Something on clear display in the Bible and in the history of the Church is that a mission that is authentically from God tends to draw people to itself. When Peter and his companions were overwhelmed by the miraculous draught of fishes, other fishermen rushed to the scene to help them. When Mother Teresa made her way into the streets of Calcutta to care for the sick and dying, she was joined, within weeks, by many of her former students.
One of the great privileges of my life has been my involvement with the Word on Fire apostolate. Something I have watched with fascination and deep spiritual joy is that so many people from around the country have been drawn by God’s providence into this ministry. This past week, for the first time ever, we gathered in Santa Barbara all twenty-five members of the Word on Fire team for days of reflection. They came from New York, Chicago, Dallas, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles to the lovely Franciscan Mission in Santa Barbara to pray, to commune with one another, to plan for the future.
Fr. Steve Grunow, the CEO of Word on Fire, was there of course. Fr. Steve was a student of mine at Mundelein Seminary outside of Chicago in the mid-1990s when I had just begun my teaching ministry. He was head and shoulders above the other students: brilliant, insightful, dedicated. In the early years of Word on Fire, he was a close collaborator and advisor, and then, in the late 2000s, Cardinal George formally assigned him as my assistant.
Jared Zimmerer, the director of the Word on Fire Institute, was on hand for the retreat. I had met Jared through Fr. Steve, who had come upon him online. Father of six, power-lifter extraordinaire, doctoral candidate in humanities, Jared very competently coordinates the increasingly complex work of our Institute, which is dedicated to forming an army of lay evangelizers.
Robert Mixa was an enthusiastic participant in the retreat. Many years ago, when I was running Word on Fire out of the Chicago office, Bobby emailed me out of the blue. He told me he was a recent philosophy graduate of St. Louis University and a follower of my ministry. He wondered whether he could help in some capacity. Initially we took him on as a research assistant, and since then he has worn many hats at Word on Fire. Now he is playing a key role in the Institute office in Dallas.
Rozann Carter Lee participated in the retreat. I first met Rozann in 2002 when I was on sabbatical at the University of Notre Dame. During my time at the university, I taught one undergraduate course in theology, and Rozann, a sophomore at the time, was the brightest kid in that class. I was charmed by her smile, her constant cheerfulness, and her very sharp questions. Some years later, we advertised for a position at Word on Fire, and I was delighted to see that Rozann had applied. We hired her right away, and she has supervised almost all of our graphic design work for the past ten years. Some years after Rozann joined us, Sean Lee came aboard. A gifted graduate of Ave Maria University, Sean worked for some years in marketing and now basically runs operations for the entire ministry. More importantly, about six years ago, Sean invited Rozann to accompany him to a Bulls game on a Friday night—and the rest is history. They married five years ago and now have three kids, Kolbe (named for Maximilian Kolbe), Mary Flannery (named for Flannery O’Connor), and Francis George (named for the Cardinal who was a sort of grandfather to Word on Fire).
Joseph Gloor was on retreat with us as well. A well-known body-builder, model, and MTV star, Joe had undergone a conversion to the faith some years ago. And then, through the influence of his Dad, he came into contact with my work—which he then proceeded more or less to memorize! The day of the press conference announcing that I was coming to LA as a bishop, Joe raced to the Cathedral to meet me. After performing a number of different tasks for Word on Fire, he now uses his extensive knowledge of film and photography in his role as producer for our ministry.
Cassie Pease took part in our days of reflection. When Rozann was looking for some help in the graphic design department, she looked online and found Cassie’s extraordinary work, which is simultaneously deeply Catholic and remarkably contemporary in style. Cassie has brought her creative verve and energy to our DVDs, our books, and the Word on Fire Institute Journal.
I could tell you many more stories, but I hope you see what I’m driving at. Like a great artist, the Holy Spirit, in the course of many years, has drawn together a variety of strands, colors, and textures to produce something beautiful. Because God is noncompetitive with his creation, he doesn’t supplant our efforts, but rather delights in including us in his work. I do indeed take a father’s pride in Word on Fire, and I felt this especially during our retreat, when the whole family was gathered around me. But much more I take an apprentice’s delight in seeing what the Master is up to.
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.