In his Letter to Artists Pope John Paul II acknowledged that beauty stirs man’s “inner nostalgia for God”. Surely the great Polish saint understood this truth on a profoundly personal level being an artist himself. In the same vein, another great teacher of our time who undoubtedly understands the evangelical power of beauty is Bishop Robert Barron – which once again proves true in his latest film series Catholicism: The Pivotal Players.
But Bishop Barron also reminds us that there is no sacrifice of the mind required to be religious. Reason poses no threat to religion when reason and religion are rightly understood. Thus he introduces us to the mind and thought of the great St. Thomas Aquinas who asked his teacher as a young boy, “But master – what is God?” and spent his entire life seeking the answer. And alongside the great theologian of St. Thomas is the highly influential Anglican convert, Blessed John Henry Newman, whom Bishop Barron goes so far as to describe as a modern day thinker of Aquinas-like stature. Finally we meet the winsome wordsmith Gilbert Keith Chesterton (one of my top three favorite thinkers of all-time) whose was referred to by one of his atheist debate opponents as “a man of colossal genius”.
Thus in The Pivotal Players we are introduced not just to the great thoughts and ideas of these men, but also their lives from birth to death. The mammoth intellects of these men, combined with their sanctity and love for the Lord, make them unmistakable as pivotal players.
We also meet the great St. Francis of Assisi. “Francis, go and rebuild my church which is in ruins,” commanded the Lord in a mystical encounter; and thus we learn how Francis did this, both on a physical and spiritual level. The simple saint from Assisi lived a joyful life of total abandonement to God’s providence and therefore, as Bishop Barron tells us, it is no surprise that he died singing! Such joy could also be found in the life of St. Catherine of Siena, the great mystic and doctor of the Catholic Church. We often hear about the “dialogues” with God and other mystical experiences of St. Catherine (which are interesting to be sure). But perhaps too often we are left too unfamiliar with the other aspects of her life. Bishop Barron successfully goes to significant lengths to better educate—and intrigue us further—with the life of this great woman of sanctity, humility, and obedience.
The goal behind Catholicism: The Pivotal Players was to introduce the major players in Catholic history who, through their words and actions, have shaped the Catholic way of seeing and experiencing reality and have challenged the status quo of their times. We see that not all of them are saints. And not all of them are scholars. But each and every one of them, in some way, has advocated—even embodied—in a uniquely powerful way the transcendental realities of truth, goodness, and beauty.
After watching The Pivotal Players multiple times myself, sharing it with my family, and using it as a tool for catechesis, I unhesitatingly say that Bishop Barron and his crew at Word On Fire have pulled off a phenomenal accomplishment in this debut edition, and thus firmly remain one of the most prominent pace-setters in the New Evangelization today.
It is not a shred of an exaggeration for me to say that personally, through this series, I have once again been evangelized by Bishop Robert Barron.