The following comes from a Feb. 21 interview on Real Clear Religion.

Father Robert Barron is a priest on fire. After producing a largely successful television series, Catholicism, he moved north of Chicago, Illinois to the University of St. Mary of the Lake, a seminary in Mundelein. The cardinal archbishop of Chicago, Francis George, appointed him Rector in the summer of 2012. There he continues to run his Word on Fire evangelical ministry and form nearly 200 candidates for the priesthood….

Earlier this week, I sat down with Fr. Barron in his office in Mundelein. Surrounded by portraits of Thérèse of Lisieux, Abraham Lincoln, Bob Dylan, and even a first-class relic of John Paul II, we discussed Pope Francis, how to make a good priest, and why Fr. Barron believes God called him to lead a seminary.

RealClearReligion: What do you make of Pope Francis?

Robert Barron: He’s a mightily impressive figure. I was in Rome doing commentary for NBC when he was elected, and I can tell you that absolutely no one predicted it. I don’t think anyone saw this prophetic figure coming. I think it might be what the Holy Spirit is inspiring us to right now. Maybe we need that in the Church, that back to basics evangelicalism. I think he’s got a genius for that and a genius for communication through the gesture. We’ll see now what unfolds in terms of concrete things, but his first year was a year of the great evangelical gesture.

RCR: How is Pope Francis a prophet?

RB: Well, this Pope is known as “friendly Francis,” but he’s a much more challenging figure than Pope Benedict XVI was. Almost every time Francis speaks, he’s targeting somebody. That way, he’s a bit like Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

RCR: Is it more style than substance?

RB: Style is substance in many ways. I think the substance is the name that he took. The church evangelizes, worships God, and cares for the poor. His emphasis is on the latter in a very big way. That’s pretty substantive; I don’t think it’s a stylistic change.

RCR: Does the “new evangelization” simply mean new style? Or does it also mean new content?

RB: I always go back to John Paul II: it has to be new in ardor, new in expression, and new in method. But, Vatican II is the real ground for the “new evangelization.” John XXIII clearly construed Vatican II as a missionary council — it was lumen gentium! It was getting the light of the Church out to the nations. That’s the “new evangelization” and to do it in this context of the modern world. The mistake, however, was to say Vatican II was about modernizing the Church. It was about Christifying the world. To do that in a modern framework, you have to make some adjustments, but the focus is evangelization, not modernization. That’s what Paul VI picked up, what John Paul II picked up, what Benedict XVI picked up. To me, the great irony was that the Church before Vatican II was anything but ardent. The Church I knew in this country was handwringing, doubtful of itself, unsure of its convictions, arguing with itself about authority and sex.

New in expression is an important category. It doesn’t mean to change the content of the faith, but the manner of expression can and should change. The church has to address the culture. It’s like G.K. Chesterton’s line about the white fence posts: you want to keep it white, but the worst thing you can do is leave it alone. You have to keep coming back to it and re-painting it, reassessing it.

New in method is especially applicable today. Inter Mirifica saw the new communications and technology — which at the time only meant radio and television. But now, we have all these new social media methods.

Those three categories are important, but there’s also the “old evangelization,” which is declaring that Jesus Christ is Lord. That’s always what evangelization is.

RCR: What happens when the media co-opts the “new evangelization” and tells its own story about what people will find when they come back to church?

RB: It’s true that there’s not an area where Pope Francis has changed the teaching, morally or doctrinally, of the Church. To draw people back in with a provocative style and gesture is fine and good, but it’s a bit like Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Charles is a sort of cool agnostic, but is brought back in by the beauty of it. But then in the course of that novel, he begins to feel the moral demand of the house. His life has got to become beautiful. And only at the end does he come to full acceptance. That’s a great metaphor for how you draw people in….

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