Starting Sunday, Nov. 13, two episodes of “Catholicism: The Pivotal Players,” Bishop Robert Barron‘s follow-up to “Catholicism,” start playing on PBS stations around the country (check local listings for time and channel in your area — or click here for an air schedule).
Viewers who enjoy watching the profiles of Michelangelo and St. Francis of Assisi on PBS are able to buy the first six episodes on DVD — which also includes Saint Catherine of Siena, Blessed John Henry Newman, G.K. Chesterton and Saint Thomas Aquinas — with more to come in the future.
Why did PBS pick the Francis and Michelangelo episodes to be the ones to air?
Those two are the crown jewels of volume one. They’re the most beautiful of the episodes. It’s no surprise that those are the ones they would want to show. Also, Francis and Michelangelo have broad appeal to Catholic believers, but now they add extra appeal to people outside the Church.
Wouldn’t you think that Francis is probably the most famous Catholic saint after Mary?
I would think that’s correct — and Michelangelo is probably the best-known Catholic after St. Francis.
Do people realize that Michelangelo was Catholic?
That’s what we uncovered in our research in planning for this, the idea that Michelangelo was a radical secularist or simply a humanist. That’s the trope of modernity. It’s used for its own purposes, but he was a man of intense Catholic spirituality.
Some people picture Francis as a tree-hugging vegetarian who spent all day playing with birds and bunnies — but none of this is true. What do you want people to learn about him?
There’s much more to Francis than any of those types of things. We wanted to show that he was a radical Christian, that he was a disciple of Jesus, embedded in these particular circumstances, in this particular period of time. It was the display of himself as a disciple of Jesus that made him so attractive and strange.
He’s like the grain of salt that gets into the life story, and we’re the oysters. He’s hard for us to take, so we clothe him over time with this mythology to turn him into a pearl that’s easier for us to keep in our gullet.
If you break open that pearl, there’s that grain of sand, and that’s Francis of Assisi. He was a frightening figure when you really look into it, somewhat of a cave dweller. He was very off-putting to most modern sensibilities.
He set out with this personal call from Jesus Christ to proclaim the Gospel in this extraordinary way. That was his mission, and people found that mission to be so foretelling that a movement arose that was associated with the charism of this person, but it wasn’t his role to necessarily give structure to that movement.
What appeal do these profiles have to Millennials?
In particular, these six “Pivotal Players,” they are at the forefront, but they all would resonate with that Millennial period of life, in terms of your own spiritual journey. There’s a tendency, because they’re so monumental to the Church or to the culture, or because they’re historical figures, they all seem old.
But look at Michelangelo — a lot of his major works were accomplished while he was in his 20s. The conversion experience of Francis happens when he was a young man. Catherine was a relatively young woman when her apostolate began. They’re not old people, is the truth of this.
Fewer people probably know British journalist, essayist and novelist G.K. Chesterton, who’s a convert to the Faith. He was prominent around the turn of of the century but not as much now. Why have you included him?
In our initial conversations, we needed a pivotal player who’d be a bridge into modernity. On the theoretical level, Newman takes you into the modern period, but Chesterton is embedded in the modern.
In his vibrant Catholicism as a layman, he anticipates, in his own way, the second Vatican council and its emphasis on being a person called to holiness in the real world.
Catherine of Siena lived in the 14th century, but she was a Dominican tertiary, a writer, philosopher, mystic and speaker, who challenged a expatriate pope to return to the Vatican. What about her resonated with you?
She knew Christ as a friend, a confidante and a companion, and that gave her extraordinary courage. That made her a force to be reckoned with, and made her unstoppable. She maneuvered her way into the papal court, but when she got there, who could stop her?
The thing is, it’s not just being aggressive. That’s not the quality of it. It’s saintly. If a Mother Teresa showed up at your door, you’re going to open the door.
That doesn’t have to do with celebrity, or because she’s pushy, but because there’s a presentation of Christlike-ness. People saw that. The pope recognized her as a bearer of Christ, and not only did he have to receive her, he had to do what she said.
What should be the place of the Church in producing modern media?
We should hold ourselves to standards that are as high, if not higher, than the culture, than modern media has. We shouldn’t be shooting low, just so we can create something. You have to keep your production values high. That entails a lot of sacrifices and costs, but if you create bad media, don’t expect people to watch it. You create good media, and then you get a chance.
You tell the Christian story in a compelling way. We don’t necessarily use marble and frescoes to do that in our time, but we use the tools of film. Television and digital expense is going up. What we place on that should be as high quality as what Michelangelo produced — at least we should be trying.
We’ve got a particular take on this thing called Christianity that [non-Catholic Christians] don’t have. We can’t rely on someone else to do the work for us.
Tune in, and don’t forget, the DVDs are perfect for Christmas giving (and there is also a study guide and other resources).
Here are a few peeks:
Image: Courtesy World on Fire