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Bishop Robert Barron: A Call to Freedom and Joy Amidst Spiritual Crisis

In the midst of the ongoing spiritual crisis within the Church, young people are the first ones to suffer, U.S. Bishop Robert Barron, Bishop of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, explained. The immanentism, materialism, and secularism that has taken hold of much of the western culture, not only produces high rates of anxiety and depression among the youth, but also leave them yearning for a fulfillment that the world cannot provide. 

“If you're told,” Bishop Barron noted, “that there’s no transcendent point of reference, nothing beyond this world, all there is, you know, matter and motion, things dumbly here, where, we've come from nowhere. We're going nowhere. That produces, of course, a deep, you know, thunderstorm in the heart and in the soul.”  

Bishop Barron spoke to the universal experience of men and women. “We know,” he said, “from St. Augustine and from the Bible the heart longs for God. Nothing in this world can satisfy the hungry heart. You can deceive yourself for a while and that happens to a lot of younger people that, you know, enough money and pleasure and power in this world, I'll be happy, but the heart knows otherwise and will rebel against that sort of immanentism.” 

In man’s unavoidable and relentless pursuit of purpose and fulfillment, the bishop emphasized, we try to quench an unquenchable thirst, stemming from our separation from God, with anything that crosses our path. 

“It’s the old idols,” he said. “The Bible knew about it, of sex and pleasure and power, fame, self-esteem. You know, we'll fill in that empty space with anything the world can give us. The problem is, as John of the Cross told us, we have these infinite caverns inside of us. And so no matter how much you throw into those caverns, it's not going to fill it up. They can be filled only by God, by the infinite.” 

During his recent visit to Rome, Bishop Barron celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving for Father Paul Murray, professor of spiritual theology, departing the Angelicum after three decades of teaching. In his homage to Father Murray, Bishop Barron extolled his contributions as a spiritual theologian, emphasizing the centrality of grace in his teachings and writings, which offer valuable insights into the spiritual life. 

In his homily, Bishop Barron spoke to the intellectual and spiritual tradition to which Father Murray contributes. “The Dominican tradition,” he preached, “played such a premium on the initiative that God takes in both the metaphysical and spiritual orders. Long before we even feel the urge to come to God, God, the Dominican tradition insists, has already been acting in us.” 

Reflecting on our innate yearning for God, Bishop Barron affirmed, similarly to Father Murray that, while we may seek God, He has always been seeking us first. 

Father Murray in his final address said, “God with untamed Love, knocks continually on the heart of each one of us. Stirred by this revelation, St. Catherine of Siena explains in one of her prayers: ‘O! eternal infinite God, O! mad lover. Are you really in need of your creature? It seems to me you are, for you act as if you could not live without her. Why then, are you so mad?’” 

In addition to his three decades of teaching experience, Father Murray has also served as a spiritual director for many, including Mother Teresa, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity. Recounting a conversation he had with the saint in India, Father Murray shared insights into her inner thoughts about God’s pursuit of our love. 

“I remember one day, many years ago,” he said, “she turned to me in Calcutta and remarked: that God is high, transcendent, all powerful, almighty, I can understand that because I am so small. But that God has become small and that He thirsts for my love, begs for it, I cannot understand it. I cannot understand it.” 

If we are even half awake in life and in prayer, Father Murray explained, all of us will soon or later hear God knocking on the door of our hearts, not as a solemn dogmatist coming to judge us, but as a lover seeking the heart of his beloved. Opening the door to the living God requires, however, no small courage.  
   
Father Murray continues, “We are afraid of what we might lose, of what might be demanded of us. But if you think of it, all, the men and women of faith whom we know, and all the Saints of our tradition tell us over and over that there's no reason to be afraid. The Lord who is knocking on our heart, the Lord who has come to visit us in the night brings with him unimaginable blessing.  

“But far from being a threat, what the knocking means in practice is nothing less than a call to freedom and joy, an invitation to a life of intimacy with God beyond all our wildest dreams. We have no reason to be afraid.” 

Adapted by Jacob Stein 

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