In this video, Catholic priest Father Robert Barron explains the underlying theme in Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love: the importance of the love that lasts, and the perseverance needed to avoid being distracted from it. My own faith teaches me that this love is the same One that my favorite poet called “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” But an apprehension of this love is not limited to people who happen to share my religious views; Father Barron cites Thomas Aquinas, who spoke of it in a way that was accessible to natural reason. In Barron’s view, which I share, Woody Allen — a man clearly fascinated by religious faith but who lacks an explicit religious faith of his own — has done something similar: He has communicated things that can be seen as true even by those who do not view themselves as religious.
I learned about this Father Barron video from a conservative Catholic Facebook friend who was knocking it, saying that bringing in Aquinas was “a stretch” and that “I’m deeply skeptical that many ‘millennials’ will find their way to Mass thanks to Woody Allen.” One of the reasons apologetics, in general, doesn’t work any more (if it ever did, really) is that people are justly suspicious of any presentation whose obvious goal is to win numbers for a particular religious tribe. They know that people who “sell” a religion, like people who sell potato chips, will say anything to get consumers to buy their product. (With this important exception: The FDA prevents people from making false claims about potato chips.) What Father Barron is doing is finding truths that are expressed in the culture, truths that do not require a religious outlook to be understood, and inviting people to look beyond them to their source. It may not “get millennials to Mass” in large numbers, but it might make people more open to God. Kudos, again, to Father Barron.
UPDATE: The “conservative Catholic Facebook friend” I mentioned has consented to be identified. He is none other than my distinguished predecessor as NR literary editor, Brad Miner!