Welcome to episode 27 of the Behind the Catholic Counter Podcast. I’m Ian Rutherford, President of Aquinasnandmore.com. I interview Catholic authors, publishers and manufacturers to give you the latest news about great new Catholic books and gifts. You can listen to this and past episodes at aquinasandmore.com/podcast.
This week, I interviewed Lucas Pollice, associate director of the Saint Augustine Institute about the Symbolon adult religious education program. Because the St. Augustine Institute has such a large series, I’ve broken up the interview over two weeks.
A few news notes before our interview.
In case you missed it, Pope Francis announced a Jubilee year of Mercy yesterday on Divine Mercy Sunday. The actual jubilee year begins December 8th. I have links in the show notes to information about it and also to our sale on all Divine Mercy gifts.
If you are interested in the early Church, head on over to Catholicbookblogger.com for his review and giveaway of Seven Revolutions by Mike Aquilina.
Okay, on to our interview.
Ian: Today I’m going to be talking about the Symbolon Series and other programs from the Saint Augustine Institute with Lucas Pollice. He’s the former Director of Catechesis for the Diocese of Fort Worth. He received B.A. in Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville and a Masters of Theological Studies from the Institute of Pastoral Theology at Ave Maria University. Currently he is the Associate Director of the Saint Agustine Institute. Lucas, thank you for joining me today!
Lucas: That’s great! It’s good to be with you today!
Ian: So before we start talking about the Symbolon program that the Saint Augustine Institute has come out with, can you tell me about the institute itself?
Lucas: Sure absolutely. So we were founded back in 2005 by Archbishop Chaput when he was the Archbishop here in Denver, and the Archbishop had this great vision for creating a lay Institute to form leaders for the church but particularly in the context of New Evangelization. So the Institute was founded initially as a Graduate School to do this work informing lay people specifically in the new order, new message, new expression of the New Evangelization. We’re 10 years old this year and currently in the Graduate School we have about 350 students enrolled between our Distance Program as well as our On-campus Program and we’ve also started a new degree this year.
We have our General Master’s Degree in Theology, but we also started a new degree this year called Leadership for the New Evangelization which is a degree specifically for training parish leaders. Not only do we have our general theology courses, we have some practical courses what they do, they also do a practicum in a parish or an apostolate here in Denver. So the Graduate School is the fastest growing Catholic Graduate School in the United States. It’s the largest Catholic Graduate School west of the Mississippi. The Graduate Schools’ been doing very well and in the last three years we’ve opened up what we called the second lung of the Institute, and that is the side of the institute that is doing all of this work for parish and diocese and outreach where we’ve been, not only creating these resources like Symbolon and Beloved and YDisciple, but we also have been doing training across the country for parish leaders in areas such as Adult Faith Formation and RCIA. And these really came about when a group of bishops approach the leadership of the institute and said, you know, we really need help out there particularly in the area of Adult Faith Formation and RCIA, we really need help getting some really good, dynamic, engaging resources but also training for folks who do these kinds of ministries in the parish just so we can really bring about the New Evangelization. So that’s how this whole parish outreach side of the institute was started about three years ago now.
Ian: That’s wonderful! I have family members who had been involved in RCIA prep and they will all tell you that having some good solid resources will definitely be an improvement in the whole process. I also have some friends who’ve gone through the Catechist’s Program and gotten degrees from the Saint Augustine Institute and they said it was a wonderful program so congratulations for ten years of great work.
Lucas: Great! Thank you! Yes, we’re very excited about our mission and God has already blessed us in a lot of ways and just bringing a lot of great people to the Institute and being able to do a lot of good things.
Ian: Alright, well let’s start talking about the different programs that you’ve published, so first of all, you have the Symbolon Program. Now, I guess let’s just start with, what does Symbolon actually mean. It sounds like a made-up word.
Lucas: Sure. Yes exactly. Well actually, the Symbolon originally started, it was born of that conversation that the bishops had, the group of bishops had with the leadership here, because they said initially they really wanted a discrete resource for RCIA.
There was a study that came out back in 2000 out of the USCCB. They did a three years study on Implementation of RCIA in the United States and that study has a lot of good things in it but had a lot of concerns. One of the concerns was the statistic that came out that one out of every three people who had come to RCIA were no longer practicing the faith in one to five years.
Ian: Oh my goodness that’s horrible!
Lucas: Yes. And the two big things that came out of the study was that they said, this needs for a really great dynamic engaging resource that RCIA leaders can use to pass on the faith. Because they actually interview people who went through RCIA across the country. One of the biggest thing that came out of it was, I just never really felt like I received the fullness of the church’s teaching, I might have got bits and pieces or I might have received a little bit of catechesis but I never really got a thorough complete catechesis on what the church teaches and that’s a lot of the reason why the one out of three statistic. So that’s where Symbolon really was born. It was originally designed to be a resource to be used particularly in the catechumenate period of the RCIA.
The reason why they chose the word Symbolon it’s actually from the ancient church. Symbolon was used to describe the creed and if you see any of our materials, when you see the word Symbolon you’ll see on our graphics, you’ll see a medallion, like a brown medallion.
Ian: It’s almost like a flower.
Lucas: Yes, looks like a flower with a Chi-Rho in the middle but if you look closely, it’s cut in half. And what a Symbolon was in the ancient world, it was a way to identify relationship and identity so if I would say in the ancient world and I was conducting a business transaction with somebody, you would take one of these clay seals, so was a clay medallion or a clay seal and you break it in half and I would keep one half and the person I’m doing business with would keep the other half. And so anytime we came to gather to do any kind of transaction or to exchange money, you would put the two sides of the Symbolon together and that identified your relationship, almost like an account number right? Your identity was putting the two sides of the clay sealed together that would match.
In the early church, particularly in the early catechumenate, they picked up on this idea of symbolon. They related it to the creed, that the creed is the Symbolon or the symbol of faith in the sense that, if you’re Christian your belief matches that of the creed, that of the Apostolic Faith you knew that you were receiving the fullness of the Catholic Faith that was being handed on by the church. So that’s what the word Symbolon means, as a matter of fact, if you look in the catechism paragraph 188 has a really great description of the creed as the Symbolon.
We wanted to convey that in the program as the idea particularly in this time of the New Evangelization of authentically handing on the faith. But not just handing it on but handing it on in the new cultural setting of the New Evangelization that is going to really reach the hearts and minds of modern men and women. So the whole idea is, Symbolon is kind of relating to the old and also the new that faith hasn’t changed. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever but we need to present it in a way that modern men and women can be connected to the faith in such a way that is really going to transform their hearts and their minds. That’s where we came up with the whole word Symbolon, so that does actually have some pretty ancient roots in the church’s tradition.
Ian: I had never heard that before, that’s wonderful.
Now, the program is divided into several parts. We have Knowing the Faith, which is the first group of lessons. Then you have a second session which is Living the Faith. Can you talk about how these are structured and what kind of audience these are for.
Lucas: Part one is called Knowing the Faith as you said and this has ten sessions that essentially covers the first pillar of the Catechism, so essentially, it takes you through the creed.
So in this first session, we cover things like you know, we started with The Trinity and The Journey of Faith and we talk about Faith and we talk about Prayer and then we move on to Divine Revelation, The Bible, you know, Who is Jesus Christ, The Paschal Mystery, The Church, The Holy Spirit, Mary and the Saints, and The Last Things. So we’re really just taking them through the creed and covering these core foundational doctrines of our faith.
And then part two covers essentially the Last Three Pillars of the Catechism where we talk about The Sacraments, The Mass, Morality so we get in to the Catholic moral vision, we get in to some of the moral teachings of the church. Then we conclude with really a great couple of sessions on Catholic social teaching and prayers woven all throughout the series really. So what we’ve created and what’s exciting about Symbolon is a couple things. One, it’s really a complete and systematic catechesis and this is one of the things that people not only been looking for in the RCIA process but certainly even an Adult Faith Formation as a whole, people really are looking for how can I bring people into this? To see the big picture of the Catholic faith not just a doctrine over here and a doctrine over there but to see how it’s all one big beautiful story of salvation and how everything is connected together. And that’s what we’re really trying to do with Symbolon, is to create this complete systematic catechesis that can be used for RCIA and Adult Faith Formation.
Ian: So how long is each group of lessons supposed to take if you’re doing in our parish church, the expected time frame for these?
Lucas: Yes, so each session we’ve really designed to be done anywhere from ninety minutes to a hundred twenty minutes, with some flexibility there and there’s three components to each session.
The first component is these dynamic, state of the art, engaging videos that we’ve created and these are just the top of the line videos and they really express the beauty of the tradition. They’re filmed on location in Rome, in the Holy Land, in the Calcutta, and also here at our studio, at the Augustine Institute. And what we’ve tried to do in these videos is we’ve really tried to not only bring out the beauty of the tradition by using sacred art, sacred music, all these different locations, but we’ve presented our catechesis in a way that engages the culture. Not only in the way that the videos are so dynamic and engaging, but we are also very purposeful in our catechesis that we engage the realities of our current culture.
You know, catechesis doesn’t happen in a vacuum but you know the people we’re trusting our influence by saying is like moral relativism, religious relativism, this whole idea of, I can be spiritual but I’m not religious. So we really tried to incorporate in everything that we are teaching these cultural realities, so when we talk about the church we go right after that question.Why do I need a church? Why can’t I just be spiritual? Why do I need a church to guide me? Same thing with moral relativism and other issues.
So we used those state-of-the-art videos to do the heavy work of the catechesis in a lesson. Each session has about about thirty five to forty minutes of video and then also each lesson comes with easy to use Leader’s Guides and also Participant’s Guides.
So what we do with the Leader’s Guide is that we tried to make it ridiculously easy for any person to run a Symbolon session. You know, even if you’re a parish volunteer in a small rural parish out in the middle of Nebraska, we created the Leader’s Guide along with the videos to make it super easy to run a session. So it gave them ten very clear easy steps on how to run a session that can run anywhere from ninety minutes to a hundred twenty minutes depending on your circumstance and what you’re trying to do.
And then the Participants Guides are for the participants that have things in it like the Introduction, The Opening Prayer, the Group Discussion Questions, The Call to Conversion and other things. I do have to say one of the things we also built in to Symbolon was a very specific call to conversion. So each video session ends with a life application piece where you actually have somebody giving their own personal testimony about how that particular teaching has impacted their life and how they’ve lived that out. And then the reading materials have a very specific call to conversion. A time of some prayers, some meditation that came now, how are you going to live your life differently based on what you’ve learned in these lessons? So we’ve gotten incredible feedback from all across the country. We’re in over four thousand Parishes in the United States.
Lucas: We’re in many countries around the world: Canada, the Philippines, Singapore, Australia, we’re actually in the largest Catholic Parish in the world! Believe it or not, it’s in Dubai and the United Arab of Emirates and they’re using Symbolon. So we’re everywhere in all six inhabited Continents right now with Symbolon, we just gotten great feedback about people saying, Wow! I’m finally receiving the Catholic faith that I really never learn growing up or I’ve never seen how beautiful my Catholic faith is, so it’s a root of some awesome tool to really reevangelize the baptized whether it’s an RCIA or whether it’s Adult Faith Formation that’s really what we’ve wanted that to do.
Ian: Well, I’ve watched a couple of the videos from the second session, The Living the Faith part about Baptism and the Eucharist and also gone through the Leader’s Guide and the Participants Guide and one thing that I can say about the whole structure of everything is that there’s a beauty to it, it’s attractive, it’s something that you want to watch and or read. The pictures used and the video quality and the location shown are a far cry from the abstract stained glass and woodcut clip art that I’ve seen in a lot of programs in the past.
Lucas: And that’s really what we wanted to accomplish. We really wanted to draw people into the beauty of their faith and to show that their faith is just as relevant today as it ever has been and that honestly the Catholic faith and Jesus Christ is the answer to all the compelling questions that modern men and women are asking. That’s the feedback that we’ve really gotten from people who are watching after seeing these videos they really draw us in and they show us how beautiful the faith is.
It’s really helping people rediscover how beautiful Catholicism is and then from DRE’s and catechists we’re hearing that these videos are helping them to be better catechists because it’s doing such a good job of conveying the faith to those who are watching it, that then they are able to step in as catechist and just answer the deeper questions and take them a little bit deeper but a lot of that initial heavy work of catechizing and really capturing their hearts and minds, the videos do that so well that the catechist are saying I’ve been able to take my people so much more deeper than I ever have. It’s not meant to replace the catechist in any way, ultimately it’s the catechist to hands on the faith but we’re hearing from a lot of places that it’s such a great tool, it’s really helping people. You see the beauty of their faith in a way that you’ve never seen it before.
Ian: Yes the presentation by Dr. Sri and the other presenters in the series are really clear and engaging and they’re very engaged in their topic and fully in love with what they’re talking about. Can you tell me who some of the other involved personalities are in this progress…in this program.
Lucas: Oh absolutely! Yes, one of the things that we did too is, when we’re putting Symbolon together, we actually brought in a whole bunch of advisers from across the country to talk to us about what does this resource need to be an effective tool for the New Evangelization in RCIA and Adult Faith Formation. That’s actually how I got involved in all these. I was Director of Catechesis in the Diocese in Fort Worth and they invited me up to do some consulting session to speak in to what does Symbolon need to look like. But one of the things that we got back… the feedback that we got back is, don’t make this video a talking head, don’t just make it one person sitting in a desk or standing in front of something talking and so that’s where we really got the idea of bringing in literally dozens of presenters into this so if you’re watching the videos, you’ll see that the way the video goes… there’s interview segments where it’s Doctor Sri interviewing somebody and that’s kind of what kicks-off each session and that’s also kind of what ends the session, the life application piece. But the middle part where we’re kind of doing that systematic catechesis, you’ll see that we kind of have one person, the kind of a catechism expert, like the documentary expert and he’ll start and flash out some initial teaching then we’ll go to a classroom and somebody will teach for a little while and back to the expert and then back to classroom and back to expert or maybe back to Teachery in Rome.
Lucas: Yes. So what we’ve done is, we’ve made it very engaging but we’ve got dozens of people bringing their catechetical experience and insight earned of this, so not only that we have the faculty here at Augustine Institute, people are Doctor Tim Gray, Doctor Ted Sri, Doctor Sean Innerst, but then we’ve got people from out in the Catholic world like Teresa Tomeo and Johnette Benkovic and Jason Evert and Patrick Coffin and even like Scott Sollom as a Professor of Catechetics at Franciscan University and other catechists and experts from around the country. So it’s really made it, just super dynamic, and one of the comments we’ve got or several comments we’ve got from people that it’s so engaging, it’s like a living catechism, it’s like the catechism come alive. So again, just dozens of experts from around the country that have spoken into it which just made it very rich and very diverse.
Ian: Now before we turn into some of the other programs that the Saint Augustine’s Institute has come out with, can you tell me about the online program that you have available for parishes?
Lucas: Yes. So this is really exciting thing about Symbolon, even some of the other programs that are coming out now is you know, you can buy Symbolon, you can get the DVD’s and you can get the Leader’s Guide and Participant’s Guide which is kind of the traditional way that a lot of these programs work. But what we’ve done is that we put Symbolon on a digital platform that a parish can subscribe to which allows their parishioners to have 24/7 access to this awesome resources and the whole idea behind this is, you know, one of the things about Adult Faith Formation is difficult, is it’s hard to get somebody to come on a Tuesday night at 7 o’clock for ten weeks in a row to receive catechesis. So all of the catechetical documents and bishops’ plan for Adult Faith Formation said, we need to find different ways and think outside the box and really find out how we can reach people where they are at in their daily lives. And that’s what we’ve done with this digital platform.
So a parish can subscribe a yearly subscription to Symbolon and then they can get the access code to our digital platform out to all their parishioners and they can access these on anytime, anywhere and on any device. So all of sudden, what we’re saying, happening in these parishes that are using Symbolon is not only can they do what they do on the parish, they can use it for RCIA, they can use it for Adult Faith Formation sessions, Men’s Group are using it, Women’s Group are using it but also what’s happening now is, now you have families studying Symbolon together at home. Or you’ve got small Christian community studying Symbolon together either in someone’s home or at a coffee shop, you’ve got individual studying it on their own, you’ve got catechists who are using Symbolon as their catechist formation that they’re studying throughout the year.
And so all of the sudden, these awesome resources are in the hands of all the parishioners and it’s literally meeting them where they are at and so that this is something that they can be studying on their own when they can. And we’re finding that from parishes that this is literally created this culture of ongoing faith formation and learning in the parish. I mean, we’ve even heard stories of Pastors who encourage the parish as a whole to study a particular Symbolon session during a week or when there’s a liturgical solemnity coming up like the Ascension, they’re encouraging the parish to study the session on Mary and so the ways that these can be used, by the number of people that these can be used has just exploded because of our digital platform. We had well over a hundred thousand people accessing our digital platform in just the last couple of months.
Ian: You said this is available on all platforms, so you actually have a Symbolon App for this?
Lucas: We don’t have an actual app but if you have a smart phone you can get on the internet, you can log in to the Symbolon website and you can watch any of the videos, you can access any of the Leader’s Guide, Participant’s Guide so whether it’s a laptop or a tablet or an iPod or even your own smart phone, you can log in to our website and watch any of these videos.
Ian: And what is the website for Symbolon for people going to Symbolon session?
Lucas: The website is symboloncatholic.org so you can go to the website, you can find out a lot more information about this fun-filled sample videos that you can watch, you can learn about our digital platform for parishes, you can see all the pricing and everything on that website.
Ian: Alright. Now is the digital platform a place where those involved can communicate with each other about the program that they’re in or is it just a place to go watch the media that’s there?
Lucas: Yes, right now it’s just a place to go watch the media that’s there. Although we’re going to be upgrading our digital platform to a new digital platform, it’s called formed.org that’s going to be coming out here probably at the end of March and that’s going to have a whole lot of new features on it.
Not only are they going to have Symbolon on it, but it’s going to have our new series on marriage called Beloved, it’s also going to have opportunities for catechist to be certified using Symbolon and also other features where pastors and DRE’s can track parishioners, how many parishioners are on, their progress going through Symbolon, or the catechist who are using the catechist certification so it’s going to be a pretty serious upgrade for a digital platform here coming up towards the end of the month in March.
Ian: Okay great! Alright, well now let’s turn into some of these other programs that you’ve published as well. So the first one I want to take a look at is Lectio and I don’t know if this is planning… Is this going to be a series of Bible studies?
Lucas: Yes. It’s actually going to be a series of studies that are on going over the next several years and we call it Lectio which literally means to.
Lucas: Well it means to read or study and it’s catholic studies on tradition and scripture and so our first release in the Lexio Series was on Saint Peter done by Doctor Tim Gray and it’s a just a great study on the life and the mission and the ministry of Saint Peter. I’ve watched almost all of it and it’s just outstanding. I mean I can’t tell you how much I learned about Saint Peter and not only who he was but it even gets into scripture and it’s just outstanding. So we have Peter that has been released and next in the series is going to be on the Eucharist taught by Doctor Tim Gray and Doctor Brant Pitre who came in and did all the filming for that. And then we’ve just got a whole series of things that are going to come out whether if on specific books of scripture or on particular aspects of the faith. I know that Doctor Scott Hahn is going to be doing something coming up, some of or faculty here we’re going to be doing some things so it’s just a great series of studies on Catholic tradition and scriptures so that’s going to be an ongoing thing and again it’s using video, leader’s guide, study guides, but these are just really great I would say more in the study on the specific aspects of the faith.
Ian: Well looking through the Lectio Guide on Saint Peter, I’m impressed that it’s not just, okay, here is Saint Peter, here’s what it was that he did in the Bible, but it talks about the whole context of Galilee and Israel and everything that was going on at that time so you learned a lot more and much deeper, richer picture of Saint Peter and his times than just what you read in the Bible.
Lucas: Absolutely! And that’s what we want to do with Lectio. We really want to take a particular topic or particular scripture and really bring about the rich context of the historical context and all of the things that go into it so that you can really get a really good picture of the particular topic. The session of the Eucharist is going to be so rich. I mean it delves into the scriptures, it delves into the early church fathers, you get such a great solid foundation on what the Eucharist is I’m super excited about that one coming out.
Ian: Looking at all the pictures and the information about the area makes me want to go in Neprockovich now.
Lucas: Absolutely! Yes. Absolutely. So and these are you know, like Doctor Tim Gray has been to the Holy Land many, many times so he’s bringing all that insight, all the experience and this is teaching on Peter so it’s outstanding.
Ian: Now, with the Peter Study Guide, I’m looking through it and I see that there are multiple sessions but then there are days during each sessions, so how is this supposed to be structured for someone?
Lucas: Well I think the idea is that you do your study, you do your actual study but then actually there’s an activity for you to do every day so as you’re going through this, you’re actually, every day, there are some sort of reflection or activity for you to do so this is a beautiful thing about Lexio, not only as a study but it’s really a calling for a really kind of a deeper call to conversion and understanding of your daily Catholic faith so I think that’s one thing we wanted to do with all of our programs here at the Augustine Institute. We don’t want it to just be the head, we really want to bring it to the heart so whether it’s Symbolon and that specific call to conversion or whether it’s Lectio and really even asking you daily to read and to meditate and to pray, its ultimately calling us to a really more deeply rediscover and lean on our Catholic faith.
Ian: That’s definitely something that impressed me with the series as I was looking through them is that you’re taking this very seriously as you make this part of your life not just coming here once a week and show up and then leave.
Lucas: Yes! Absolutely! That’s part of the new order, new message, new expressions of the New Evangelization is. It’s not just teaching, it’s not just information, it’s calling people to a deeper intimate communion with Christ in the church and so the teaching and the doctrine obviously is the means by which that happens but we try to connect that to people’s daily lives and to really get them to appreciate how relevant the word of God and the teachings of the church are in your life so whether it’s Saint Peter, whether it’s Eucharist, whether it’s Marriage, whether it’s The Last Things, that’s really what we’re trying to help people to do.
He lives with his lovely wife and eleven kids in northern Colorado.
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