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Joseph Pearce

Joseph Pearce is Senior Editor at the Augustine Institute, editor of the St. Austin Review and the author of books on Shakespeare, Tolkien, Chesterton and other Christian literary figures.

An Interview with Tim Gray

An Interview with Tim Gray

The Augustine Institute and the New Evangelization

 

QUESTION:

The Augustine Institute began as a graduate program in theology. Why did you feel inspired to begin such a program? Why was it necessary? What was the Augustine Institute offering prospective graduate students that was different from what was already on offer elsewhere? What, so to speak, was the Augustine Institute’s academic niche?

 

ANSWER:

Pope Saint John Paul II summoned the Church to a New Evangelization. Many of us who started the Augustine Institute were in Denver for World Youth Day in 1993, and his vision and leadership inspired us to start a new kind of graduate school for the New Evangelization. St. John Paul II sensed a crucial turning point in the life of the Church. With his fortitude of faith and hope he saw what few could believe—that the Church could be renewed and experience a new springtime. Of course, if you are seeking springtime it may well be winter, but this is precisely the power of his vision—when most people could only see decline and ever darker days for the Church, this saint could see further because of his firm faith and prophetic charism.  

St. John Paul II’s vision of a New Evangelization called for sharing the truth and beauty of the Gospel, and to do so using new methods, renewed ardor, and revitalized modes of expression. Taking his direction to heart, we incorporated new methods of state-of-the-art video distance education into our on-campus graduate school, employing the digital technology that is transforming the information age. We also felt that the new wine of the new evangelization required new wineskins, so to speak. In other words, we needed a new curriculum, one that looked at the work of the Holy Spirit in the evangelization and renewal of past ages, expressed and taught in such a way as to engage our modern culture.


 

QUESTION:

Would you say that the graduate program has fulfilled your hopes and aspirations? What have been its successes over the years, and what are your hopes for the future?

 

ANSWER:

Our first goal for the Augustine Institute graduate school was to create a curriculum that would form our students spiritually and intellectually, and equip them for success in their pastoral work. Through our courses we wanted our students to fall in love with the life-changing truth and wisdom of God. Jesus called us to love God with all our hearts and minds. Loving God with all our mind is often overlooked. The unique aim of our curriculum is that it ambitiously seeks not simply to impart a long list of courses and topics, but rather it seeks to forge a biblical worldview into the hearts and minds of our students. We want them to sympathize with and understand the culture’s postmodern worldview, while at the same time be fully equipped to deconstruct it in order to free people from slavery to its deceptions and errors. This was St. Paul’s great aim, when he called us not to be “conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rm 12:2).

This is an extraordinarily ambitious objective, and the first challenge is to find faculty who have the intellectual depth and pastoral heart to carry it out. By the grace of God, we have been blessed beyond my hopes in having so many outstanding faculty join us—each of them attracted to the exciting vision and challenge of the New Evangelization. 

Second, it is clear to us that not only are faculty discerning a call to come but so are so many outstanding students. Seeing the transforming impact of our graduates is deeply gratifying. We’ve seen our students transform Catholic Schools, founding new apostolates (like Christ in the City, Camp Wojtyla, etc), joining great apostolates like Catholic Answers, and FOCUS, and having impact in parishes and diocesan offices as well. An Augustine Institute student is someone who is marked both by deep ardor and deep intellectual formation.


 

QUESTION:

One of the most exciting things about the Augustine Institute is the manner in which it has branched out into all aspects of Catholic evangelization. Why did you decide to extend and expand the number of areas in which the Augustine Institute was engaging the culture?

 

ANSWER:

The Augustine Institute serves the New Evangelization by providing deep formation. Discipleship in the Gospels is modeled by Jesus, and it centers on his teaching. We seek to take Jesus the Teacher as our model, knowing that “the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:31). Our tagline captures our mission; we aim to help Catholics “understand, live, and share their faith.” After our graduate school and distance education program started to take off, we were asked to provide some of our teaching in a program for teens (YDisciple) and one for RCIA (Symbolon). We saw the building and expansion of our video capabilities for catechesis as an opportunity to expand our impact by thirty- and sixty-fold. With our initial success, we started to branch out into providing innovative catechetical programs through video, as can be seen in Beloved, Reborn, Forgiven, and our many other programs.

When we began to create catechetical materials, some on our Board wisely questioned if we might lose our focus. We discerned that creating tools for evangelization and catechesis fits our mission, and that we would strive to provide great training through our graduate school and great tools through our programs and books. The analogy I used then still applies: our country’s military trains individuals to become great leaders, but when these men and women are deployed in the field they still need to be equipped, with night vision goggles, Humvees, and modern weaponry. We are launching our students into parish ministry, youth ministry, teaching in Catholic Schools, and many new ministries. Do we want to send them out unarmed? Of course not! So we seek both to train our graduates and to equip them for success with our various programs and publications. Only by doing both can we win the great battle for the hearts and minds of those God puts before us.


 

QUESTION:

What would you say are the particular success stories with respect to these relatively new initiatives?

 

ANSWER:

It would be easy to list the big numbers that roll in but it is not about the numbers. We could teach many and sell millions of books but what matters is the depth of impact. So the success stories that move us include, for example, when we hear from a priest in Australia, sent to a parish in difficult circumstances, who thanks us for Reborn because it rejuvenated his hope and priestly call; or when a priest from Ireland tells us that Symbolon is stirring up the faith of forty young adults, and that Beloved is engaging his engaged couples and has led one young man back to the Church. It is the young Protestant man whose mother shared FORMED with him, and who, over a few months, immersed himself into the riches of our Catholic Faith, leading to his conversion. It is the mother who tells us that she uses FORMED to teach her kids, to choose the films for her family movie night, and to feed and enrich her family’s faith. It is the youth groups reaching teens and forming them in the Faith. It is the teen from Alabama who writes a testimony that through FORMED she has learned to pray and to love Jesus and her Catholic Faith. It is the couple that says they tried everything and had decided to divorce when their pastor announced FORMED, and they used it to watch Beloved, which helped them save their marriage. It is each individual story that matters. Yes, we are happy to have 400,000 people on FORMED in just two years, and our programs in over 6,000 parishes, but it is the deep impact the programs are having in the lives of individuals that gives us hope and leads us to give thanks and praise to God for his gracious blessings.


At the Augustine Institute we seek to recapture the bold vision and tradition of our Catholic Faith by once again taking up the best of the arts to tell the tremendous story of our Faith.

QUESTION:

Tell us about the film documentaries and audio dramas.

 

ANSWER:

We are convinced that the New Evangelization requires a new catechesis. What do we mean by that? First off, when people think of religious videos or productions, they usually think of something done in a very mediocre manner, on a low budget and rather cheesy. This is deeply problematic because media, whether radio, video, or any of the arts, is the medium for our message. And if the medium is mediocre, it is hard not to assume the message is also mediocre. If we are going to win the world to a fresh hearing of the Gospel message, we will have to change this impression. In her past, the Church employed the best artisans to convey her message—Raphael and Caravaggio decorate her walls, Michelangelo her ceilings, and Bernini her outside colonnade. The Church employed the best of the best, convinced that only the best was fitting for the beauty and truth of her message.

At the Augustine Institute we seek to recapture the bold vision and tradition of our Catholic Faith by once again taking up the best of the arts to tell the tremendous story of our Faith. We do this in two great media, the visual art of film, and the audible art of radio theatre. Audio drama was thought to be dead after Hollywood’s golden age, but today’s resurgence of audio drama and podcasts, the explosive growth of businesses like Audible and Scribd, make it clear that the best days of the audio arts are yet to come.

We have therefore launched Augustine Institute Studios to create Hollywood-level video productions that can compete with the best of the visual arts. Watch Forgiven or Beloved and you will see some of the most compelling visual catechesis yet produced in the tradition of the Church. The same is true for Augustine Institute Radio Theatre (AIR Theatre), which seeks to produce audio dramas that can compete with the best produced audio productions in the world. Our audio dramas on the saints, Brother Francis: The Barefoot Saint of Assisi and The Trials of St. Patrick and the soon to be released drama on St. Cecilia employ professional actors to bring these stories to life in the most dramatic and compelling manner. In both Augustine Institute Studios and AIR Theatre, we employ the arts in a fresh way of story telling that seeks to put forward the beauty of the truth in a way that is winsome, lively, and compelling. It is a fresh way to present the Faith, and one that we hope will find an ever wider audience.


 

QUESTION:

I have joined the Augustine Institute to help expand the Augustine Institute’s outreach into the area of what might be called cultural apologetics or the evangelization of culture through the power of beauty. I am very excited to be part of this new initiative, which is going under the general name of “Faith and Culture.” Could you tell us what are your hopes for this new endeavor?

 

ANSWER:

Culture is the way we live. If our Faith is not embodied in how we live, then it is in vain. Our mission is to help Catholics understand, live, and share their faith. This triad is a three-act drama. First comes understanding, which should inform how we live, and then empower us to share what we understand and live. Here we see that culture, the art of living life well, is the intersection between understanding and sharing the Faith. Western culture has become very secular. This is manifest today in modern society’s confusion in so many areas of living—marriage, family, gender, sexuality, etc. We need a new Christian humanism—a rediscovery of authentic human thriving. We need to live our lives so that the culture around us can discover the words of the Second Vatican Council, which were often quoted by St. John Paul II, “Christ fully reveals man to himself.” By building a cultural renewal, we create a place for men and women to thrive, to know God, themselves, their world and their place in it. This culture is what St. Augustine called the City of God, and Pope Paul VI and St. John Paul II called the civilization of love. In short, culture is the incarnation of
our Faith. Beauty—in our art, in our relationships, in our communication—is a powerful way that our living can lead others to rediscover the God who is truth, beauty, and goodness. “Faith and Culture” is an endeavor to do this more purposely. 

A Pilgrim In Paris

A Pilgrim In Paris