Bishop Barron: Here’s the Benedictine Way to Change the World

They did it once before and Benedictines can change the world once again, Bishop Robert Barron said.

“Several principles of the Benedictine life … are potent for evangelization,” he said. “These are applicable and valuable not just to monks but to lay people.”

Bishop Barron, the popular new media evangelist newly appointed to the Winona-Rochester, Minn., diocese, shared them in his June 6 episode of the Word on Fire Show (scroll down to watch below or click here to watch the podcast on YouTube) in part because, host Brandon Vogt noted, he was planning to visit “the great Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas” in May.

The principles he mentioned cluster around the mission that Benedictine College has made the centerpiece of its plan to Transform Culture in America. He mentions each aspect of that mission — community, faith and scholarship — and makes one crucial addition.

First, Bishop Barron mentioned community more than once, saying Benedictines understand how to welcome others in.

The very way Benedictines live teaches the world humility, poverty and justice, he said. “It’s this keen sense of the common good that, ‘Whatever I have is for the sake of the whole.’ I think that has enormous evangelical power when people come and they see they see this radical form of life.”

Second, he said Benedictines have real faith, a solid antidote to common contemporary counterfeits.

Calling Benedictines “masters of the spiritual life,” Barron said the spirituality is perfect to reach “the armies of young people that have drifted into these weird syncretistic anti-anti-interest institutional forms of religion. Many of these young people are starving for the real thing. That’s what they’re hungering for. But they need masters who will guide them.”

“We shouldn’t settle for, ‘Well you’re kind of a spiritual person … keep seeking.’ No, no. They want something nourishing and the Benedictines can give it to them,” he said.

Third, he said Benedictine scholarship is responsible for universities and therefore the sciences.

The Benedictine commitment to the intellectual life “was there from the beginning of monasticism,” he said, and “eventually flowered as the universities.”

The emergence of universities by the late 12th early 13th centuries was “unthinkable apart from Benedictine houses,” Bishop Barron said. That makes Benedictines crucial to the physical sciences as well, he said. “Science and everything else owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Benedictine monasteries.”

“Whatever we know from the classical world,” he said, “we got it because patient Benedictine monks over many, many centuries, long before the printing press, laboriously copied out these texts.”

Last, he named one additional Benedictine virtue: beauty.

Bishop Barron said he was first captivated by Benedictine beauty at a pre-ordination retreat he took in 1986 at St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana that is “burned in my memory.”

“I can still see it in my mind’s eye,” he said. It was “a very misty sort of morning. I made my way up to the side door of the church and I opened it up and suddenly there was this warm golden light coming from the church.”

He heard the voices of the monks next, “this gorgeous chant of the Psalms” that he had only heard on recordings from Europe, only now, “right in the heartland of America my own America.”

It “electrified” him, he said. “I’ve never gotten over it, [and] from that moment on, have just been very taken with the Benedictine manner of life and style of prayer.”

Since then he has noticed that everywhere he goes, Benedictine abbeys are beautiful. “They’re in beautiful locations, they’re in beautiful buildings and architecture. As we’ve often said of the transcendentals — the good the true and the beautiful — the beautiful is the least threatening.”

Ironically, his original reason for visiting Benedictine College was to be awarded the Prize for Excellence in Theology and the Arts from the Center for Beauty and Culture.

Benedictine community, faith, scholarship and beauty so captivated Bishop Barron that he went to Benedictine houses throughout his priesthood on retreats.

Watch below or click here to watch the podcast on YouTube.

Editorial Staff

Benedictine College’s mission can Transform Culture in America by modeling community in an age of incivility, spreading faith in an age of hopelessness, and committing to scholarship in a “post-truth” era. We create video and other media content to promote positive messages of faith, hope, and love while Ex Corde Media Fellows program provides students with the tools, experiences, and contacts they need to enter the 21st century media world as effective communicators. Learn about the Ex Corde Media Fellows program.