PHILADELPHIA — Being created in the image of God is a mission, an adventure and a command that each Catholic is called to carry out into the world and something we need to rediscover as people of faith living in today’s secularized culture, said Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles Sept. 21. He made the comments in the opening keynote address at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
Bishop Barron is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, host of the award-winning “Catholicism” film series, and from 2012 to 2015 was the rector/president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary outside Chicago. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop Sept. 8.
His YouTube videos have been viewed over 13 million times and next to Pope Francis, he is the most-followed Catholic leader on social media.
In a talk that was simultaneously translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Vietnamese and American Sign Language, Bishop Barron explored how each person is made in the image and likeness of God — “imago Dei” — and the great responsibility and mission that comes with that.
It is through Adam — the first priest, prophet and king — that all of God’s children find their purpose as imago Dei, he said, speaking to a crowd of several thousand at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia.
As priest, Adam adored God. As prophet, he cultivated humanity and creation. As king, he took the Gospel message out to the world. We, too — men and women — are called to follow Adam’s example as priests, prophets and kings, Bishop Barron said.
The Old Testament shows how the imago Dei is compromised along the way. “Instead of worshipping God, we worship all other kinds of things,” he said. “What always goes wrong with Israel is bad praise, running after false gods. We’re the new Israel. The same rubric applies to us.”
We lose our priestly identity by worshipping things other than God, he said. We lose our prophetic identity when we make up our own ideas about what is true and right and we stop being good kings when we privatize our religion and keep it to ourselves.
False gods like wealth or pleasure cannot satisfy the longing of the heart, the bishop said.
“It’s only God that can satisfy the deepest longing of the heart,” he said. “We need to teach our culture how to worship aright.”
To fulfill our mission of prophets we must embrace freedom in God’s laws instead of what the current society tells us will make us free.
Today’s world says “my will determines what is truth, which is a lie,” Bishop Barron said. “That’s inimical to the Bible.”
Rather, by embracing God’s laws and understanding them we will be truly free to live in his image and likeness and be happy.
“It’s the shaping of desire so as to make the achieving of good first possible and then effortless,” Bishop Barron said.
The bishop likened this to learning the game of golf. If a person truly loves the game and wants to be good at it, they must follow the rules of the game and the rules of how to swing in order to be good at it. They can’t just pick up any club and swing away expecting to be successful without instruction.
In the same way, God’s laws help us to be free as human beings.
The church has the truth of what makes true freedom possible but people who say, “Who are you to tell me what to do?” have cowed Catholics into a “prophetic silence,” Bishop Barron said.
“Friends, if we stop speaking, it won’t be heard,” he told the crowd.
This truth is rooted in the Catholic Church’s “extravagant demand” on her people to be saints, Bishop Barron said. But that demand is coupled with an extravagant mercy. When following God’s laws, moral demand and mercy should be stressed equally. It’s not one or the other.
“Moral demand, all the way. Extravagant mercy, all the way,” he said.
To embrace imago Dei we must also fulfill our role as kings, people willing to go on campaign — like a military effort without the aggression or violence — bringing the Lord to the world.
“Authentic Christianity is a faith on the march,” Bishop Barron said.
Christ promises us success if we follow our mission. That promise came in chapter 16, verse 18 of Matthew when Jesus told Peter that he would build the church through him and “the gates of hell will not prevail against you.”
In Jesus’ time, walls and gates protected cities from armies and intruders. Christ was telling the apostles that by following him, people campaigning for the Lord would be able to break through hell’s gates.
“We’re the ones on the march. Hell has something to fear from us,” Bishop Barron said, adding a word of caution. “It’s not going to happen if we allow our religion to be privatized.”
The fathers of the Second Vatican Council would be disappointed if they knew that, today, 75 percent of Catholics wouldn’t be attending Mass, he said. When they wrote about the call of the laity and the universal call to holiness they were seeking great Catholic laity to go forth into the world and sanctify it.
“We, to a large extent, have lost our sense of mission to sanctify the world,” Bishop Barron said.
Bringing it back to the World Meeting of Families, the bishop said the family, as the basic cell of civil society, has a huge role to play in rediscovering that mission of imago Dei.
“The family is the place where the imago Dei is burnished, where the imago Dei is brought to life,” he said.
Families that pray together, bless their kids when they go to bed at night and cultivate virtues and forgiveness in their children are learning right praise and teaching their children to go out into the world and teach that to the world, he added.
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Duriga is editor of the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.