VIDEO: Add storytelling to your evangelization toolbox

Catholics looking for new ways to evangelize might want to reconsider an old method used and sanctified by God himself—story and lyric.

This was the message of prolific Catholic writer Joseph Pearce, who visited Denver in September to deliver the first talk of the 2015-16 Archbishop’s Lecture Series. Over 300 people gathered in St. John Vianney Theological Seminary’s refectory to hear the author’s talk titled “Truth, Goodness and Beauty: Avenues for the New Evangelization.”

Pearce, a native of England who directs Aquinas College’s Center for Faith and Culture in Nashville, Tenn., and is executive director of Catholic Courses, told Denver Catholic that not everyone is ready for, or open to a theological discussion.

“If someone is not used to reading deep theology, a good way to start is with story,” Pearce said. “Let’s remember that story has been sanctioned and sanctified by Jesus Christ. He basically tells two stories. He tells the most important story of his life—his life, death and resurrection. And within that story he tells other stories, in parables.”

He offered Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ as an example of evangelization through powerful storytelling. After seeing the film, Pearce said he happened to tune into a Protestant talk radio station that was hosting a discussion of Gibson’s movie. One commentator, he said, noted that he had never realized the importance of Mary in Christ’s passion until he saw the film.

“And I was thinking,” Pearce reflected, “that Catholic apologists have been trying to point this out to these people for 400 years without success, and Mel Gibson produces a work of art, which is effectively a moving icon of the Stations of the Cross … which shows the relationship between Jesus and his mother, and all of a sudden a light switches on. And I think that is a perfect example of how a work of beauty, a work of art, of creativity, is far more powerful in reaching people than plain theology.”

Stories that he recommends includes the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Brideshead Revisted by Evelyn Waugh and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. He also suggested reading Walker Percy, who Pearce says addresses “the angst and anxiety of trying to live as a Christian in a post-modern world which has lost sight of goodness, truth and beauty.”

Pearce has written extensively on Christian literary figures and lectured on the Catholic underpinnings of bestselling books such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Once an agnostic and political rebel, Pearce said the works of G.K. Chesterton led him down a path of conversion and eventual entry into the Church in 1989.

And even though he lives in a “non-poetic age,” Pearce recommends reading poetry, which he says “serves the same purpose as prayer.”

“Poetry, like prayer, forces us to stop, and slow down,” he said. “You can’t read poetry at speed. In this day and age, when we are full of distractions, we need to find space where we slow down and contemplate.”

He added that when reading the great poets—such as Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, John Donne, Richard Crashaw—“you are in union with the goodness, truth and beauty of God, and you are doing it in slow motion. And the best way of being in union with the goodness, truth and beauty of God is in slow motion, because we are all moving too fast.”

 Is this a special time for beauty?

When speaking of beauty, Pearce is quick to point out that beauty is “part of this mystic transcendental unity with the good and the true,” and that “true beauty always leads back to goodness and truth.”

“They are inseparable,” he added, “and they are ultimately in a deeper sense, united.”

However, he admits that beauty has a particular role in the current cultural landscape given that the concepts of truth and goodness have been “warped and distorted.”

“In the age of relativism,” he said, “the very meaning of the word love has been inverted narcissistically. Because love in a Christian sense of the word is to lay down our lives for the beloved, lay down our lives for the other. In other words, love cannot be separated from sacrifice. But in the world in which we live, the very word and meaning of love has been distorted and warped and really it’s about me and my feelings, and not about me having to lay down my life for my beloved.”

“The problem with relativism, of course, is that it doesn’t accept that there is an objective reality beyond ourselves,” he continued. “It’s all about ultimately a construct of our own opinions or prejudices, so it’s very difficult to talk about truth.

“So if you can’t talk about love, or virtue or goodness, and you can’t talk about reason, what’s left is beauty.”

“Beauty can still speak,” he added, “whereas the discussion of love and reason has been warped and distorted by the culture of relativism and the culture of death in which we find ourselves.”

This Archbishop’s Lecture Series provides the faith community with a social and intellectual forum featuring well-known Catholic leaders lecturing on current topics. The events begin at 7 p.m. in the St. John Vianney Seminary refectory, 1300 S. Steele St., with a half hour of socializing with drinks and appetizers before an hour lecture and Q-and-A with the speaker.

2015-16 Archbishop’s Lecture Series

Nov. 3—Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development
Feb. 23—Mother Agnes Donovan, S.V., the first superior general of the Sisters of Life
May 9—Scott Hahn, Catholic theologian, author and professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash