MADISON -- Bishop John O. Barres, current bishop of Allentown, Pa., spoke to a group of about 100 Catholics, including priests, catechists, and parishioners from all over the diocese, on Thursday night, Nov. 11, at the Bishop O’Connor Center in conjunction with the ongoing St. Thérèse of Lisieux Lecture Series.
His lecture, “Catechesis and Renewal: 21st Century ‘Signs of the Times’ in the World of Catechesis,” was presented by Bishop Barres as part of the series inaugurated by Bishop William H. Bullock during Jubilee Year 2000. The series offers people in the Diocese of Madison the opportunity to experience the life-giving presence of Catholic tradition, to learn more about their faith, and to live more authentically the charity which St. Thérèse came to understand as her vocation.
Balance between faith and reason
“As Catholics we need to discern the path which leads us to the truth,” Bishop Barres said. If there is one thing we need, he continued, it is balance between the union of faith and reason. The challenges that the union of faith and reason present, “is a great opportunity for spiritual growth,” he said in his opening remarks.
Barres spoke in depth of six major signs of the times, all including references to documents of the Church from Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, to Saint Paul and other living and deceased theologians.
Renewal involves entire Church
“If renewal is to be true renewal, it is not enough that it involves the clergy and a small portion of the laity. True renewal involves the entire Church,” Bishop Barres said. “It involves parishioners and their children, but it also reaches out to those who are not yet Catholic and to those who are lapsed or on the margins of the Church. A very large part of that reaching out needs to be done through catechesis,” he said.
“I am convinced that we are in the process of discovering a great renewal and reform of our Catholic Church in the United States grounded in a fiery missionary and anthropologically balanced approach to catechesis, an approach grounded in humility, charity, and a passionate love for the truth” he continued.
The first sign of the times he talked about was the December 18, 2008, death of Cardinal Avery Dulles, whose legacy of an “evangelizing theology” is significant in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States.
“In his ‘evangelizing theology,’ he was constantly in relationship with catechists ‘on the ground’ — bishops who are the chief teachers and catechists in their dioceses, priests and deacons faithful to their commitment to ongoing theological development and formation, Catholic elementary and high school teachers, as well as Catholic university professors, RCIA leaders, directors of religious education, and parents striving to be ‘the best teachers’ in the Catholic faith as the baptismal rite calls them to be,” Bishop Barres stated in his written address.
“One of the ways that we give tribute to him as Catholic American religious educators and catechists is to rediscover and to live more vibrantly the rich teaching of the Second Vatican Council contained in its four great Constitutions: on the Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), on Revelation (Dei Verbum), on the Church (Lumen Gentium), and on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes),” he explained.
A new apologetics
Bishop Barres also talked at length on the importance of Cardinal Dulles’ emphasis and focus on “The Rebirth of Apologetics,” which Cardinal Dulles discussed in his Laurence J. McGinley lecture of 2004 and in the 1999 updated edition of his classic work, A History of Apologetics.
According to Bishop Barres, Cardinal Dulles concluded his classic work with these words: “The Catholic Church has taught, and continues to teach, that there are sufficient signs to make the assent of faith objectively justifiable. The task of apologetics is to discover these signs and organize them in such a way as to be persuasive to particular audiences.”
Many current theologians and Church leaders, such as Cardinal Francis George, Cardinal William Levada, former Protestant minister Scott Hahn — all who stand on the shoulders of 20th century people such as G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis — have all in their distinct ways continued to develop and refine the call for a new apologetics, according to Bishop Barres.
For example, Bishop Barres continued, in biblical theologian Scott Hahn’s work, he argues that both Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and Benedict XVI’s Biblical Theology will need to be integrated into the new apologetics.
On this first “signs of the times,” Barres concluded, “As religious educators ‘on the ground,’ you have an essential role in both discerning and implementing the new apologetics. You are aware on one hand as religious educators that to be truly pastoral is to be intensely theological. Yet you also know from your experience, how important it is to understand the people who are in front of us,” he added.
Knowledge of Scripture
Another sign of the times, according to Bishop Barres, can be seen in an October 2008 synod in Rome dealing with the Bible and the Catholic Church. Each of us is called to be a vibrant instrument in this call for “an inspired rediscovery of the Word of God as a living, piercing, and active force in the heart of the Church.”
This means each one of us is called to be a lifelong student of the Word of God, Bishop Barres explained. “As catechists, we should live the Church’s spirit of ‘faith seeking understanding’ and at the same time we should seek with a contemplative spirit to understand how the Bible is the foundation of all liturgical prayer.”
Bishop Barres gave an example of the importance of reading sacred Scripture, and the widespread ignorance about what it says, that was demonstrated just a few years ago, when the world experienced the “Da Vinci Code” phenomenon.
For several years, it seemed as if everyone was going to the movie or reading the novel. “As you might remember, the novel claimed that the historic Church had never believed that Jesus was God until the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.”
Anyone who had read the Gospels would know that claim is utterly untrue, Bishop Barres explained. As Pope Benedict explains in Jesus of Nazareth, one of the purposes of the synoptic Gospels was to set forth Jesus’ explicit claims to divinity. And the central theme of the Gospel of John, of course, is that Jesus is the “Word made flesh” or in the words it attributes to Thomas, “my Lord and my God.”
The whole Da Vinci Code phenomenon, according to Bishop Barres, illustrates the profound wisdom of a quip attributed to G.K. Chesterton: “When we stop believing in God, we don’t believe in nothing, we believe in anything.” And it also goes to show, Bishop Barres said, “that if we do not know our own Scriptures, the craziest claims about them can be easily believed.”
As catechists, we are called to take these challenges head on in a way that illustrates the wisdom of Pope Benedict in his 2009 encyclical Charity in Truth: “to defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensible forms of charity.”
Again Bishop Barres said, “to meet this challenge we need to faithfully read and pray the Bible on a regular basis and we need to encourage others to do the same.”
The Year of Saint Paul
Bishop Barres said another sign of the times is the lessons learned in the Jubilee Year of Saint Paul from June 2008 to June 2009. Paul’s Road to Damascus conversion experience and encounter with the Risen Lord continues to not only capture the artistic imagination, but helps the contemporary Catholic discern their own Road to Damascus conversion experience, Bishop Barres said.
The Cross of Jesus Christ is at the center of all that Paul does, the bishop said. He teaches us how to deal with the hardships and grief of life. Paul experiences it all: rejection, calumny, indifference, shipwrecks, imprisonment, and ultimately, martyrdom, as symbolized in art by Paul holding a sword (2 Corinthians 11:23-29).
According to this sign, “With Paul, we too fight the good fight, endeavoring to allow the Beatitudes, the theological and cardinal virtues, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and ultimately the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to reign in us. Dying to self and rising in Christ, we embrace the Cross and remember: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (Corinthians 13: 7-8),” Barres explains.
New liturgical translations
Bishop Barres named the movement toward the implementation of the liturgical translations in Advent 2011 as a sign of the times.
He said “our goals should be much larger than explaining why certain parts of the Eucharistic prayers are changing although pastorally that will be important and challenging.”
It is an opportunity to rekindle our Eucharistic amazement and to realize that every Mass has a cosmic significance.
Marriage and the saints
The final two signs of the times that Bishop Barres discussed were the USCCB’s Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, a document designed to be integrated into marriage preparation and enrichment catechesis; and the lives of saints as catechetical pedagogy, particularly the celebrating of the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s proclaiming St. Thomas More to be the Patron of Statesmen, Politicians, and Lawyers.
In closing, Barres reminded his audience that each of them is an absolute key part of the “21st Century ‘Signs of the Times’ in the World of Catechesis” and that it is their personal witness and intimacy with Christ that help lead the people they serve to Christ.
Bishop Barres, one of the youngest bishops in the country, was born the fifth of six children to Oliver and Marjorie Barres, Protestant ministers who met each other at Yale Divinity School, but later converted to Catholicism in 1955. Bishop Barres was baptized by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
Bishop Barres studied at Princeton University, where he played basketball and obtained a B.A. in English literature, and at New York University’s School of Business Administration, where he earned an M.B.A. in management. He received a Bachelor of Sacred Theology in 1988 and a licentiate in systematic theology from the Catholic University of America, where he received his seminary formation at its Theological College.
He furthered his studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, earning a Licentiate of Canon Law in 1998 and a Doctorate of Spirituality in 1999.