In a surprise move that turned out not to be all that surprising, the Pope named the 55 year-old rector/president of the Chicago diocese's Mundelein Seminary as one of three auxiliary bishops for the nation’s largest diocese in America — the 5 million-member archdiocese of Los Angeles — where he joins to other new auxiliaries: Msgr Joseph Brennan, 61, Irish-born Msgr David O’Connell, 61.
The appointment is notable because Barron was a protege of Francis Cardinal George and has become a media sensation with blogs, commentaries, media appearances, video series, and a widely known and highly regarded YouTube presence. A Hollywood Bishop is perhaps a signal of how important keeping up with the changes and opportunities of a vigorous media presence can be. Choosing someone as media savvy as Fr. Barron certainly means the Vatican is aware of both the opportunities and the pitfalls of an increasingly complex media world and has chosen someone whose voice and experience in this area are well known.
Speaking entirely as an outsider, I was also surprised that the Pope chose someone who has been so clearly identified with the B16 wing of traditional Roman Catholicism (doctrine and practice). So it may seem that Francis does not have as much of an agenda here as once thought. I do not know. What I do know is that we Lutherans are in need of just the kind of people Fr. Barron is to Roman Catholics. We need seasoned individuals whose faces are well recognized and whose voices are well known to help us navigate the increasingly difficult choices available to us in a technological world with an emphasis on media. If Rome is acknowledging the role of the media in their program of new evangelization, it is up to us to figure out how best to use the resources and how to use them effectively to present who we are, what we believe, what we teach, and what we confess to a world that is so deeply entwined into social media and technology for news, information, and entertainment.
We have witnessed the effective stewardship of Adriane Heins as managing editor of The Lutheran Witness, we have seen how Facebook has been used by some among us, and we have witnessed the shift from blogs to Twitter and Instagram as technology morphs and changes. Navigating these options is a daunting task for those who still provide regular pastoral care the old fashioned way through visitation and the means of grace. But neither can we afford to ignore or overlook how we can use the media well. I would be merely one of too many voices to predict that this media will only increase in scope and power as a tool for or against the Gospel. We Lutherans need to be up on it and on our best game, to be sure. We do not need just a presence but an effective and faithful presence, the cultivation of a solid voice and visual to accompany our various witnesses to the unchanging Gospel. If you are one of those people so gifted or if you know of people, now is the time to raise up these people for service now and into the future.