Friday, August 26, 2011

Why doesn't the MSM like us?

Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans like a worldly man, ready to say Yes and No at once? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.  For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silva'nus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God.
 – 2 Corinthians 1:17-20
Father Robert Barron has a commentary on the commentary by the mainstream media (MSM) of World Youth Day. So, I suggest that you watch it and then read my commentary on his commentary of the MSM's commentary.

[Please see my apology below for the uncharitable tone of this article. I didn't intend it to come out that way. I'm sorry Father Barron.]

After I finished watching this video, I just wasn't impressed. And it bothered me because I wanted to like it, but something about it just rubbed me the wrong way. Partly it was because I had just finished reading an article which Father Barron had written on the exact same subject and much of the article and his YouTube video were word-for-word identical.

"So what?" you say. Well, the style of the "Word on Fire" videos is that Fr. Barron is giving his off the cuff remarks. So obviously he is not. "Big deal" you say. And you're right it shouldn't be a big deal, it's just that the whole style has an air of phoniness. He wants to create the impression that he is engaged in an intimate conversation with us, the viewers. When really he is just talking to a camera on a stand while occasionally glancing off to the side to look at his notes on a laptop.

Maybe I'm too "sophisticated", but I can detect an acting job when I see it. And I don't like it. Especially an acting job that is intended to give the impression that the actor is not acting. This is the style of a Madison Avenue commercial. And I would expect a priest of the Church to reject this type of commercialism. It is as if we are watching a professional actor pretending to be a priest. And that bothers me. I want to see a real priest.

Compare that with Pope Benedict XVI addressing a live audience of over a million young people. He reads his text straight from a paper on his lap. He doesn't even use a teleprompter. He doesn't pretend that his speech is impromptu. He doesn't do anything artificial to create an air of intimacy. And yet there is an intimacy there despite all that. What he manages to convey is sincerity. But it's not through anything he intentionally does, but rather through his own persona. He just radiates sincerity. He truly looks happy and appreciative to be surrounded by young Catholics listening attentively to his every word. His style is that of an old professor. But the warmth he radiates is that of a grandfatherly figure.

No ad agency would ever come up with this concept. It shouldn't work. It's counter-cultural to the extreme. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, it does. And young people are buying what he is selling. Actually he isn't even selling it -- he's giving it away. It was already paid for two thousand years ago. Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. The blood of the martyrs throughout the ages speaks to this.

Alright, but so far I have not addressed the content of Father Barron's talk. So let's go there. I bristled a little (a lot actually) when he described Archbishop Timothy Dolan as "delivering one-liners like David Letterman". Is that a good thing?

Here's the meat of my argument of why I'm not a fan of Father Barron's. And again, I want to be. He seems likable enough.

If we are going to confront the evils of the culture, we have to be willing to utterly reject what it is trying to sell us. You can't pretend to be "cool" as defined by the popular culture and be a faithful Catholic at the same time. You have to decide to be one or the other.

So for example, when Father Barron references David Letterman, does it suggest that he likes Letterman's late night comedy show? I think it does. Well, that's a problem. It's not that I'm trying to be puritanical about this, but any young person that is regularly watching Letterman just before going to sleep is not going to remain a faithful Catholic for long. Late night talk shows are absolutely notorious for anti-Catholic jokes. But even that isn't the problem.

What do these talk shows consist of? Well, they are nothing but one big long infomercial for the culture of death. Their "guests" are there for one reason only. It is to promote their latest movie or song or TV show. These are the same movies and songs and TV shows that promote the culture of death. I wish this wasn't true, but it clearly is.

The movies are filled with fornication, homosexuality, contraceptive sex, violence, drunkenness, drug use, etc. They are also full of negative images of Christianity.

So to pay a complement to an archbishop by saying he reminds you of an apostle of the anti-Church is sending a very confusing message to young people. "Big deal" you say. Yes, it is a "big deal". In the culture we live in which has become so saturated with anti-Christian messages we are forced to make a choice. It used to be, not that long ago, that you could get away with a sort of lukewarm Catholicism and not get totally lost along the way. But not anymore. We must decide who we are going to serve. Who is your master? You're either a slave of Christ or a slave of sin. That's the choice you have.

All that was just about one line in his talk. OK, so let me get to the end part of his talk where Father Barron speaks about the media. That's what I originally said I was going to be writing about. It may seem as if I have not addressed his criticism of the media, but actually I have.

So here is the problem. When Father Barron complains about the way that the mainstream news media like CNN and the BBC covered World Youth Day, he is absolutely right. But his message doesn't go far enough. (This is the criticism I issued previously about the Word On Fire ministry, which is that it is superficial when it comes to dealing with the secular culture.)

I mean, who doesn't realize that the media is anti-Catholic? They don't even try to hide it anymore. It's so blatant and out in the open. It's hardly subtle. It's as if Father Barron wants to give CNN and the BBC a break, but he's forced to engage in some reluctant criticism.

And that's the point. We have to be constantly vigilant. We have to be en garde and wary of the products of the secular culture. We need to be highly suspicious and approach every news report from a critical viewpoint. If we get lazy, then we will quickly get swept up in the culture again. And we will lose our faith.

I hope that Father Barron will learn to cast a critical eye on other news reports that don't specifically target the Catholic Church. For example, when news reports constantly focus on global warming and environmentalism, are they really promoting a "population control" agenda which seeks to promote contraception and abortion? We can't just ignore these things, because ultimately they are an attack on the Church.

One thing that I liked about the World Youth Day events that the Pope participated in, which I watched on television were that they did not make concessions to the secular culture in terms of music. There were no Christian rock bands. There was an orchestra and a choir. And the music they performed was based on classic themes from the history of the Church. We have a rich culture that stretches back thousands of years. We should be nourishing our young people with that -- instead of offering them the products of the fast-food culture which encourage immoral behavior.

I got the impression that the smaller events which were targeted at English speaking audiences were much more conciliatory to the popular culture. I know that the organizers want to appeal to the tastes of young people, but they should do so with caution.

So, I don't envy Father Barron. He has undertaken a tremendously difficult task, which is to reach out to the young people by engaging the secular culture. It is something that the Church needs to be doing, but we need to be careful not to compromise ourselves along the way. And that criticism is as much addressed to Archbishop Timothy Dolan as it is to Father Barron.

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UPDATE (Aug 26):

After posting this article I thought it seemed rather uncharitable and mean spirited. I hope that Father Barron will forgive me for getting carried away in my criticism. We all need to work together. As I said before, I'm praying for Father Barron. I didn't intend to say that he is in any way "phony" and I realized later that it came off that way. I know he is sincere and committed in his work as a priest of the Catholic Church. I hope he will accept my apology.

My comments are not just directed at him. I know that Pope Benedict XVI has warned against watering down the faith in order to achieve popularity in the new media. At times we may not want to offend people or challenge them to change their ways by giving up the things they love. But this is exactly what Jesus did. And people today have a lot more material and ideological things that they hold onto and which keep them from accepting Christ, taking up their cross and following Him. So the job of delivering this message doesn't get any easier. I especially pray for all of our bishops, who have the weighty burden of guiding our flocks. May the Holy Spirit guide them and may Mary the Queen of Heaven be a shining light for them to follow.


  1. UPDATE: I added an apology to Father Barron for the uncharitable tone of this article.

  2. Hi Michael!
    I think you are right about something, we all need to work together to inspire, and educate people.
    While I'm just a reader, blogs like; Public Vigil, or father Father Robert Barron help to reach people, specially the youth.
    Everyday we are under constant attack, that's why we all have to work side by side. :)

  3. Hi Ride. It's been a long time. So was I too hard on Father Barron? Should I delete this post? I have a tendency to be overly critical sometimes and complain too much.

    Here's a quote from Pope Benedict XVI:
    "First of all, we must be aware that the truth which we long to share does not derive its worth from its “popularity” or from the amount of attention it receives. We must make it known in its integrity, instead of seeking to make it acceptable or diluting it."

    I know that Father Barron is very popular. My question is, does that popularity come in part because he is "seeking to make it acceptable or diluting" the Gospel? It's a tough question. One man's "diluting" is another man's "reaching out".

    Back in the 60s there was what was called the "generation gap". One response to this by the Catholic Church was "street preachers". These were "cool" and "hip" priests that stepped out of the churches and engaged young people on the city streets in their neighborhoods. While this sounds like a great idea, there's a danger in this approach of compromising the Church's teachings. And an even greater danger is that the priest can fall into sexual temptations which definitely happened.

    (We've also seen problems in Latin America with "liberation theology" which sought to be relevant to the needs of the poor, but which at times became captive to Marxist movements.)

    One of the dangers I see with transmitting the Church's message with broadcast media is the creation of celebrities which become more important than the message. We have seen this with Protestant ministers and recently with Father Corapi.

    So while there is great opportunity in proclaiming the message of Jesus on the new "digital continent", there is also great peril. So definitely, we all have to proceed with caution.

    NOTE: "Digital continent" is a term coined by Pope Benedict XVI which I just love and is very insightful. It brings to mind the New World "discovered" by Columbus. It also reminds us of St. Paul's evangelization of the Gentiles.

    Here are some more quotes from Pope Benedict:
    - "Without fear we want to set out upon the digital sea."
    - "I exhort you to walk the roads of the digital continent, animated by the courage of the Holy Spirit."