To effectively promote Pope Benedict’s effort, the Year of Faith, with its associated catechetical programs, a new marketing approach needs to be crafted putting joy before the law … leading with the contagious love of Jesus Christ, demonstrating how, by attending these various efforts, the participants will share in that joy by experiencing that love.
Pope Benedict announcing the Year of Faith. Next to him are successful marketing campaigns for: Catholics Come Home, and the series, Catholicism.
Anyone who has run any kind of catechetical event knows the difficulty in getting Catholics to attend. Amid the hustle and bustle of life, Church, along with its related functions, weighs low on the priority scale for many. Mass is often seen by some as a kind of mechanical obligation to be fulfilled and, once fulfilled, nothing more is required. This attitude is further entrenched by a view that catechesis is exclusively for children. It is quite common to hear parishioners boast that they had 12 years of Catholic education, as though an adolescent faith is sufficient to carry them through life’s remaining triumphs and tragedies. There is little sense among many of the faithful that catechesis is a lifetime endeavor, the absence of which restricts our ability to live the faith we profess and, more to the point, love the God who loved us first. Even with the best catechetical programs, even with the best advertising efforts, chairs remain empty and the faithful remain uninformed.
Early in his pontificate, Pope John Paul II took up the essential role of ongoing catechesis. In his 1979 Apostolic Exhortation, Catechesi Tradendae, he wrote, “catechesis is necessary both for the maturation of the faith of Christians, and for their witness in the world.” 1 Given the essential role of ongoing catechesis in the life of the faithful, and the lack of participation in adult catechetical programs, there exists a disparity of faith; a disparity that is symptomatic of an ever-increasing secularism.
Speaking to the Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI identified radical secularism as one of the greatest threats to the core truths of the Catholic faith. A consistent theme throughout his pontificate, the Holy Father explained that: “The crisis currently being experienced brings with it traits of the exclusion of God from people’s lives; a general indifference towards the Christian faith; an attempt to marginalize it from public life.” 2 More recently, this theme was taken up again in an address to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Summing up his thoughts, he said: “We are facing a profound crisis of faith, a loss of a religious sense which represents one of the greatest challenges for the Church today.” 3
To confront this radical secularism, on October 16, 2011, the Holy Father announced the upcoming “Year of Faith.” This Year of Faith, he said, “will contribute to restoring God’s presence in this world, and to giving man access to the faith, enabling him to entrust himself to the God who, in Jesus Christ, loved us to the end.” 4 Shortly after making this announcement, Pope Benedict released the Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei (Door of Faith), outlining his vision for the holy year. The document calls Catholics to rediscover faith’s journey encountering Christ with renewed enthusiasm. Here, sound ongoing catechesis is seen as an essential means by which the Church can rediscover this journey and, by doing so, confront radical secularism. 5
While the Year of Faith is meant to address the crisis of faith—with a clear vision and a consistent plan—neither the Holy Father in Porta Fidei, nor the CDF in their instruction, considered the question of participation. Nonetheless, a close read of the documents, coupled with the pastoral experience of low catechetical participation, begs this very question. In other words, where Porta Fidei unfolds the Year of Faith, and the CDF provides practical norms to carry it out, the bishops, the pastors, and the catechists are left with the perennial problem of how to maximize adult participation. This lack of participation, as we have already seen, is not a problem confined to the Year of Faith, but a problem that accompanies every function, and every event, the Church offers, including Mass. Because of its universal application, participation by the faithful is an issue of great importance in the life of the Church.
This reflection will take up the question of participation as it relates to the Year of Faith and, indeed, all catechetical efforts, with a goal of proposing a means to increase catechetical participation. To realize this goal, we will proceed in three distinct but related sections. First, we will lay a foundation by exploring the theology of participation. This initial step is necessary to ensure that any proposed approach to increase catechetical participation is in continuity with the tradition. Next, we will consider catechesis itself, and how its definitive aim, as understood by the Church, provides the essential basis for greater participation. Finally, drawing from insights gleaned from our exploration of the tradition, and from our consideration of catechesis, we will propose “right brain” methodology as a means to market catechetical programs more effectively, thereby increasing participation.
“Participation” in the Catholic Tradition: In our exploration of a theology of participation, we observe at the outset that this tradition is both fragmented and varied. By fragmented, we mean that there exists no refined systematic body of thought on the subject. By varied, we mean that the fragments exist in different theological disciplines such as patrology, liturgy, and ecclesiology. Nonetheless, by gathering, analyzing, and applying these various fragments to catechesis, a rudimentary foundation can be established upon which the goal of participation can be advanced in continuity with the tradition.
As witnessed by the New Testament, the question of participation has intrigued the Church from the very beginning. Here, however, the sacred authors were more concerned with a participation in the life of God, rather than a participation in the life of the Church. Their writings assume, in both foundation and context, a narrative of salvation history from which they bore witness. Consequently, because of their familiarity with the creation narratives, these authors would have presupposed, at least implicitly, a kind of participation in the life of God by virtue of being created in His image (Gn 1:27). Here, God breaths (ruach Elohim) his very life into us (Gn 2:7). Upon receiving this breath, we now share something of the life of God—albeit in a distinctively human way. These same authors, to a greater or lesser degree, would have appreciated how sin wounded and diminished this participation (Gn 3:16-19), and how redemption in Christ made possible a new participation (2Cor 5:17).
These presuppositions form the basis of much of St. Paul’s theology. In his Letter to the Romans, he wrote: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God (Rm 8:14).” To become a child is, in some sense, to share in the nature of the father. In a similar manner, writing to the Corinthians, Paul said: “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed in that same image from glory to glory (2Cor 3:18).” Jesus is “the unveiled face on the glory of the Lord.” To contemplate the face of God, to encounter Jesus’ saving love, is to be “transformed in that same image.” If the image from which we are transformed is divine, then it follows that we share in this divinity by virtue of this transformation. Arguably, the clearest reference to this participation in the life of God is provided by St. Peter, who wrote that, through the gifts bestowed upon us by Christ Jesus, we “come to share in the divine nature (2Pt 1:4).”
What was first expressed in the Scriptures, becomes more explicit through the early Church Fathers. St. Irenaeus of Lyons maintained that God “became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.” 6 Likewise, St. Clement of Alexandria stated that: “he who obeys the Lord . . . becomes a god while still moving about in the flesh.” 7 St. Athanasius held that:“God became man so that men might become gods.” 8 Much later, in the thirteenth century, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “The gift of grace surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a partaking of the divine nature.” 9 Today, the Church recognizes, and reaffirms, this tradition of participation when, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, she teaches that: “The Word became flesh to make us partakers of the divine nature.” 10
At the Second Vatican Council, the theology of participation was taken up and further developed within the context of the liturgical reforms. In the very first conciliar document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council Fathers spoke of “full, conscious, and active participation” in the liturgy. 11 These descriptors lend insight into the quality of participation required. The term “full” (plena) concerns the integrally human manner in which the faithful participate in the liturgy. This is to say that one participates with the whole of his or her being, body and soul. “Conscious” (conscia) refers to an authentic knowledge of what one does when one participates. This requires, according to Pope John Paul II, “the entire community to be properly instructed in the mysteries of the liturgy, lest the experience of worship degenerate into a form of ritualism.” 12 Active (actuosa), the Pope continues, “means that, in gesture, word, song and service, all the members of the community take part . . . Yet, active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it.” 13
The use of the phrase “full, conscious, and active participation” for our reflection, may seem theologically out of place. In its proper sense, it is used within a liturgical context. Still, its liturgical usage does not omit the possibility of applying the phrase and its meaning to other forms of participation within the Church. In fact, the inherent connection between the catechetical and liturgical is long held within the tradition. It is succinctly expressed in the maxim, lex orandi, lex credendi which literally means, “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” Put another way: what the Church prays, she believes; and, what the Church believes she prays. This ancient principle refers to the relationship between worship and belief, invoked to develop the creeds, the canon of scripture, doctrine, and liturgy. Some 70 years before there was a creed, and nearly 350 years before closing the biblical canon, the Church’s liturgical tradition was used to provide a theological basis to formulate the creeds, and establish the canon.
Thus far, our analysis reveals two distinct aspects of participation. First, and more fundamentally, there is participation in the life of God. This particular sense was quite strong among the early Church Fathers. Because it is rooted in the Incarnation, it can be termed ontological. It bespeaks the Logos taking on human nature such that the resulting hypostatic union describes a kind of ontological participation. Human nature is assumed into the very heart of the Trinity, and thus, in some mystical way, participates in the divine nature without diminishing it. Second, and more practically speaking, there is participation in the life of the Church. This particular sense was quite strong among the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. Because it is rooted in our practical response to God’s grace, it can be termed “pragmatic.” Pragmatic participation possesses the characteristics of being full, conscious, and active. It can be expressed in a number of ways, such as: greater involvement in lay ministry, greater openness to the liturgical and sacramental life, and through ongoing catechesis. These kinds of participation are not two separate realities—the ontological and the pragmatic—but, instead, two aspects of the same reality inextricably related. Indeed, it is only in and through the pragmatic participation that ontological participation is realized.
The relationship between these two aspects of participation can also be understood from an ecclesiological perspective. In his 1943 encyclical, Mystici corporis christi, Pope Pius XII spoke of the Church as the “Mystical Body of Christ.” Relying heavily on St. Paul (1 Cor 12:12-31; Col 1:18; 2:18-20; Eph. 1:22-23; 3:19; 4:13), the Pope speaks of all disciples as members of Christ, so that, in union with him, they form one Mystical Body. Of this he wrote: “It is the will of Jesus Christ that the whole body of the Church, no less than the individual members, should resemble him.” 14 The unity of Christ and his Church, along with its implications, is best illustrated in the judgment of nations found in Matthew’s gospel. There the king says: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me (Mt 25-40).” Likewise, in Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, Jesus says: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me (Acts 9:4, 22:7)?” Jesus so unites himself with his Church that the two, while separate, are almost indistinguishable. Thus, it is only in and through the Mystical Body (pragmatic participation), that we participate in the divine (ontological participation). In what follows, we will advance this question by considering catechesis in terms of what it is, and what it reveals about the nature of participation.
Catechesis as Participation: In Catechesi Tradendae, Pope John Paul II wrote: “the name of catechesis was given to the whole of the efforts within the Church to make disciples, to help people to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. 15 Where evangelization proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ, leading to the acceptance of faith through a heartfelt conversion, catechesis matures that faith through systematic and organic formation. It seeks to know more profoundly this person of Jesus Christ, the mystery of his kingdom, and the meaning of true discipleship. In this regard, the Christocentricity of catechesis means that it is ultimately “Christ . . . who is taught—everything else is taught with reference to him . . .” 16 Pope John Paul went on to say that:
. . . at the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth . . . Accordingly, the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity. 17
In many respects, the above quote crystallizes the relationship between pragmatic and ontological participation. Catechesis, precisely because its definitive aim is “intimacy with Jesus Christ,” is a kind of pragmatic participation in the life of the Church. Moreover, insofar as “only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit, and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity,” it clearly demonstrates the progression from the pragmatic to the ontological. As a result, through ongoing catechesis, one not only participates in the life of the Church, but in and through this participation, participates in the life of God. While this understanding certainly reflects elements of the tradition, and thus stands in continuity with it, it also succeeds in advancing the question of participation by being Christocentric in focus, and catechetical in approach.
Though quite helpful, the distinction between pragmatic and ontological participation is insufficient by itself to advance us to our goal. This is because catechesis, as a pragmatic participation, is not the same kind of participation necessary for increased attendance. To be sure, they share many of the same characteristics, but they cannot be reduced to the same thing. To appreciate the difference, a further distinction needs to be made.
Pragmatic participation can be both passive and active. Active pragmatic participation is the kind of participation already discussed. It presupposes an audience ready to hear the catechesis, and, likewise, willing to allow that catechesis to transform them. They are moved by grace and, having been moved, are responding to it. Passive pragmatic participation presupposes an already evangelized audience, unwilling to hear the catechesis, and unwilling to be transformed by it. They participate imperfectly because they are evangelized, but they remain unmoved. The move between passive to active participation is affected by a response to the grace of God. This grace excites the curiosity, and arouses a desire to participate, creating a new receptivity. While this grace can certainly arise internally without the witness of others, more often than not, it arises through the witness of others.
The move to active pragmatic participation gives rise to our final distinction. While pragmatic participation makes possible a kind of ontological participation, ontological participation admits to two distinct but related senses, temporal and eternal. Where temporal bespeaks our participation in the life of God during our life here on earth, eternal bespeaks perfect union with him after our death. In many respects, temporal ontological participation is but a foretaste of eternal ontological participation; that is, the beatific vision.
Participation and the Promise of Right Brain: From all that has been said thus far, the key to increased participation in catechetical programs lies in an understanding of grace as the necessary means to move passive participation to active. Since we may safely assume that grace is always operative, attention must turn to our witness as a critical component for better disposing the unmoved to be moved. This is the very basis of evangelization. Evangelization is most effective when the one evangelizing shares how intimate union with Christ Jesus fulfills a deeply felt need—the need to be loved unconditional by the only One who can love us unconditionally.
In one of his commentaries, Fr. Robert Barron takes up this intimacy as it relates to evangelization. 18 He argues that effective evangelization requires being in friendship with Jesus Christ, experiencing the joy of that friendship, and then sharing that joy. The theological underpinning for this dynamic can be found in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. 19 There, the Angelic Doctor begins his treatment on ethics with joy, teaching that perfect happiness can only come from contemplating God. God is our ultimate end, our complete happiness, our highest good. Only when we allow ourselves to experience the joy are we motivated to inculcate the virtues and adopt the law. If we begin with the law first—without the happiness and apart from the virtues—its meaning is diminished and its relevance is undermined.
To illustrate this further, Fr. Barron speaks of baseball. He describes the exuberance and excitement one experiences at the game. This excitement is contagious. With a crack of the bat, fans cheer. With a bad call, they boo. Even a passive observer is moved by the drama. Only after the observer experiences the joy of the game—a joy which arises out of the satisfaction of a deeply felt emotional need—does he or she ask about the rules. Questions of “fair or foul,” “strike or ball,” “pop up or grounder” are inevitably posed. These rules are contextualized in the joy of the game such that they have new meaning and relevance. The true fan not only lives in the joy of the game, but in the rules that govern that game—the rules that make that game possible. The same is true, says Fr. Barron, with evangelization. It begins with a contagious love of Jesus Christ, a love borne out of intimate union with him. This witness, because it cooperates with grace already operative in the unmoved, better disposes them to shift from passive participation to active. In doing so, it prompts them to ask: “What makes you so happy, and how can I have that joy?”
It is by no means a stretch to say that parishes typically market their catechetical programs in a rather static manner. We advertise in the bulletin, or on the website, that we are going to offer this bible study, or that catechetical program, at such-and-such a place, date, and time. In most cases, the promotion is a straight-forward notification, with little or nothing said about the actual benefits to the participants. When participation is poor, we attribute the lack of attendance to everything else that vies for their time. Yet, if truth be known, the choice to participate in a catechetical program has less to do with our limited time, and more to do with the values we use to prioritize our time. While the catechetical programs we offer may have all the necessary ingredients for success, in crafting their promotion, we send the wrong message, using the wrong approach. Herein lies the crux of the matter with regard to participation: we have fallen prey to placing the law before the joy. We have failed to demonstrate, in a compelling way, the emotional benefits derived from intimate union with Jesus Christ. If we continue to market catechetical programs in a way that does not address this fundamental emotional need, then the consequences for the upcoming “Year of Faith” and, indeed, all subsequent catechetical programs, will remain diminished.
It may seem strange to talk about marketing within the context of catechesis, but the two are by no means exclusive. 20 Whenever a Church ministry has used savvy marketing—such as the work accomplished by Catholics Come Home—amazing things happen. 21 Their commercials typify the approach taken by St. Thomas as expressed by Fr. Barron. They begin by exuding a contagious love of Jesus Christ, a love borne out of intimate union with Him, a love which satisfies their deepest longing. This witness prompts the viewers to ask: “What makes you so happy and how can I have that joy?” While few, if any, parishes can afford such elaborate advertising to promote their catechetical programs, the same principles used by Catholics Come Home can be applied to more modest promotions.
Given all that has been said to promote the Year of Faith effectively along with its associated catechetical programs, a new marketing approach needs to be crafted that puts joy before the law. It must lead with the contagious love of Jesus Christ, demonstrating how, by attending these various efforts, the participants will share in that joy by experiencing that love. One way this new marketing approach can be crafted is through the Right Brain Research of Dr. Charles T. Kenny. 22 Right Brain has discovered that a brand is created when people make an emotional connection that transforms the specific product or service into an implicit promise. This promise drives their perceptions, the way they feel, their behavior, and their expectations. By understanding this emotional connection as it relates to the product or service, a highly effective marketing effort can be crafted. The Right Brain approach, inasmuch as it seeks to fulfill a deeply felt emotional need, corresponds directly to the kind of dynamic that moves passive participation to active participation.
Historically, marketing approaches tended to be more left brain. Where left brain describes an analytical approach often expressed through a logical argument, right brain keys in on the emotional benefit for the consumer. As explained in St. Thomas’ ethics, and as illustrated by Fr. Barron’s baseball analogy, these two approaches are by no means mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite: they are inclusive and complementary insofar as the joy (right brain) makes possible a fuller appreciation of the law (left brain). The left brain acts to balance, control, and explain actions that are driven by emotional needs seated in the right brain. All human behavior is an interplay of the left brain and the right brain, a beautiful and synergistic interconnectedness.
Motivating people to participate in a catechetical event is subject to the same universal laws of human behavior and psychology that govern any great brand campaign. These include appealing to one or more of the 47 emotional needs discovered by Right Brain Research, and overcoming one or more of the emotional barriers (i.e., fears) that prevent people from responding. In their commercials, the Catholics Come Home advertising appeals to such emotional needs as: love and acceptance, affiliation, community, hope, intimacy, immortality, and redemption. In those same commercials, they also help people overcome such emotional barriers as: fear of rejection, guilt, fear of judgment, and fear of inadequacy. This achievement can be duplicated using Right Brain Research in the promotion of all catechetical programs.
The challenge set before the Church by Pope Benedict in the Year of Faith is a great one. If we are to be effective, we need to go beyond simply advertising great catechetical programs. We need to take seriously the manner in which these programs are marketed by placing the joy before the law, by moving the unmoved from passive to active participation. Right Brain Research, because it taps into something fundamentally human, provides a means to rethink the marketing of catechetical programs by addressing these deeply felt emotional needs. Such an approach will enable the Church to communicate more effectively the love of Jesus Christ in promoting the Year of Faith, thereby fulfilling her mission more completely.
- Catechesi Tradendae, 25. ↩
- Pope Benedict XVI, address to, The Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, (Vatican City: www.radiovaticana.org…, 2012). ↩
- Pope Benedict XVI, comments to, “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” (Vatican City: www.ewtn.com…, 27 January 2012). ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- www.vatican.va… ↩
- Adversus haereses, book 5, preface, – Factus est quod sumus nos, uti nos perficeret quod et ipse. ↩
- Stromata 7,16,101,4 (Ed. Stählin) ↩
- Migne, Patrologia Graeca, 25, 192 B De incarnatione Verbi, 54: literally, “… that we might become …”, not “that men might become”. ↩
- Summa Theologiae Ia-IIae. q.112. a.1. ↩
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 460. ↩
- Sacrosanctum concilium, 14. ↩
- Pope John Paul II, ad limina address to U.S. Bishops from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, and Washington, (Vatican City: www.cuf.org…, 1989). ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Mystici corporis Christ, 47. ↩
- Catechesi Tradendae, 1. ↩
- Ibid.,6. ↩
- Ibid., 5. ↩
- Fr. Robert Barron, Comments on Effective Evangelization, (Illinois: www.wordonfire.org…, 2012). ↩
- Summa Theologica, Ia IIae. ↩
- According to the American Marketing Association, marketing is, “an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating, and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders.” www.marketingpower.com…. ↩
- See: www.catholicscomehome.org. ↩
- Charles T. Kenny, The Right Brain Way, (Victoria, BC,Canada: Trafford Publishing, 2008), 47. ↩