Opening night at the Center for Ethics and Culture’s fall conference

McKenna Hall once again staged the proceedings of Notre Dame’s twelvth annual Center for Ethics and Culture Fall Conference. The hall buzzed with conversation, full to maximum capacity a full half an hour before the opening keynote lecture, delivered this year by Fr. Robert Barron of the archdiocese of Chicago.

Fr. Barron teaches at Mundelein seminary in Chicago, where he has taught systematic theology since 1992. He has also taught at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas and at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

He is known for his role as the founder of WORD ON FIRE, a website of Catholic formation that receives over a million hits yearly, and as the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a documentary series that traces the viewer through the historical development of the Catholic faith.

Fr. Barron returned to Notre Dame, where he taught as a visiting professor in 2002, to deliver his talk “Evangelizing Secular Culture,” a talk, in keeping with this year’s fall conference theme, secularization.

Fr. Bill Miscamble, CSC, professor of history at Notre Dame, introduced Fr. Barron.  Fr. Barron lived in Moreau Seminary while serving as a visiting professor at Notre Dame, and Fr. Miscamble praised Fr. Barron’s talents as an evangelist and his gift for friendship.

Fr. Barron started by introducing himself, explaining his background in evangelization through the media, a work that had as its impetus a question once posed by John Paul II to Cardinal George of Chicago, about what he was doing to evangelize the culture. Cardinal George, at a loss forwords, proceeded to appoint Fr. Barron to handle that ministry.

Fr. Barron then started his talk proper by defining some terminology. Evangelizing is “announcing the good news of Jesus Christ.” He also said that evangelization could not be a “private affair,” but had to be in some capacity public, and target “every individual and institution of culture.” He then identified culture as the collective beliefs and practices by which identity is expressed, by means of “the good, the true, and the beautiful.”

Fr. Barron concluded with a discussion of the classic imagery of the Church as the Ark of Noah, an ancient tradition. Once the flood dried, he explained, God flooded the world by His creation present in the Ark, creation itself being a repository of beauty. In the same way, the Church, as the repository of the message of beauty itself, must flood the world with what the Church contains.

The question and answer session following the talk revolved around a discussion of the classic question, “what has Athens to do with Jerusalem”, first posed by Tertullian at the origins of Christianity. Fr. Barron conceded that the institutions that existed and continue to exist under the auspices of the Church, such as orphanages, hospitals, schools, and universities, were bastions of culture through which the Church helped to evangelize the culture. These institutions, though, no longer have the force they carried in the former days, simply because Catholics no longer seek them out.

In the new culture, new means of connecting with people are necessary; Fr. Barron quoted Aristotle as saying, “rhetoric is using the available means of persuasion.” Though not explicitly connected, Fr. Barron’s multifaceted internet ministry clearly uses modern means of persuasion, operating in a rhetorically Aristotelian fashion.

Fr. Barron urged Christians to remember that every person is in some way unhappy; even in our best moments, he added, the heart simply wants more. Identify that point of unhappiness, and the apostle will have success.

Dale Parker, editor of the religion and ethics section, may or may not promise gold leaf print to new writers for his section. To hear more, contact him at