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Conserve, Heal, Fortify, Propagate: The Mission of the Word on Fire Institute

October 6, 2023

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The Word on Fire Institute is marking five years since its founding by Bishop Robert Barron as the educational arm of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. We have much to celebrate—and even more work to do. 

First, celebration. We are delighted to announce the release of a totally revamped digital platform, which includes, for the first time, a free Apple and Google Play app called “Word on Fire Community.” The platform offers intuitive access to the Institute’s courses, live seminars, articles, and ample opportunities to interact with Institute professors, fellows, and staff in moderated formation communities. Bishop Barron founded the Word on Fire Institute to form an army of evangelists who share a commitment to proclaiming Christ in the culture employing beauty, goodness, and truth. This is the evolution of that vision.  

How, then, do we carry out this work? The first, interim, and final answer is prayer.

But now to the work ahead. Four words capture the interrelated challenges and, conversely, opportunities that lay before the Institute in the coming years: conserve, heal, fortify, and propagate. 

Conserve

The Catholic Church continues to bleed members. According to theologian, sociologist, and Word on Fire Institute teaching fellow Stephen Bullivant, ten people leave the Church for every one person who joins. Time to stop the hemorrhaging of those in the pews, especially young families. Every soul counts.

Heal

The pioneers who planted and cultivated the faith created thousands of Catholic institutions from the ground up: schools, colleges, hospitals, businesses, professional associations, charities, newspapers, book presses, and media organizations. Many of them survive to this day, though often in rough shape, battered both by the lack of funds and the self-inflicted wound of mission drift. Time to take back our institutions, recommitting support to those that have remained faithful despite the odds and repairing those that have lost their way, especially our colleges and universities. 

Fortify

The Church has always been driven by two complementary powers: a centrifugal force that propels her out into the world and a centripetal force that draws her more deeply into union with Christ. We’ve given up so much ground in recent decades, not only because we’ve abandoned our individual and collective sense of mission (see below), but also because we’ve lost the centripetal drive into an ever-deeper appreciation of the beauty, goodness, and truth of our one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith. Time to re-steel our minds and wise-up our souls by dedicating ourselves anew to the study of Scripture, the Church Fathers, and all the great minds of the Catholic intellectual and spiritual tradition. 

Propagate

Jesus commanded the Apostles and, by extension, all baptized to “go . . . and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:20). If the Church is not doing everything possible to expand the faith—inviting others to make a free and full conversion to Christ—then we are ignoring or, worse, rebuffing our crucified and risen Lord. Time to hit the streets, literally and metaphorically, to help every hungry heart find the way to Christ and his Church.   

An ecclesial analogy helps summarize these challenges and opportunities: The Institute must be like a parish, preserving the faith amidst the culture; the Institute must be like a cathedral, holding fast to the primacy of the faith over the culture, especially when the two conflict; the Institute must be like a monastery, ever revitalizing the faith outside of the culture; and the Institute must be like a mission, cultivating and expanding the faith from within the culture. We cannot and will not pick and choose among these imperatives. All have equal evangelical priority. 

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How, then, do we carry out this work? The first, interim, and final answer is prayer. As Bishop Barron often reminds us, nothing good and durable happens without grounding and sustaining the endeavor in prayer. The Institute thus offers interactive resources specifically tailored to supporting individual and communal sanctification, deepening the love of, and trust in, Christ—all with the goal of evangelizing the culture with authentic humility and holiness.  

The second answer is to make a sustained commitment to learn and practice the full intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual richness of the faith, not only for our own edification but so that we can effectively communicate those gifts to others. The Institute thus offers interactive resources dedicated to presenting the full feast of the Catholic theological, moral, and artistic traditions, drawing on saints and thinkers, new and old, to equip and motivate the faithful to evangelize with beauty, truth, and goodness.  

The third answer is to build community. Each one of us is distinctly created in the image and likeness of God, never to be repeated in history. Each one of us is also created to be in communion with others. While we are personally accountable for our own response to God’s offer of salvation, what we do, and fail to do, with and to each other either helps or hinders our individual and collective capacity to cooperate with God’s grace. To a limited but inescapably real extent, in other words, we either rise together or we fall together. The Institute is thus committed to forming online and in-person communities grounded in a shared desire to build up the Body of Christ by helping each other to develop and make good use of our unique charisms and vocations. 

In sum, the Institute is dedicated, now and for as long as God grants us the grace to perdure, to help you to evangelize the culture, from the inside out and the outside in, by sharing the Church’s most wondrous works of art, smartest arguments, and greatest examples of justice and holiness. For those who are already members, we thank you for being an irreplaceable part of our communal effort to conserve, heal, fortify, and propagate the faith. For those still on the sidelines, we warmly invite you to join us. There is, in the end, nothing more important, nothing more meaningful, nothing more immune to anxiety, despair, and decay—and no better way to love your neighbor—than by living and sharing the Gospel of Christ Jesus.