What got Bishop Robert Barron through 2020
Editors’ note: What do Bishop Robert E. Barron, two well-known Jesuit priests and two leading religious sisters in the United States have in common this pandemic year? All five confessed to binge-watching “The Crown.” Although, in a series of interviews, by phone and email, America has learned that the similarities among these prominent members of the U.S. Catholic Church are not limited to watching British period dramas on Netflix. If nothing else, all five are agreed that 2020 has been quite the year for spiritual revelation and renewal. The interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
Bishop Barron, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the executive director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries shared with America that the funniest thing that happened to him this year was seeing Jesus but hearing Homer Simpson’s voice. It’s a great story.
Could you name a phrase, quote, story, analogy or image that captures how you have experienced 2020?
“I am setting before you a blessing and a curse.” (Dt 11:26; 30:19)
For what are you most grateful as you look back over the year and why?
I’m extremely grateful for the extraordinary amount of time I had this year for prayer, quiet reflection, reading and writing. Covid 2020 allowed my monkish side to emerge. In the normal course of things, I spend an inordinate amount of time driving and flying to get to administrative meetings. Covid and Zoom eliminated much of the travel and thus enabled a lot more intellectual and spiritual work to get done.
Covid 2020 allowed my monkish side to emerge.
What prayer or spiritual practice sustained you this year?
A daily holy hour, sometimes a holy hour and a half, because I had more time.
What new hobby did you take up during the most intense months of lockdown? Was there an old pastime you revived?
I played more guitar and listened to more Willie Nelson music.
What is the most important thing that the year of Covid-19 has taught you?
My eighth-grade teacher, the very wise Sister Lorraine Crawford, told us long ago that one of the surest signs of maturity is the ability to deal well with change. Covid amounted to a massive curveball and compelled us all to cope with a number of changes.
Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J. [an 18th-century French Jesuit priest and writer, known for the spiritual classic, Abandonment to Divine Providence], said that everything that happens is, either directly or permissively, the will of God. For me, the greatest lesson, or challenge, was to see the changes prompted by Covid as an invitation from God, as somehow an expression of the will of God. Would I be mature enough to handle it?
My eighth-grade teacher told us long ago that one of the surest signs of maturity is the ability to deal well with change.
Tell us the story of the funniest thing that happened to you this year.
In September, Jonathan Roumie, the wonderful actor who plays Jesus in “The Chosen” series, came to my house for a visit. After dinner, we sat on the back porch and exchanged jokes and stories. I discovered that Jonathan is a very gifted mimic and that one of his specialties is doing the voices of “The Simpsons” characters. Hearing a spot-on rendering of Homer Simpson coming out of the face of Jesus was the funniest moment of the year for me.
What did God teach you this pandemic year, or was there an old God lesson that you were reminded about?
I thought a lot this year of Pascal’s observation that most of us spend most of our time seeking what he called divertissements (distractions), so that we avoid the crucial questions of God, meaning, sin, salvation, etc. Covid swept away a number of our distractions and so, at least in principle, allowed us to wrestle with the questions that really matter. When Thomas Merton was asked the simple question, “What is the best way to improve my prayer life?” he responded, “Take the time.” Covid permitted all of us to take more time for the important things.
Covid swept away a number of our distractions and so, at least in principle, allowed us to wrestle with the questions that really matter.
Where do you sense God’s presence and call to our world as we look to the new year?
Trust him more deeply and more completely.
Final words of wisdom on 2020 going on 2021?
Whatever happens, God is inviting us to greater love. So we could complain about our suffering and the inconveniences of the present moment, or we could see instead a unique opportunity to will the good of the other.
Hearing a spot-on rendering of Homer Simpson coming out of the face of Jesus was the funniest moment of the year for me.
The book you couldn’t put down?
Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant.
The film or documentary that changed you this year?
“The Social Dilemma” on Netflix.
A series that you have binge-watched
“The Crown” on Netflix.