Tomorrow, Bishop Robert Barron will deliver the opening keynote talk for the World Meeting of Families. I recently sat down with him to discuss his talk, Pope Francis, and challenges facing the family today.
Brandon Vogt: What do you appreciate about Pope Francis’ teaching on the family? What do you think he gets right?
Bishop Robert Barron: I’ve been very impressed by his reiteration of Humanae Vitae, which is very important. Some people are wavering a bit, wondering, “Does Humanae Vitae have a future? Is it right or wrong?” This pope clearly reaffirmed the great intuitions of Humanae Vitae, which I’ve always seen as the Church’s call to radical holiness. The Church is not in the business of spiritual mediocrity or settling for second best. It’s in the business of making saints. We call people to a radical holiness, and that’s what Humanae Vitae is all about, how to live your married life in a radically holy way. The pope is right in re-emphasizing the importance of Humanae Vitae.
Brandon: What issues do you hope Pope Francis highlights at the World Meeting of Families?
Bishop Robert Barron: My greatest hope is that he encourages families. We can get bogged down sometimes in the hot-button issues, the back and forth on particular matters. And that’s fine, we should do some of that. But I would hope he really encourages families, who often feel beleaguered, who don’t have a clear sense of direction.
I’d like Pope Francis to come as a good papa, a good father, and encourage families to be what they’re supposed to be, which is an ecclesiola, a little church. St. John Paul II had the right language here. The family is a “domestic church” where missions are cultivated, where people learn the virtues and how to love, which is what the Trinity is all about. I hope the pope will encourage families and give them a sense of the spiritual mission that is inherent in being a family.
Brandon: Before being names Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, you were the rector of Mundelein Seminary, where you were responsible for training hundreds of young men. Most of those future-priests will directly minister to families. What needs will they respond to?
Bishop Robert Barron: The two most important needs are for purpose and encouragement. Families today need a keen religious and spiritual sensibility about the family. The family is not just a political, economic, or psychological reality; it’s a spiritual reality. It mirrors the Trinity. God’s covenant is expressed through families. God has created a kind of family in the Church, the mystical body.
I also emphasized to my seminarians that the spiritual father’s job is to help families understand the spiritual dimension and purpose of family life.
Once you get that clear, everything else readily falls into place. Recovering the spiritual heart of the family—that’s the need that has to be addressed.
Brandon: What do you think the media get wrong in covering questions about the family?
Bishop Robert Barron: The media are always waiting for the Church to change its mind. They suggest questions like, do we have the votes or survey results to overturn Church teaching? Is the new pope going to change things around? But that’s precisely the wrong way to think about it.
The Church is always interested in responding better to pastoral needs, so it does adjust to changing cultural situations. But it’s not like we’re just caught in mutability. The Church is not like a political party or political institution that changes its policies every eight or ten years.
The media get that wrong, and therefore always try to read the Church in a sort of adversarial, confrontational way, with winners, losers, and a constant tug-of-war. They see the church politically, rather than as a sacred institution. And that’s the problem.
Brandon: The most recent synod focused on the family and the one preceding it was on the New Evangelization. Do you think this was intentional? Is there a connection here?
Bishop Robert Barron: Absolutely. What’s the vehicle for evangelization? The real bearer of evangelization is the family. Families are called, like Christ, to be priests, prophets, and kings. They are priests when they sacrifice and usher each other to God. They are prophets when they teach what Christianity is about and put it on display. They are kings when they guide their families and relationships into right order. All of these expressions are deeply evangelistic. So I think there’s a huge connection between families and the New Evangelization.
Brandon: Tell us a little bit about your opening keynote talk at the World Meeting of Families, titled “Living as the Image of God: Created for Joy and Love”.
Bishop Robert Barron: The talk will center around the imago Dei, the fact that we’re made in the image of God and thus made for joy. Instead of focusing on the hot-button issues concerning the family, the organizers asked me to explore the broader sense of the image of God and how families reflect it.
I plan to use the rubric I hinted at earlier, that of priest, prophet, and king. To be made in the image of God means that we participate in these three missions: to sanctify, to teach, and to govern. That’s true throughout salvation history, it’s true of us as individuals, and it’s especially true of families. Families are the bearer of these three tasks, now and down through the ages.
So the talk begins with a biblical background to the imago Dei—what it is, how it was lost, and how it is restored through the Church. Then I show how the family especially bears that power into the world.
Brandon: You’ve affirmed the need for families to be encouraged. Suppose in Philadelphia Pope Francis hands you the microphone and says, “I’ll give you one sentence to encourage families around the world.” What do you say?
Bishop Robert Barron: Your family is a means by which God wants to sanctify the world.
This interview originally appeared in Catholic Digest. Used with permission.