The author C.S. Lewis famously said of The Chronicles of Narnia that they were stories that could ‘steal past those watchful dragons’ of human suspicion, inhibition and prejudice. Some things, he posited, simply get baked into us from childhood and it was important to strip Christianity of its usual associations by exploring it through the adventure of another world. This way it could be experienced in fresh and powerful ways.
What Lewis describes here is the really important role art plays in the catechetical experience. Catechesis isn’t something we associate with creativity and art, mostly because catechesis has bored more than a few generations to death. Still, catechesis is a really important part of Christian formation: it is the handing on of a living faith so that succeeding generations have the opportunity to live in communion with Jesus and his Church.
There are a million bad methods of catechising people; there are relatively few goods ones. Because of this, it is really important to pay attention to the good ones that show themselves.
One of these methods that has proved fruitful is called the "Ecclesial Method" of Catechesis by Monsignor Francis Kelly (The Mystery We Proclaim, Our Sunday Visitor, 1993). This five-step method starts with an emphasis on Preparation, before moving to Proclamation, Explanation, Application and then finally to Celebration.
Even as far back as the mid-fourth century, St Gregory of Nyssa (335-396 AD) was aware of the importance preparation played in catechesis. He wrote what was called The Great Catechism, and at the beginning, after describing the need for a systematic catechism, he said this:
Not that the same method of instruction will be suitable in the case of all who approach the word. The catechism must be adapted … with an eye, indeed, to the one aim and end of the system, but not using the same method of preparation in each individual case.’
The point here is obvious: Even though a systematic catechism is immensely helpful, you can’t just take people through it as it’s written. A careful eye has to be paid to the process of preparation which will be different for all people. The reason why this is the case, Gregory goes on to say, is that every person is preoccupied with their own concerns and problems and this informs their approach to the faith; understanding and engaging with these is the important first task of any good catechist.
This is all the more important once we grasp ‘the one aim and end of the system’: awakening people to ‘the love that never ends’ (CCC §25).
The element of preparation is integral to the Ecclesial Method of Catechesis. It is the very first step. What this step involves is what’s called a “calculated disengagement”, an attempt to lower the defences of people so that they are more open and receptive to the Gospel.
Usually this involves paying attention to certain environmental factors (like not hosting catechesis in a cold and clinical parish hall), but recently the Archdiocese of Detroit has released a project that demonstrates just how well done this “calculated disengagement” can be when art and creativity are used in the digital space to prepare people.
Founded by Emily Mentock, Edmund Mitchell and Edmundo Reyes, Real+True is a digitally-based deep dive into the Catechism of the Catholic Church like you’ve never seen it before. Their goal is to “create beautiful, captivating and relevant content” that is inspired by the Catechism.
'We believe the Catechism is not a textbook, a collection of ideas, or a set of rules. We believe the Catechism is the faithful echo of a God who wishes to reveal himself to us and desires us to respond,' said Edmund Mitchell, who was also inspired by the Ecclesial Method of Monsignor Francis Kelly.
The name "Real+True" is a reference to the real and true God, according to the project’s founders. 'In Jesus, God is real. He is someone, not something. He’s a person who knows us and understands us,' said Edmundo Reyes. 'He walked this earth and showed us how to live and love. He is also the Truth, and his light guides our path.'
In the opening R+T podcast, Emily and Edmund discuss the way in which the Ecclesial Method of Catechesis influenced their approach to this project, especially when it came to taking a thoughtful and creative approach to the initial step of Preparation.
Their very first video demonstrates an incredibly original approach: What would the world be like without maps? This stunning visual presentation explores that question, teasing out the history and significance of maps in human life and across cultures – the way they situate us, tell us where we are, where we’re going and how to get there. From here, deeper questions begin to emerge: Why are humans like this? Why do we have this need to know where we are and know where we’re going? Do maps point to something deeper, a restless desire to know our place and meaning in the universe?
One of the things you’ll notice about this video is that it doesn’t mention the Catechism. It doesn’t talk about faith or Jesus or anything like that. It is a “calculated disengagement” designed to draw people into a fascinating journey that hopefully ends with them asking some unexpected questions.
These disengagement videos, described as Proclamation videos, are accompanied by three others: Explanation, Connection, and Podcast videos. Real+True has broken the Catechism into twelve units and another set of videos will be released every month.
It’s fair to say that what Real+True has produced through this project is something truly creative and truly innovative. They testify also to the way in which art and creativity can help disengage people, lower their defences and come to experience the Gospel in ways that are fresh, interesting, compelling and powerful.
'We are excited to bring the combined effort of creatives and catechetical experts to this project,' said Emily, 'especially as we approach the 30th anniversary of the publication of the current Catechism in 2022.'
Hopefully as people begin to discover this project, they will be inspired and moved to wonder how they too can create this kind of content and think more creatively about one of the most overlooked, but arguably most important, steps in the catechetical experience: Preparation.
Find out more about Real+True
Melbourne Catholic03 March 2024
Melbourne Catholic01 March 2024