadcasts on the Catholic station Relevant Radio, the 46-year-old Barron may be the right man to help bring Catholics back to their roots.

Despite a heavy-duty academic background--he holds a master's degree in philosophy from the Catholic University of America and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Institute Catholique de Paris--he speaks like a regular guy and possesses an ability to translate serious theological scholarship into lessons everyone can understand.

During a recent interview at the cardinal's residence, Barron used a rock classic to make a point about the themes for his upcoming talks.

"Did you catch the Super Bowl?" Barron asked excitedly. "The Rolling Stones seemed to be singing what it's all about, right there. `I can't get no satisfaction.' It's something we're all feeling. It's a deep Augustinian impulse."

Barron said the Stones are a personal favorite, as is Bob Dylan.

"I'm a classic rock kind of guy," he said.

In his sermons, Barron says, his main message is to remind people about the core of Catholic evangelization, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Evangelization is most effective, Barron said, when a person is looking to fill a void in his life.

"In some ways, I want to revitalize the old message. In some ways, evangelization is very old business. Paul's form of evangelization was `Jesus is Lord,'" Barron said. "So, your whole life has to belong to Jesus Christ. He's the Lord of your mind, your will, your body, your passions, everything in your public life or private life. He's the Lord of it."

Barron is concerned that contemporary Catholic debates on abortion, homosexuality and sexual teaching have blurred the core message of the church.

"We've become preoccupied with the sexual moral teaching of the church in a way that has become all-pervasive. People believe that's what it means to be a Catholic," he said.

"I think the sexual teaching of the church is very important. But I think you get to it, you begin ... with the beauty of the New Testament and the beauty of Jesus Christ; then you draw people toward an acceptance of, 'yes, that flows from this commitment.' The sexual life that becomes not one of self-preoccupation, but one of self-giving. That's what the church's teaching is all about.

'My life should become a gift'

"It's often construed as finger-wagging, limiting people's pleasure. The whole idea is more to draw people through Jesus Christ to a deep sense of `my life should become a gift.'"

Barron concedes that drawing lapsed Catholics back to the pews will be challenging. But he said he hopes to move them by explaining why being in church is key to calling oneself Catholic.

"You can't be in relation to the Lord without being in relation to his body of the church, which means the sacraments, it means the liturgy, it means the Word, it means the Eucharist, all of that is the way you meet the Lord Jesus.

"It's in the church that we meet Christ."

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Mission Chicago 2006

Mission Chicago 2006 is a yearlong series of events designed to deepen the faith of Chicago-area Catholics. More information is available at Events this week include:

Catholic Festival of Faith

Thursday through Saturday, Stephens Convention Center, Rosemont. Liturgies, prayers, concerts, art exhibits, speakers and more than 180 workshops. See or call 312-751-8388. Some highlights:

12:45 p.m. Thursday: Opening address by Auxiliary Bishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller.

11 a.m. Saturday: Conversation about Pope Benedict XVI hosted by Cardinal Francis George.

5:30 p.m. Saturday: George celebrates the closing liturgy.

Special Missions of Rev. Bob Barron

Six talks asking Catholics to consider what is missing in their lives and why conversion to Christ is necessary.

"What's Missing in My Life?" 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23, St. John of the Cross Church, Western Springs.

"The Drama of Conversion," 7 p.m. March 1, St. John De La Salle Church, Chicago.

"Christ, the Center of Your Life," 7:30 p.m. March 9, St. Mary, Star of the Sea Church, Chicago.

"The Church and the Eucharist," 7:30 p.m. March 15, Queen of All Saints Basilica, Chicago.

"The Power of the Cross," 7:30 p.m. March 22, St. James Church, Arlington Heights.

"Your Life Is Not About You," 7:30 p.m. April 9, Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago.

24 Hours of Grace

Confessions will be heard from 9 a.m. March 3 through 9 a.m. March 4 at St. Mary, Lake Forest; St. Monica, Chicago; Holy Trinity Polish Mission, Chicago; St. Frances of Rome, Cicero; and St. Catherine of Alexandria, Oak Lawn.


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