The Personalist Project

Bishop Robert Barron has a new series out, and I really hate its title: "Catholicism: the Pivotal Players"

It's obnoxious and reality-distorting. Catholicism isn't a scheme, and saints aren't "players". The concept inexorably suggests power dynamics, which are the spiritual contrary of gospel dynamics. I think all those named as "players" in the series would have repudiated it with indignation.

Also, it's very weird and arbitrary, in my opinion, to call someone like, say, G.K. Chesterton a "pivotal player" in Catholicism. He's an interesting person. Someone whose life and works are worth studying. But Catholicism had been a rich and full reality in the world for almost 2000 years before he was even born. 

Two deplorable trends menacing "the new evangelization": 

1) Marketing habits and techniques

2) A celebrity culture

Both of these are essentially at odds with the gospel and have to be clearly and firmly kept in check if they're not to do harm.

I'm thinking with fresh admiration of the fact that Alcoholics Anonymous and its offshoots have among their founding traditions these two:

1) Anonymity, "ever reminding us to place principles before personalities."

2) Growth and public relations by way of "attraction rather than promotion"

I wish all those involved in Catholic evangelization and apologetics would learn from them.

Comments (7)


#1, May 30, 2016 9:36pm

Dear Katie,
First - I would like to say I love many of the insights in this blog and they have edified me greatly.  I can get soothing information here I can't find anywhere else.  And Second, I took one of your online courses years back and your counsel with me directly had an enormous positive impact on discerning a certain sacramental (i.e. marriage) relationship in my life. |

That being said, I figure, I would try and chime in with a few tidbits of friendly debate. (I am new at this.)  I have finally found a post where I can claim some sort of expertise, the intersection of faith and technology.  I have worked in IT for over 10 years have feet in both the online and "offline" Catholic worlds.  I am "fed" through both.


#2, May 30, 2016 9:37pm

I am also the type of person that has real in person face to face "offline" friends in these online Catholic evangelist organizations.  I am precisely a person who, in your opinion, should voice my words, so that I would encourage my friends to use different tactics.
Enough about myself, now.
To reflect on the word "Pivotal" in Pivotal Players-
To people loosely connected to the faith that title could likely be interpreted, as "key people worth studying".  And to reflect on another way pivoting could be implied - pivoting is precisely what many need to do to see the gospel.

To reflect on the word "Players"-
Perhaps a title more consistent with the gospel would be "Servants".  But to a person not versed in Christianity, they wouldn't likely understand what that means in the way Christians mean it, i.e. "servant leader".  Similarly, "Pivotal Saints" doesn't also mean much to people loosely connected to the faith.  It took me years to "get" that to be a saint should be a goal of mine.  Nevermind that moderns could become Saints!


#3, May 30, 2016 9:39pm

And lastly, to reflect on "The" in "The Pivotal Players"-
"The" could imply that he is claiming the players he mentions to be "the most important".  Or it could simply be word choice for use in marketing.
Now thoughts on Catholicism and online marketing.

Bishop Barron's target audience includes a large digital following.  How to reach the online following without using a catchy name of some sort, that toes the line between true Catholic meaning, and, at the same time, speak in a vocabulary society can resonate with?

I see his way of engaging in the New Evangelization online as analogous to use meeting people where they congregate.  It's just that instead of the front door of a house, it is the "front door" in the online world.  It’s just that this door involves marketing.

I think that there are so few clear holy voices online, that the risks are fairly low of this title leading people online astray.  And even if they are leading some astray, astray to who?  Loving Saints and Christians who themselves point to Christ?

What would you have titled it? :)

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#4, May 30, 2016 9:40pm

And lastly, to make a passing comment on your subjective judgement of including a particular choice of person in the series - I personally defer my judgement to someone like him who is on the front lines of evangelizing to masses and masses of people!  I don’t know how much you are on the front lines.  Do you think that his experience sharpens and increases his ability to engage those online?  I do know that he gets feedback from these masses about how his message is interpreted.  It is feedback from those more distant with the faith.  He actually reads comments and criticisms in the pages and pages of comments on his youtube videos.  To put it another way, you could say his daily livelihood is to answer critics of Catholicism.   And not only that, it has been to form the men in the seminary of Chicago.  Perhaps Bishop Barron is using Chesterton as a bridge to those people who are loosely Christian. 

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Jun 1, 2016 4:19pm

Thanks very much for your thoughtful perspective, Peter. I'm sorry to be so slow to respond. We have been in New Hampshire with no internet service for several days. I will think about what you've said, and comment soon.

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Jun 6, 2016 8:39pm

Okay, I've finally got a few minutes to put some thoughts together. Of course I agree with you that a certain amount of marketing savvy is necessary if we're to be effective in engaging the culture via technology. I also agree that it's more than valid to try to "meet people where they're at," using terms and concepts they can readily relate to. "Great Saints of Catholicism" or some such title might come across as too remote or ponderous to attract the "loosely connected," as you call them, in our day and age.

That said, I stand by my objection to the title. The problem, as I see it, is in the association of "pivotal players" with Catholicism—as if our faith were a human enterprise with human protagonists.

Suppose I were to speak of "the pivotal players of the American founding" or "the pivotal players of the Bolshevik revolution" or "World War II: the pivotal players." What would it bring to mind? Wouldn't be the personalities who, so to speak, "made it happen" and gave it its form and character?

Who gave shape to Catholicism? Wasn't it the Holy Spirit? And isn't it grace (not talent or ambition) that makes saints?

Katie van Schaijik

#7, Jun 6, 2016 8:57pm

As for the "front line", I think every person can find it in his or her own soul. Each of us is effectively "fighting the good fight" exactly to the extent that we are responding to the grace and call of the Holy Spirit in our interior lives. For some that might mean being in the public eye, for others it will mean a cloister or a simple, humble domestic life. 

In any case, no one is above criticism or reproach in his public words and acts. Criticism, too, is an essential form of cultural engagement.

Another thought: power and influence are always temptations for human beings. We're constantly taught in the gospel to eschew them. "The first shall be last," "blessed are the meek," and so on. 

Catholics aren't to measure success by worldly influence. On the contrary. 

Pope Francis has repeated decried careerism among the clergy.

I would have felt differently about titles like, "Saints who changed their world" or "Saints for our time", or "Some of my all time favorite Catholics".

I wouldn't have minded Chesterton being included under any of those headings.

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