In a recent interview, Bishop Barron shared his vision of the future for Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. This vision comes from a challenge offered by the late Cardinal Francis George, who asked, “Where are the movements for today?” Seven years ago, several members of the Word on Fire team met regularly to pray through the Acts of the Apostles and think through what Christ was calling us to do. Through communal prayer and deliberation, this broader vision of moving from a ministry to a movement came to fruition. One of the first things needed to accomplish the idea was to build a means of formation for those interested in learning how to evangelize in light of the Eight Principles of Word on Fire’s evangelical ethos.
It has been four years since we launched the Word on Fire Institute, and the journey has been a mix of blessing, challenge, and prayer! In four years, the Institute has grown to represent 40 countries worldwide, has over 22,000 members, and it has received several grants for projects spanning the next several years. The Word on Fire Institute exists as the educational arm of Bishop Barron’s ministry. Our spirit can best be understood as a descendent of St. John Paul II, the Second Vatican Council, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We strive to form our members in the intellectual, practical, and spiritual life of a modern-day evangelist.
Members of the Institute have access to specialized courses in theology, philosophy, culture, practical evangelization, Scripture, and several other areas to help form them as well-rounded evangelists. We just released Bishop Barron’s course, “The Protestant Reformation,” (he also has courses on Hans Urs von Balthasar, John Henry Newman, the Early Church Fathers, and Dante). This past year, we released courses by teaching Fellows Christopher Baglow (“Faith, Science, and Sin”) and Arthur Brooks (“The Art of Happiness”), as well as two from full-time Fellows Holly Ordway (“Creative Writing and Evangelization”) and Matthew Petrusek (“Catholic Social Ethics: The Antidote to Ideology”).
One of the initial goals of the Institute was to launch a journal through which we would embody the beautiful and the substantive; that award-winning journal is entitled Evangelization & Culture. Thanks to the leadership and vision of Tod Worner, Rozann Lee, our Design team, and our editors, we have created the most stunning Catholic journal I’ve ever seen. We have had essays by N.T. Wright, Fr. Jacques Philippe, Gary Saul Morson, Tracey Rowland, Matthew Levering, and many other terrific scholars. Each journal contains original poems, artwork, interviews, and highlights of the work of Bishop Barron. This journal seeks to display the manner in which good intellectual discussion combines with the Catholic tradition of beauty. Our themes have ranged from suffering to childhood, from eschatology to joy, and each issue continues the purpose of the Institute: to form our members in the best of the Catholic sensibility and the ability to share the Faith in their daily lives.
This past year, the Institute has also been busy planning and executing numerous in-person events, one of which is the first Wonder Conference. Scheduled for January 13–14, 2023, the conference will focus on the theme of science and religion. Thanks to the generosity and grant given to the Institute by the John Templeton Foundation, this conference aims to bring together some of the best scholars in the fields of science, philosophy, and theology to inform attendees on how Christians ought to better understand current scientific discoveries and to combat those narratives that claim that faith and science are in conflict with each other. This is just the beginning of these more significant events, as we have much more planned for the future!
Bishop Barron started Word on Fire with a dream. He wanted the world to know the Catholic Church on its own terms and—through a shared love of culture—invite those who might never step into a church to meet Jesus. The Word on Fire Institute aims to amplify that dream by forming tens of thousands of evangelists who can bring Christ into their lives and the lives of those around them. As St. Thomas Aquinas stated, you cannot love what you do not know.
We want our members to know and love the person of Jesus Christ and his Catholic Church. We also want them to know and love the culture around them, because as Cardinal George said, echoing Aquinas, you cannot evangelize what you do not love. If you love the culture and want to introduce Christ to it in a real way, come join us at the Institute!