Terry Barber, 56, grew up in the Los Angeles area, and enjoyed a successful career in real estate. In fact, by age 25, he’d acquired enough property to comfortably retire. So, he decided he’d focus on a new career: working with other Catholic apologists to win souls for Christ.
He founded a variety of Catholic evangelization apostolates, including St. Joseph Communications and the Catholic Resource Center, and serves as Chairman of the Board of Lighthouse Media. He is also the co-host of The Jesse & Terry Show, a Catholic apologetics radio program he does with Jesse Romero and which airs on 300 radio stations nationwide.
Barber’s “one and only” book on Catholic evangelization, How to Share Your Faith with Anyone: A Practical Manual of Catholic Evangelization, has just been published by Ignatius Press. Drawing heavily on personal stories from his lifetime of Catholic evangelism, Barber offers tips to the average layman on how he might help win souls for Christ.
Barber recently spoke with CWR.
CWR: What prompted you to write this book?
Barber: (Laughing) Father Joseph Fessio [founder and editor of Ignatius Press] and his staff twisted my arm until I agreed to write it. They loved hearing my stories of evangelizing people I meet in everyday life, in the grocery store and on the soccer field. I’m not a theologian or philosopher; I’m an ordinary man trying to be a good husband and father and provide for my family. I share stories of living and sharing my Catholic faith in that context.
One story, for example, involves a woman who came up to speak to me at a Catholic conference. I was there selling our Catholic books and CDs. She asked if I remembered her, and I admitted I didn’t. She said that 28 years before, I had taught her in a CCD class at St. Christopher Parish in West Covina. She had gotten pregnant out-of-wedlock, and had stopped going to the class because she was embarrassed. She remembered I had said, “If you have a problem, come before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and ask his help.”
So, she went to church. Coincidentally, she saw me going in to make a Holy Hour. Without my even realizing it, she watched me pray. Her boyfriend, the father of her child, wanted her to have an abortion. Sitting there with me in that church, she realized she couldn’t do it. She had her baby.
Twenty-eight years later, at that conference, she said, “Let me introduce you to my daughter.” She brought over a young woman of about 27, and she said, “Elizabeth, this is the man who helped me make the decision to keep you.” Her daughter then gave me a big hug
The moral of this story is that people are watching you, even when you don’t know it.
Another story I share is of my late father, when he was in the intensive care unit of the hospital. I was allowed five minutes every hour to go in and see him. A nurse told me I could go in. I went in, held his hand and spoke to him about the value of redemptive suffering. I asked him to squeeze my hand if he could understand me. He did.
I left, only to discover that I had been in the wrong room. The man was pale white and covered with a sheet, and I mistook him for my own father. He apparently benefitted from my words, nonetheless. It demonstrates that God will use you, if you give yourself to God.
CWR: One of the questions you discuss in your book is, “Why don’t Catholics evangelize?” What is your answer?
Barber: One reason is because they don’t know their faith. It’s not difficult to get up in front of a room full of people and talk about a subject you know well, but anyone would feel uncomfortable speaking on a topic they didn’t know anything about. You can’t evangelize if you’re not catechized.
CWR: What are some of the greatest rewards you’ve enjoyed in your 35 years at the helm of St. Joseph Communications?
Barber: I’m most gratified by the people who’ve told me that I’ve helped them discover the meaning and purpose of life. That excites me. St. Augustine said, “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance, to seek him the greatest adventure, to find him, the greatest human achievement.” That’s what I’ve found most enjoyable about working with people, helping them to fall in love with God.
In fact, my focus has always been on Catholics, and reaching out to Catholics and getting them excited about their faith. I figure when we do that, they’ll reach out to non-Catholics. Unfortunately, so many Catholics live life like God doesn’t exist.
CWR: You say that selling real estate has helped you to be a better evangelist. Can you explain?
Barber: I was trained in the “seven basic laws of selling” by sales guru Al Tomsik. I use these basic laws, and they work. In sharing the faith with someone, for example, you have to keep their attention, which you can do by frequently saying their name. As it says in the book, I was a successful real estate salesman on planet Earth, and now I’m applying the same principles to sell real estate in heaven.
CWR: What are some of the tips you share in your book?
Barber: First off, people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. One of my favorite evangelists is Scott Hahn. He did the forward for the book. He taught me how to befriend people before you share the Faith. You have to establish a rapport. Scott has the ability to talk to someone on the opposing side of an issue, make the counter argument, but keep it a friendly conversation.
Also important is living in the presence of God. When we live in his presence, everything we do is with him. How many people would commit a sin, if they realized that God and their guardian angel were watching? Constantly recalling the presence of God in your life is the secret to sanctity and effective evangelization.
It’s also important to follow a spiritual game plan each day. It is essential to living out your faith. We have to evaluate each day if we’ve followed our game plan and see how we can do better. An unexamined life is not worth living.
CWR: I know Bishop Fulton Sheen is also one of your favorite evangelists. Yet a priest you met once told you his preaching was “antiquated.” How did you respond?
Barber: Yes, it happened when I was attending a Religious Education Congress for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. I was only 20 years old at the time, and I was respectful and didn’t argue with him. Yet I thought to myself, I’m going to prove this priest is wrong. I began copying and distributing Bishop Sheen audiotapes through St. Joseph Communications in 1978.
That priest may have thought Bishop Sheen was “antiquated,” but millions of people who have benefitted from his wisdom would disagree. In fact, many people have told me personally that he is the greatest communicator of the 20th century. His shows are still being aired on the radio, and his books are still being reprinted. We’ve also recently seen him declared Venerable.
CWR: You grew up going to public schools in the 60s and 70s, when many of your peers got involved in what your book terms the “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll culture.” You found the authentic Catholic life more appealing. Can you expand on this?
Barber: I had good parents and an intact family. I knew they loved me. They also gave me a good formation in the Catholic faith, and showed me the craziness in the world. I knew I didn’t want to offend God or my parents, so I stayed out of trouble. By the eighth grade I had fallen in love with God, and I’ve gone to Mass daily ever since.
CWR: You’re also a committed pro-lifer, and have prayed the Rosary many times in front of abortion clinics. Your book even mentions how a pro-abortion demonstrator smashed a lit cigarette in your ear one time when you were doing this.
Barber: Yes, that was awful.
I’ve been given the grace never to compromise, even when things get tough. In 1988, I participated in Operation Rescue and was arrested. When the police took me into custody, I was with [former abortionist turned pro-lifer] Bernard Nathanson. I was thrown into battle, and was committed to the cause. We took a stand for babies.
CWR: You’ve been an evangelist at a time when many in prominent positions in the Church have dissented against authentic Catholic teaching and scandals in the priesthood were exposed. What response do you give those who bring up these problems?
Barber: (Laughing) I tell them I’m in sales, not management.
It’s difficult to deal with, but I try to offer a firm but loving response. I recall going to a talk given by a Catholic bishop some decades ago. He told us that the Church would change her teaching on contraception and that we’d see women priests by 2000. I asked him, “If Pope John Paul II were here, would you say that to us?” He admitted he wouldn’t.
I had recorded his remarks, and through a priest-friend I was able to forward the tape to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in Rome. The dissenting bishop later called me personally to apologize and to say he accepted the authority of the Magisterium. Now had I been nasty and publicly denounced him as a heretic, it wouldn’t have gone over too well.
CWR: We’re blessed to live in a country where we are free to share the Faith. If you established your apostolate in an Islamic country, you might find yourself put into prison or executed. In Europe or Canada, if you defended Catholic teaching on marriage and family, you could find yourself in trouble with the state. Do you have any concerns about losing your freedom to evangelize in the United States?
Barber: Yes, big time. On the radio program I do with Jesse Romero, we talk about Islam, contraception, marriage, and family life, and more. I predict that it won’t be long before what we say is deemed a hate crime, and many of us will go to jail. I’ve talked to my wife about this. I’m willing to go to jail, if that’s the price of sharing the truth.
CWR: Bishop Alexander Sample was recently named to head the Archdiocese of Portland. Salvatore Cordileone is archbishop of San Francisco. Robert Vasa is bishop of Santa Rosa. Archbishop Jose Gomez now heads your Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Are you encouraged by the quality of bishops coming to the West Coast?
Barber: Yes. It’s been a huge change in leadership, and I’m excited about it. Good things have come to California, and I think it will spread east. California is key, as 13 million of the country’s 65 million Catholics live here. I think we’re entering a new era of orthodoxy, with bishops not being politically correct, but speaking the truth in charity.