The following comes from a July 2 story by Robert Barron on Real Clear Religion. Barron is the rector of Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.
John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars has proven to be wildly popular among young adults in the English speaking world, and the recently released film adaptation of the book has garnered both impressive reviews and a massive audience. A one-time divinity school student and Christian minister, Green is not reluctant to explore the “big” questions, though he doesn’t claim to provide anything like definitive answers. In this, he both reflects and helps to shape the inchoate, eclectic spirituality that holds sway in the teen and 20-something set today. After watching the film however, I began to wonder whether his Christian sensibility doesn’t assert itself perhaps even more clearly and strongly than he realizes.
The story is narrated by Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenager suffering from a debilitating and most likely terminal form of cancer. At her mother’s prompting, Hazel attends a support group for young cancer patients that takes place at the local Episcopal Church. The group is presided over by a well-meaning but nerdy youth minister who commences each meeting by rolling out a tapestry of Jesus displaying his Sacred Heart. “We are gathering, literally, in the heart of Jesus,” he eagerly tells the skeptical and desultory gaggle of teens. At one of these sessions, Hazel rises to share her utterly bleak, even nihilistic philosophy of life: “There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. […] There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.” The only response that the hapless leader can muster to that outburst is, “good advice for everyone.” It would be hard to imagine a more damning commentary on the state of much of so-called Christian ministry today!
At one of these meetings, Hazel meets a handsome, charming cancer-survivor named Augustus Waters, and the two fall almost immediately in love. Though they both consider the support group fairly lame, there is no denying that they were brought together over the heart of Christ. Kind, encouraging, funny, and utterly devoted, Augustus (Gus) draws Hazel out of herself and lures her into a more active engagement with life. They both love a novel called An Imperial Affliction, written by a reclusive author named Peter Van Houten. After establishing e-mail contact with Van Houten, they arrange, through a kind of “Make-A-Wish” foundation, to fly to Amsterdam to commune with their literary hero. Just before the encounter, Gus and Hazel engage in some serious conversation about God and the afterlife. Gus says that he believes in God and in some sort of life after death; otherwise, he argues, “What is the point?” Still clinging to her bleak materialism, Hazel retorts, “What if there is no point?”
The next day, the young couple, filled with enthusiasm, comes to Van Houten’s home only to find that their hero is a depressed alcoholic who has no interest in talking to them. When they press him for answers about mysteries in his novel, he comments on the meaninglessness of life, effectively mirroring Hazel’s nihilism back to her. Just after this awful conversation, the two teenagers make their way to the Anne Frank house, where Hazel manages, despite her cumbersome oxygen tank and her weakened lungs, to climb to the attic where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis. In that room, evocative of both horrific, meaningless violence and real spiritual hope, Hazel and Gus passionately kiss for the first time. It is as though their love, which began in the heart of Jesus, asserted itself strongly even in the face of darkness.
But we are not allowed to dwell on this hopeful moment, for Gus reveals, just before they return home, that his cancer has reasserted itself and that his condition is terminal. Not long after they return, Gus dies, at the age of eighteen, and Hazel sinks into profound sadness: “Each minute,” she says, “is worse than the previous one.” At the funeral, even as Christian prayers are uttered, Hazel just goes through the motions, pretending to find comfort, precisely for the sake of her family and friends. But some days after the funeral, she discovers that Augustus had written a note to her just before his death. It closes with the words, “Okay, Hazel Grace?” To which the young woman responds, while gazing up into the sky, “Okay.” With that word, the film ends.
Pretty grim stuff? Yes, but does nihilism have the last word? I don’t know. The question that haunts the entire movie is how can there be meaning in the universe when two wonderful young kids are dying of cancer? As any Philosophy 101 student knows, our attempts to justify the existence of evil through abstract argumentation are a fairly useless exercise. However, a kind of answer can be found precisely where Hazel and Gus met, that is to say, in the sacred heart of Jesus.
The central claim of Christianity is that God became one of us and that he shared our condition utterly, accepting even death, death on a cross. God entered into our suffering and thereby transformed it into a place of springs, a place of grace. I don’t think it is the least bit accidental that Waters (Gus’s last name) and Grace (Hazel’s middle name) met in the sacred heart of Christ and thereby, despite their shared suffering, managed to give life to one another. And is this why I think Hazel effectively repudiates her nihilism and materialism as she responds across the barrier of death to Gus’s “Okay.” I’m convinced that Hazel senses, by the end of the story, the central truth of Christian faith that real love is more powerful than death.
Is this film a satisfying presentation of Christianity? Hardly. But for those who are struggling to find their way to meaning and faith, it’s not an entirely bad place to start.
To read the original story, click here.
Just as an FYI – Fr. Robert Barron on Whether Hell is Crowded or Empty – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmsa0sg4Od4
Watch video carefully where he mixes fact with his heresy that “we may reasonably hope that all people may be saved”.
Barron takes a position OPPOSITE of JESUS. Barron actually and purposefully contradicts Jesus – who said that few will be saved.
Then see the WORDS of JESUS: Lk 13:23-28; and Mt 7:13-14.
Because of Barron’s going against the words of Jesus, I no longer respect his opinions. And when he is on TV, I change the channel.
There are 16 paragraphs in the CCC on “HELL”; and there are 21 paragraphs on Mortal Sin.
Also see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kA-1QEJi5Y
This is sooooo sad. Michael Voris “called” Fr. Robert Barron out on this heresy. So many people, including myself, loved and enjoyed learning from Fr. Barron…..but this is just so obviously wrong in so many ways. Just reading what ALL of our great Saints have written tells us that there is a HELL and MANY are there for eternity. The description of Hell is terrifying and if that’s what it takes to SAVE Souls, then so be it!!! Father Barron, explain yourself!
I too once had a great respect for Fr. Barron, now I have very guarded feelings about him!
May God have mercy on an amoral Amerika and His Church!
Viva Cristo Rey!
Yours in Their Hearts,
Kenneth M. Fisher, Founding Director
Concerned Roman Catholics of America, Inc
Fr. Barron, like many of today’s priests, seems to me, to be too superficial! And far too eager, to accept “junk,” instead of what is truly excellent, and right! He has quite a personality, but that is all, the way I see it! I do not care for his series, “Catholicism,” I think parts of it are “substandard,” and inferior, reflecting the babyish, post-Vatican II, low quality, of today’s Church!! However– what kind of material does the poor priest have to work with, for an accurate film, on the Catholic Church?? Very poor! The Mass is NOT a piece of babyish, post-Vatican II, “teenage entertainment junk,” with no respect or reverence for God– set in a pretty church, that the Vatican and local dioceses no longer will even allow to be built! And the Mass is NOT a piece of JUNK, to be dumbed down to the most ignorant tastes of the least-interested secular laymen, to keep them in the pews!! The Mass is also NOT a piece of political propaganda, to falsely ecumenize Catholics and Protestants, or to falsely “update” and “modernize,” in a stupid attempt to accommodate the Godless, corrupt, modern secular world, that does not know Christ– and rejects Him, regardless, out of ignorance and sin!!
Please pray for these people who write above, Fr Barron will.
All of us bring something to Christ’s table! Father Barron’s beautiful program “Catholicism” was an incredibly rich and interesting outreach to fallen away Catholics and non-Catholics at just how much joy and beauty there really is in being part of the Body of Christ, the one, true Church. Why are so many condemning him? He’s not perfect, (who of us is?) but he certainly is serving God. I sent the trailer of ‘Catholicism’ to everyone on my contact list (many of them anti-Catholic protestants) and I knew they couldn’t help but be impressed. I also subscribe to Michael Voris’s Church Militant tv. I can see he has a genuine issue with Fr. Barron’s view of hell. But let’s all remember we are all members of the same body. If you don’t agree with Fr. Barron, write to him! He’s not some intolerant liberal or wishy-washy, luke-warm pastor afraid to speak out on tough issues. He just seems perhaps more steeped in Thomas Aquinas and philosophy than he is in the strong words of Jesus Christ, but he’s a gentle, loving priest who does not deserve such condemnation. “Love one another as I have loved you”.
Fr. Barron does not deserve condemnation for sure. But he does need to explain why he said what he said. When Our Lord, in very strong words says one thing and one of his “princes” here on earth says another……people get confused. Don’t we have enough confusion to deal with today with clerics going off the deep end? It just strikes me dumb everytime one of our Church leaders says an untruth. Father Barron’s words about Hell did not ring true……he needs to answer all the emails etc that have been sent to him. (I haven’t heard anything back). Surely he is aware…….he took time to watch the above referenced movie (sic) didn’t he?
Although a poor Man in monetary terms, I have managed to provide copies of “Catholicism” to several Catholic Schools (particularly where ‘faith formation’ was ignored or treated as a comic book for coloring) – if only because it addresses such basics as the Existence of God (not a ‘supreme being” but as the Essence of Being) and how Reason can arrive at a similar destination as Faith – given that they are Not mutually exclusive.
I see the series as a great beginning learning tool that covers topics far too often overlooked in basic Faith Formation (for various reasons, including Teacher Discomfort), But Not as the ‘Final Word’ – which We don’t receive until We stand before the throne on Judgment Day..
For – As St. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians:
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part,; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
Further – the subject of Purgatory (which Catholicism addresses somewhat) is a real wild card in the theological deck – as it presents not an Either / Or paradigm, but a real chance to come back from the edge of the abyss – although the How remains a great mystery.
As regards Michael Voris on Fr. Barron – I admit uncertainty on my own part, and would very much like to see them in a discussion (not debate) to help with my own understanding.
I agree with you Michael…..ususally its apparent when a cleric is “off” on the wrong path (Cardinal Dolan, etc), but there is so much so right about Fr. Barron and the work he has produced…..just look at the fruit. But he did say what he said, it’s on video and Michael Voris called him on it. Yes, I would like to hear the discussion between the two so that I could understand more fully what Fr. Barron meant.
As a Catholic school teacher, I understand Christ’s words on the number of souls in Hell as follows:
None of my students needs to leave scraps of paper around his desk. In theory, the entire floor could be clean. In fact, I find scraps to be fairly common. It is perfectly consistent to say (as some allege Fr. Barron to say) that Hell could be empty (of humans), because contrary to Calvin’s thinking no human being has to go there. It’s another thing entirely to take bets on it actually being empty, for that outrages common sense and any adult reading of human history.
Yes, Fr. Barron, perhaps the question is best aimed at you and your truly weird views of redemption, of salvation: ” What if there is no point?” At basis, your views of mankind and his relationship with God are like Luther’s. We are worthless wretches, and are saved only through Jesus Christ and His grace, notwithstanding that we sin, and continue to sin, and even relish doing so, right up to our own individual ends. The poet Robinson Jeffers wrote, “As for me, I would rather be a worm in a wild apple than a son of man” (“Original Sin,” 1938). Why couldn’t the Augustus “OK” letter, and the “OK” reply of Hazel Grace echo the same sentiment as Jeffers, instead of your inane comment — as a Catholic priest — on “Christian love” (that is more powerful than death)? Certainly homosexual sexualists will love your words (as they are all about the “right to love”) as will the pro-abortion types (as they find the inner-most freedom in loving without restraint, without responsibility). Why not site the vapid “Love Story,” too, if you are looking for nonsense statements, like “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” (“Love Story,” 1970) Oh, wait, you don’t much believe in Hell, do you, or that any of Mankind really goes there.