By Kate Arenchild | News Reporter

Bishop Barron shares his thoughts and insights on the Catholic intellectual tradition. (Courtesy of John Burkart)

On Wednesday, March 21, over 300 people filed into the Saint Mary’s Chapel to hear Bishop Robert Barron lecture on the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Bishop Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the archdioceses of Los Angeles. He is known for being a clergyman who is used to being in the public eye, and immediately prior to visiting Saint Mary’s, Barron gave lecture at the Googleplex in the Silicon Valley. He was invited to campus by Father David Gentry-Akin, the chair of the Theology and Religious Studies Department.

Adi Diaz, a Mission and Ministry Center student employee, began the event. She spoke of her personal experience with the work of Bishop Barron, which she said “has helped [her] understand that theology is a never ending pursuit” and deepened her knowledge of God.

Brother Mel Anderson, the President Emeritus of Saint Mary’s College, continued the introductions with a prayer. “Lord, you have raised up individuals, groups, of those who love you who confront your adversaries and particular times and cultures.”

“Open our minds and hearts, Lord,” Br. Anderson said. “As we hear and enjoy a new approach to revealing and living the Christian message in confounding the new atheism, which is really the old atheism in new attire, with which it beguiles our terribly confused culture.”

President James Donahue finished the introductions with a short address. He affirmed the popularity of Bishop Barron citing both his Word on Fire website and his YouTube channel, which has 136,000 subscribers. He then thanked him for his time and welcomed him up to the front of the chapel.

Barron began by talking about the Catholic intellectual tradition and his personal response to it. He grew up Catholic, but did not take his faith seriously until he encountered Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Proof for God as a fourteen year old. This led him to start loving the intellectual treasures of the Catholic Church.

He addressed how the tradition affects how humans understand themselves, and he specifically focused on the notion of human freedom. “What makes you free?” he asked. He explained that while contemporary culture tends to define freedom as autonomy, this is, in fact, antithetical to true freedom.

Using the example of a musician, he explained that before they are free to sit down and beautifully play a masterpiece, they must spend hours learning to memorize scales. A musician can’t simply play what they wish, but rather must follow such musical scales. He compared this to the rules of the Church. They are not here to hinder us, he said, but they provide a positive structure that lead humans towards holiness. “Freedom is a discipline of the will, of desire.” It is this process that makes “the achievement of good is at first possible, then natural.” Barron explained how the Catholic tradition uses their rules to uplift her members and make them truly free to pursue holiness.

The Bishop ended his talk speaking about the Church and its calling. Invoking the words of Saint Paul, he said: “Come out of the old world! Come into the “ecclesiae,” or, the new community around the King, the risen Christ.” He ended, stating, “May the Catholic Intellectual tradition flourish here and elsewhere.”

In responding to his lecture, Fr. Gentry-Akin said, “While we toss around terms like ‘Catholic’ on our campus, there is really a profound ignorance of the Catholic intellectual tradition, not only among students but among our faculty.” 

“As an institution,” he continued, “We are not doing nearly enough to nurture and strengthen the Catholic intellectual tradition on our campus, such as hiring faculty and administrators who understand and appreciate the tradition and who are prepared to hand it on.”

“A tradition is like a garden,” he said. “It has to be nurtured. When it is neglected, as we have done for years on our campus, it simply turns to weed.”

However, Fr. Gentry-Akin was impressed with Bishop Barron’s knowledge and commitment to the Catholic tradition. “He knows the Catholic tradition extremely well and he understands contemporary culture very well, too,” Fr. Gentry-Akin said. “He is able to mine the tradition to bring out insights that really speak to the questions and concerns posed by young people today.”

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