Catholicism: The New Evangelization

Worth Watching, Jan/Feb 2014

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By Steven D. Greydanus


Since Bl. Pope John Paul II called for a “new evangelization” in 1983, the phrase has become common in Catholic circles, yet too often it’s been a slogan with little substance—or success. Father Robert Barron’s work with Word on Fire Ministries is among the most gratifying exceptions to this unfortunate rule.

 

Fr. Barron’s magnum opus is his magnificent 10-part 2011 series, Catholicism, a veritable cathedral in video form that George Weigel reasonably hailed as “the most important media project in the history of the Catholic Church in America.” Blending documentary with apologetics and catechesis, Catholicism brings the riches and beauty of the Catholic Church’s history, culture, and beliefs to life with compelling power.

 

Fr. Barron’s latest project, Catholicism: The New Evangelization, is not so much a new chapel to go along with the cathedral of Catholicism—it’s more like a school for cathedral builders. Filmed in part during a 2012 lecture tour of Australia, during which the priest spoke in the parishes, pubs, and college campuses of one of the world’s most nonreligious nations, Catholicism: The New Evangelization brings Fr. Barron’s customary spirit of upbeat, affirmative orthodoxy to the challenges facing the Church’s mission in our increasingly secular world.

 

While The New Evangelization boxed set comprises four DVDs, the feature presentation is a single 95-minute documentary, with various supplementary materials on the remaining discs. With a mix of location shooting, interviews with Catholic talking heads (including Ross Douthat, author of Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, and new Word on Fire content director Brandon Vogt, author of The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet), the feature presentation explores the factors behind the secularization of culture and the tools and methods the Church’s new evangelists are using to bring the gospel to the world today.

 

Dispelling the widespread modern misconception of God as a rival or impediment to human well-being, Fr. Barron affirms Christianity’s claim as the foundation of true humanism. Against the disenchanted or desacralized view of the world, he stakes the fundamental human religious impulse memorably encapsulated in St. Augustine’s dictum about our “restless hearts.”

 

Beginning with 20th-century figures such as J.R.R. Tolkien, who wove Catholic themes into The Lord of the Rings, and Archbishop Fulton Sheen, whose expert use of radio and television gave him unparalleled access to the American public, The New Evangelization highlights groups and ministries successfully organizing locally and leveraging the power of new media.

 

The supplemental materials on the additional discs offer much food for thought. Interviews excerpted in the main feature with Weigel, Vogt, Douthat, and Brad Gregory (author of The Unintentional Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society) are presented at greater length, and a number of Fr. Barron’s lectures are also included.

 

In the end, The New Evangelization is a call to action. As Vogt pointedly observes, every priest and every parish can create a Twitter feed or a Facebook page. For that matter, so can almost any Catholic…and while many Catholics might not know what to say or how to say it, watching Catholicism: The New Evangelization is a good place to start learning.

 

For a video trailer of the program or a sample first lesson, visit catholicismnewevangelization.com.

 

New on home video

 

Pride and Prejudice: Keepsake Edition (1995) Jane-ites rejoice! New on Blu-ray and DVD from A&E, this is the classic, nearly five-hour miniseries version of Jane Austen’s beloved novel, with Colin Firth as the definitive Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet. This new “keepsake edition” includes over an hour of never-before-seen bonus features. (Older kids and up)


Raiders of the Lost Ark (1982) At last, the greatest swashbuckling movie of all time—until now available on Blu-ray only in a boxed edition including three sequels of highly variable quality—can be purchased on Blu-ray all by itself. Harrison Ford is the quintessential action hero, but he’s also a paradox: a hero who fails over and over, until in the end God himself defeats the forces of evil. (Teens and up)


The Scarlet and the Black (1983) Yes, by all means buy this riveting, fact-based WWII thriller starring Gregory Peck as the “Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican,” Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, and Christopher Plummer as his Nazi nemesis, Colonel Herbert Kappler. But no, don’t buy the new 138-minute disc from Shout! Factory / Timeless Media. Get the old 143-minute version from Lionsgate. (Older kids and up.)

Steven D. Greydanus

Steven D. Greydanus is the author of the website The Decent Films Guide (DecentFilms.com) and regularly appears in Catholic print, radio, and television. He is pursuing diaconal studies in the Archdiocese of Newark. He and his wife, Suzanne, have seven children.