PHILADELPHIA — The newly ordained auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, Robert Barron, chose living as the image of God as the topic of the first keynote speech at the World Meeting of Families.
Host of the video series Catholicism, Barron has become known for his Word on Fire resources and his many YouTube videos, which have attracted over 14 million viewers.
The World Meeting of Families held in Philadelphia Sept. 22 - 25 was attended by some 20,000 participants from more than 100 countries. Dozens of speakers addressed topics ranging from dating and divorce to spousal abuse and discipleship.
“We must think of ourselves as representatives of God, bringing his power, wisdom, heart and mind to the world,” Barron said.
“There is no greater humanism than Christianity. There is no religion, no ancient philosophy, Renaissance humanism, modern social theory that holds humanity up higher than Christianity, because we have been made in the image of God.”
Barron used the incarnation to elucidate how God became man so that people could become more like God.
Barron articulated how in the creation story the author paints a picture of God creating in order, light, stars, the earth and animals, all things that in the past were once worshipped by other religions.
“They are not to be worshipped,” Barron said. “They themselves are in a beautiful liturgical procession because they are meant to give praise to God.”
Barron then offered some hermeneutics on Adam before the fall. Adam was the first scientist who catalogued the animals with God. Adam was also described as the first priest, leading all in worshipping God.
“What goes wrong with us?” Barron asked. “We begin to worship things other than God: wealth, power, pleasure, our own egos.”
“What goes wrong with us is bad praise,” he argued: “running after false gods and compromising our identity as a priestly people.”
Barron tied this logic to the idea that bad praise also means Christians sacrifice their own prophetic role to proclaim God as God, and we lose our kingly role of sharing the faith.
“We need to teach the world how to worship right,” he challenged. “If we don’t, we are not fulfilling our mission. When we do, peace will break out all over.”
Barron told of when John Paul II in 1979 spoke in Victory Square in Warsaw, a moment some historians mark as the beginning of the fall of communism in Europe.
“The people started chanting, ‘We want God! We want God!,’” shared Barron. “Like a great priest, John Paul helped realign their worship.”
Barron then referred to the Dominican theologian Servais Pinckaers who in his book Sources of Christian Methods made the distinction between the freedom of indifference and the freedom of excellence.
“We could drive as fast as we want if it weren’t for those pesky traffic laws,” Barron joked. “That is when the law is seen as an affront to freedom as self-determination.”
“The freedom of excellence is the shaping of desire so as to make the achievement of the good first possible and then effortless,” he said.
Barron explained that he was free to speak English only through decades of learning the rules and being corrected in shared practices of speech, spelling, punctuation and syntax.
“Through this long process of disciplining my desire to speak the English language, I have become free,” he said.
Barron explained how right laws, like right praise, free people to be who they were created to be and to become the people they want to become.
“The Catholic Church is seen as ‘the church of No’ if seen through that first lens of [freedom of indifference],” Barron explained. “But we have to understand the rules of the church according to the second sense . . . we need to speak the law, the moral laws, the theology of the body . . . and then we see that the ‘no’ is always in service of a much larger ‘yes.’”
Barron described the practice of sharing these laws as prophetic discipleship.
“If we stop speaking, we won’t be heard,” he said.
He described the challenge of Christians encountering a society that believes every individual has the right to choose and create their own reality, their own versions of right and wrong.
“Would you accept that logic for anything you take seriously?” he asked. “The answer is clearly no.”
“When it comes to things we take seriously, we reference the law and we love those who are able to speak it clearly,” Barron noted.
He challenged participants to remember that clear, prophetic speech is coupled with an extravagant mercy.
Barron described the role of the king to go on campaigns and to conquer new territory. He compared this to the line in Matthew 16:18: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overpower it.”
“We are the ones on the march,” Barron highlighted. “Hell has something to fear from us.”
Barron said this message could not be proclaimed through judgment, anger or violence; we can only take this message to the world through peace and love in confidence.
“The family is where the Imago Dei is furnished, where it is brought to life, where we are taught to be priest, prophet and king,” he pointed out. “The family can go out into the world to teach right praise.”