Bishop-elect Robert Barron CNS photo/J.D. Long-Garcia, The Tidings

Finding God’s presence in media and culture

By  Ruane Remy, Catholic Register Special
  • August 15, 2015

Seeds of the Word: Finding God in the Culture (Word On Fire, hardcover, 275 pages, $24.95).

The teen vampire series Twilight has at least one thing in common with the prolific 20th-century Catholic writer and monk Thomas Merton — they both have a part in teaching us about God in the culture.

In Seeds of the Word: Finding God in the Culture, author Fr. Robert Barron draws on a wealth of examples from film, books, politics and American culture in general as he invites us to sift through evidence of God’s presence and His principles. Barron leads us into what can happen when society denies God’s existence and what Catholics and people of faith can do about it.

Barron was recently selected to become an auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles. His ultimate goal is to evangelize.

“Before sowing the word, one looks for semina verbi (seeds of the word) already present among the people one seeks to evangelize. The wager is that, once these are uncovered, the word of Christ will not seem so strange or alien,” he writes. “In the best case, a non-believer might come to see that he had, in fact, been worshipping Christ all along, though under the guise of an unknown God.”

Barron is founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, a popular global, multimedia ministry that aims to bring Catholicism to the public square. With this book, Barron is in his element, marrying his academic background as a philosopher and theologian to popular culture. This collection of mini-essays and musings is largely U.S.-focused. But Canadians by sheer geographical proximity will be familiar with a lot of the content. When they are not, Barron provides the reader with succinct yet informative background.

Barron categorizes his first set of essays under “Imago Dei: God in Film.” Film is still one of the more universal vehicles of cultural understanding, with the young and old flocking to some of the same flicks. And so it makes sense that this section is the second largest in this book.

Barron references movies from a variety of genres, from sci-fi to thought-provoking drama, from the religious to the ridiculous. He finds parallels to God in the obvious places — Spider-man, Iron Man and Superman — but finds the figure of Christ in the most humble — The Stoning of Soraya M. By the end of this section, readers won’t be able to watch a movie the same way again. They will be left looking for God on the silver screen. Even as Barron uses World War Z (zombies) and The Hunger Games (teens fighting to the death in a post-apocalyptic world) to seriously discuss and analyse Jesus’ sacrifice, it is clear he is driving readers to focus their gaze on Christ.

“Once a person’s central focus is clear, then all of the secondary desires and longings of his soul will find their proper orientation and integration,” Barron writes.

Ironically, one of the shortest sections of this work of non-fiction is “Take and Read: God in Books.” Perhaps this reflects the waning strength of Barron’s faith in the public’s desire to read. He could have drawn more from literature. Many of the movies on his list were based on best-selling novels, which were likely superior in content and deeper in thought than their filmed counterparts.

More importantly, however, is how “Take and Read” and the sections that follow — “City on a Hill: God in Politics” and “Rays of Truth: God in the Culture” — unearth the deep-seated anti-Catholic sentiments that run through secular society and emerge in a variety of ways. Yet Barron does not shy away from sensitive issues, such as the sex abuse scandal that has humbled the Church. But he also undermines atheist arguments against God’s existence and the almighty’s importance in maintaining a less oppressive society.

“When God is denied, political power knows no limit — even if that power rests in a legislature or in the will of ‘the people’ — and therefore tyranny becomes almost inevitable,” writes Barron before he lists societies where God was banned from public conversation: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

Barron is not all doom and gloom. Understanding the struggles Catholics face is the first step in effectively dealing with them. His essays can be uplifting and hopeful.

Highlights of this book include practical advice, such as dealing with the economic crisis from a spiritual perspective, and a serious analysis of questions that have haunted the culture for years: “Why Is Everyone Crazy About Vampires?”

Seeds of the Word is stimulating, challenging and mostly easy to read. Not all Catholics will agree with all of his arguments, but that wouldn’t bother Barron. He’s looking for a conversation, but ultimately ends with a call to action.

“If intellectually serious believers absent themselves from the wider conversation and retreat to their libraries and classrooms, the public space will belong to the atheists and secularists,” he writes.

(Remy is a writer and editor in Toronto.)

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