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Thursday, October 07, 2004

Has anybody noticed some of the cool things showing up on Joan of Arcadia so far this season?

For example, the season opener introduced an ex-nun character who agrees to instruct Joan's mother in religion, using a literature based catechesis! So, in the second episode, there is Joan's mother talking about how great Graham Greene is! Barbara Hall told me that the fan websites for the show have all been buzzing about who Graham Greene is, and which of his books would make a good first read. How cool is that?! There was also a point in the first episode in which Joan's character opens a copy of Howards End and reads the two word preface out loud: "Only connect." (It's probably just a coincidence, but this is our Act One motto, btw, and the title of our alumni newsletter. I'm just saying...)

See, class, this is one of the reasons we want to be in Hollywood...

About five years ago, I was involved with starting a special RCIA (that's Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) program for people in the entertainment industry. It seemd to me that, as artists, they particularly respond to narrative. And also, I wanted to introduce them to some other really smart and talented artists who believe this Christian stuff. (There aren't a lot of folks in the biz who do, so part of the battle in RCIA here is in fighting antagonistic peer pressure.) We also use the Catechism and Vatican II so that nearly every lesson involves a story and then doctrine.

The program has been flourishing over the last five years. It's very smart, and it asks the candidates and catechumens to do much more reading,. writing and thinking than any other RCIA program probably anywhere. But they love it. And we always end up attracting twice as many Catholics who want to come just because they haven't ever been catechized, or certainly not in a smart literature-based way.

Barbara Hall was one of our students a couple of years ago, and so, now, the whole world gets to hear that the coolest way to study Christianity is to read some great novels.

Several people have asked me for the curriculum we use. I will happily send it to anyone who requests it by email, but here are a few of the titles we have used, along with the class topics in which we use them:

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh - "That Catholic Thing"
Silence, Shushaka Endo - "The Problem of Suffering"
"The Grand Inquisitor" (from The Brothers Karamazov), Fyodor Doestevsky - "Sin and Temptation"
The River, Flannery O'Connor - "Baptism and Grace"
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene - "The Priesthood"
Babette's Feast, Isak Denison - "The Mass and the Eucharist"
The Reed of God, Caryll Houselander - "Mary the Mother of God"
The Mission (WB pictures) - "Conscience"
The Inferno, Danta - "The Last Things"

It's a very wonderful program, and it smashes early on the lingering prejudice some of the candidates come in with that Christianity is anti-intellectual.

The only downside to the program, is that when our students come in to the Church, they are shocked by the anti-intellectualism they find in the Sunday liturgy. As one of my former students noted to me after being in the Church a year, "Father's homilies are kind of embarrassing, aren't they? It's like he is talking to fifth graders."