Two years ago, on the Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Bishop Barron and the Word on Fire team launched a new initiative. At the encouragement of Cardinal Francis George, Bishop Barron had a desire to see the ministry of Word on Fire take a bold, new step in forming an army of evangelists. Evangelists whose sole focus is inviting a secular world to know Jesus Christ through the beauty, the intellectual life, and the tradition of Catholicism. This new initiative is the Word on Fire Institute. In the span of two years, the Institute has grown to represent 27 countries around the world, have over 15,000 members, and receive several grants for projects spanning the next several years—and believe me, we are just getting started. The Word on Fire Institute exists as the educational arm of Bishop Robert Barron’s ministry. Our spirit can best be understood as…
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Yes, I get it. Tenet was confusing as heck . . . and I loved it! Christopher Nolan’s latest cinematic exploration involves David Washington, “The Protagonist”, in a sci-fi spy thriller with a highly complex and inverted timeline. While confusing at times, I love that Nolan’s storytelling usually contains a deeper concept the audience is invited to ponder. His cinematography is certainly visually imaginative and immersive, but it is not intended merely for entertainment. Further, while Nolan’s movies would not be considered obviously connected to Christianity, the themes and ideas that are explored consistently resonate with a Christian, if not Catholic, worldview. In this way, Nolan’s movies can often work as a springboard into Christian truths. An authentic Christianity exercises imagination in mining truth from the world around it. While Tenet is not saying anything necessarily religious or spiritual, the movie places before its audience an idea to ponder…
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The angels in their glorious celestial array are the servants and messengers of God, the “mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word” (Ps 103:20, CCC 329). The spirits surround the throne of God and fill the heavenly courts with their unending song of praise. Sent forth, they carry out their missions of protecting, guiding, and strengthening his people. Of all the myriads of angels in the service of the Lord, Scripture gives us the names of only three: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Each of these Archangels has a certain privileged place in ministering to the Church, and to each we can attribute a characteristic especially needed in our world today. St. Michael: Peace At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people . . . [and] your people will be delivered. (Dan. 12:1) There is no need to number this year’s…
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The recent “State of Theology” survey alarmingly demonstrates that US Catholics are far from uniform in believing in the divinity of Christ. In fact, many tend not to believe in his divinity. When confronting the statement “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God,” a shocking  30% of Catholics “agree,” 27% “somewhat agree,” 9% are “not sure,” 12% “somewhat disagree,” and 22% “disagree.”  When a majority of Catholics in the United States agree or somewhat agree that Jesus of Nazareth was just a great teacher but not God, we have a crisis on our hands.  The tendency to see Christ as merely human likely stems from the same worldview that informed the findings of last year’s Pew Report on transubstantiation, wherein only 31% of responding Catholics expressed belief in the Real Presence.  Understanding this worldview…
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In 1873, St. John Henry Newman found himself in a public quarrel with Prime Minister William Gladstone. At issue was the Irish University Bill, which allowed Catholics to matriculate at Irish universities, but would have also destroyed plans to create a Catholic university. The Catholic hierarchy in Ireland opposed the bill, which failed and brought down the government, and Newman became a target of the fallen Prime Minister’s criticism. In response, in 1875 Newman published his “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk,” which reflects upon Gladstone’s central concern: “Can Catholics be trustworthy subjects of the State?” The question Newman answers in his text has remained a source of tension in modern liberal societies. In the presidential campaign of 1960, John F. Kennedy was questioned about whether he would take marching orders from the Pope. The lore in my own family is that my Baptist grandmother, the daughter of strong…
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Our convictions are never entirely safe. Any time an intelligent peer who also strikes us as a man of integrity—a good man, let us say—advocates for a worldview in contradiction with our own, we are obligated to take the disagreement seriously. This is true all the more when such a person moves out of agreement with us. For here, we must tell ourselves, is someone who takes the truth seriously. Laying all his cards on the table in The Last Word, atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel implies this uncomfortable fact when he admits, “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.” Now, as of late, it has become public knowledge that Mark Galli, the former editor-in-chief of the popular evangelical magazine Christianity Today, has entered into full communion with the Catholic Church. Admitting that…
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Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch. —Luke 5:4 Over eighteen months ago, on a chilly day in February, I was honored to join Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Institute to help bring a new venture to life. That venture was Evangelization & Culture, the flagship journal of the Word on Fire Institute. Excited by the task at hand and accompanied by a small cohort of talented designers and editors, writers and marketers, we at once had to ask ourselves, “How will we do this and, more importantly, why?” Thus, with child-like enthusiasm, the intercession of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and plenty of Dot’s Pretzels, coffee, and Diet Mountain Dew, our work began. From the very beginning, we wanted Evangelization & Culture to be different. At its root, we wanted the…
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“I never wanted to act in the first place . . . forget their stories. I can tell my own stories.”  That’s a line from Chadwick Boseman’s Howard University commencement speech in 2018.  Boseman portrayed some of the most impactful people in American History—Jackie Robinson (42), James Brown (Get On Up), and Thurgood Marshall (Marshall). But, his most popular portrayal was of the fictional character T’Challa from Black Panther. I am so thankful that he went on and told more stories, but the character that speaks the loudest now is his very own. Here are a few things that I learned watching his story unfold over these past few years.  Gifts are given to be received and then shared.  As a…
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Sometimes the proper education of a child is not successful; time and effort are sometimes not enough to convince a child of your vision of reality.  Given my contrarian ways, some of my educators must have viewed me that way when I was a student. This may be simplistic and arrogant to say, but I regarded my education as having one purpose: to kill my childhood imagination and belief so as to make me serious about the serious world.  As I see it now, my perception of what I thought my educators wanted me to see wasn’t the whole of reality but a thin slice, unfortunately presented as the whole. As I recall, my more passionate teachers, who were somewhat disdainful of old things, saw it as their job to liberate students from fantasy and move them into reality (a good motive). They did…
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It is no secret that both the film Raiders of the Lost Ark and the video game Spear of Destiny were derived from the same source. The film mesmerized a generation and was the forerunner of the action extravaganzas that still pack them in at the cineplex, while the video game was the mother of all 3D shoot-’em-up fantasies that are today even more addictive to the male adolescent than drugs. What still remains a secret, however, is the fact that what sparked the technological breakthroughs in cinematic special effects and computer wizardry was the long-venerated attribute of a black saint. During pagan Rome’s occupation of Switzerland in the third century, Maurice, a centurion from the upper reaches of the Nile, along with an entire legion comprising 6,666 of his African countrymen, had chosen death rather than participating in the persecutions that had been ordered by the emperor, Maximian. With…
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I don’t remember when I first read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings; these tales seem to have always been part of the furnishings of my imagination. However, I do recall precisely when I encountered Tolkien’s groundbreaking essay “On Fairy-stories,” in which he explores the origins, nature, and purpose of fantasy literature. I was a young teenager, and while browsing through a book-table at a flea market, I came across a book called The Tolkien Reader, in which this essay was included. Little did I know that this battered paperback with its trippy 1970s cover art would change my life in so many ways. “On Fairy-stories” is a powerful analysis of how fantasy works. Originating as a lecture in 1939, it came about after he had published The Hobbit and had begun work on the Hobbit sequel that would become The Lord of the Rings. Here,…
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There are no odd couples anymore. In an age of heightened partisanship and unsparing vitriol, it is conventional wisdom that if you are a conservative, you cannot pal around with a liberal. And if you are a liberal, you can have nothing in common with a conservative. Not so Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. From the standpoint of their politics and jurisprudence, you might have thought these two Supreme Court giants were from different planets. Ginsburg would be described as a liberal’s liberal with staunch opinions (literally) on everything from civil liberties to abortion. Scalia was recognized as a towering conservative who championed the separation of powers and a keen deference to the text of the law. Ginsburg believed in the living Constitution while Scalia defended originalism. Though both were native New Yorkers, their judicial philosophies could have spawned a rivalry akin to the fiery mid-century rows between New…
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The Pew Research Center released a new report entitled “US Teens Take After Their Parents Religiously, Attend Services Together and Enjoy Family Rituals.” But the survey also showed that Catholic US teenagers “mirror their peers on religious trends.” This is not surprising given that American Catholics, while ethnically diverse, tend to share the values and behaviors of most Americans. And given that America is, in a secularized sort of way, a post-Christian society, it is not at all surprising to find US Catholic teens mirroring their peers on religious trends. But before diving into a cultural analysis of what is potentially behind the latest report, let’s look at the findings of the study itself.  I encourage you to take a look at the full survey, but for my purposes I want to only focus on a few parts.
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A decade ago, when I daily toiled at my blog, I would sift through emails or moderate comments and occasionally encounter those who would presume to tell me I was going to hell. Sometimes I would see these same people on social media and be struck by how incapable they seemed of putting out a good word in season to anyone, except those who were similarly cranky or dyspeptic. They were simply miserable, unhappy people, capable of laughter only, it seemed, if the joke came at the expense of someone they and their cohorts were openly gossiping about. It always bothers me to see Christians get into such a habit of derision that they seem unable to speak a six-word sentence that might be the most humane and important one we can utter, because it puts us in perfect agreement with the Creator: “It is good that you exist.” As…
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In the midst of a global pandemic and extreme civil unrest in the United States, is it alarmist or conspiratorial for Christians to talk a little bit about the end of the world? I think not. For my part, I’ve been thinking about the end of the world for most of my life. In my evangelical home growing up, we talked about how much we loved Jesus, and we knew he was coming back one day. No big deal. Things changed when I was thirteen, and my two sisters and I began attending a private Christian school. It was 1993, and end times prophecy was about to become a cottage industry. But long before the Left Behind novels of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, there was Donald W. Thompson’s 1972 film A Thief in the Night, followed by three sequels. The administration at our school broadcast these movies over…
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Our Blessed Mother Mary is known by many gracious and descriptive titles, including “The Theotokos” (The God-Bearer); Our Lady of Grace; Our Lady, Help of Christians; Our Lady, Undoer of Knots; among others—and “Mother” most appropriately. On this day, she is venerated as Our Lady of Sorrows. It may seem rather odd to devote ourselves to a sorrowful mother. How does one find solace in a being so seemingly full of woe? But as with all things Marian, in this mode Mary of Nazareth continues to personify the perfection of humanity for us.  We should look to her not only for her premiere example of motherhood, of receptivity, and of femininity, but also an example of full humanity itself. Within her, we find the human condition par excellence, and in her person we are meant to see redeemed humanity. Indeed, today we…
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A few nights ago, I was watching the day’s rebroadcast of the Tour de France with my wife, and as the peloton made its way through beautiful rolling hills and verdant green fields of the French countryside, the announcer shocked me by exclaiming, “That was the Lady of La Salette sanctuary we just flew past. Built between 1852 and 1879 . . . it’s the second Catholic pilgrimage in France after Lourdes. . . . The Virgin Mary was said to appeared there in the guise of a crying woman on September 19, 1846.” Firstly, I had never heard of Our Lady of La Salette, so I looked it up. Secondly, was I just informed of important Church history and Mariology from a sporting broadcast? Yes! Yes, I was, and so was every other person that watched Le Tour that day. I started to tear up, took my wife’s…
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Since the year 2000, the world has been confronted with the “Coexist” bumper sticker. This small but mighty bumper billboard creatively substitutes symbols of different world religions and ideologies for particular letters of the word “Coexist.” The image was first produced by graphic designer Piotr Młodożeniec who used it in an international art competition sponsored by the Museum on the Seam for Dialogue, Understanding, and Coexistence. Admittedly, many times when I have met this bumper sticker in the past, I have done so with a certain frustration. This frustration, I believe, arose out of a disagreement with the dictates of the pithy proclamation, coupled with a lack of the particular knowledge and articulation of a tenable defense. Yet, to paraphrase Thomas Sowell, you know you are in trouble when you realize that a person’s one or two line statement is going to require hours and paragraphs to begin to refute.
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Recently, Tod Worner, the Managing Editor of Evangelization & Culture, the Journal of the Word on Fire Institute, had the chance to have a conversation with Mark Galli. Mark has served as a Presbyterian pastor, respected journalist, and most recently, editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, an international magazine founded by Billy Graham in 1956 that is widely considered to be a leading voice for evangelicalism. On September 13, 2020, Mark will be received into the Catholic Church. After a decade of pastoral work, you moved into journalism. Not only have you been a prolific writer (nine books and innumerable essays), but you have also held editorships in several prominent Christian periodicals including, most recently, Christianity Today. What led you into a writing/editing career and how has it molded you and your faith? I am an accidental journalist. That is, I never studied it in college nor did I have journalistic…
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My car is almost twenty years old and the CD player no longer works, so while driving alone my only options are the radio or silent prayerfulness. I’d love to say that as I dashed out to run errands this week I piously communed with God or said my Rosary but I’ll tell the truth: I turned on the radio. This is always an exercise in futility, because I am becoming old. The newer music mostly makes me want to chase everybody off my lawn, and the older music is basically Hotel California and Night Moves played on seemingly endless “classic rock” loops. So when I drive, I’m basically one-hand on the steering wheel, the other click-click-clicking through the stations trying to find anything that will keep me amused for three minutes. Because, thanks to social media, that’s all the attention span I have anymore. Now, perhaps this has been true…
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