Symbolon is a new catechetical program produced by the Augustine Institute of Denver, focused on providing a beautiful and systematic presentation of the Catholic Faith. It was filmed on locations in Rome, the Holy Land, Calcutta, and elsewhere, and features nationally-known teachers and scholars, including Edward Sri, Tim Gray, Curtis Martin, Mary Healy, Teresa Tomeo, and many others.
Dr. Edward Sri, Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture, Theology, and Catechetics
Chancellor at the Augustine Institute, is the director of the Symbolon program. He recently spoke with CWR about Symbolon, its focus and goals, its contents and approach, and how it works.
CWR: In a nutshell, what is Symbolon, and who is it for?
Dr. Edward Sri: Today, many people have a fragmented understanding of the Catholic faith. We might know there are 12 apostles, 10 commandments, 7 sacraments, and 3 persons of the Trinity. But we have almost zero understanding how it all fits together and what difference it makes for our lives.
We at the Augustine Institute wanted to build a program that walks through the entirety of the Catholic faith, so that people can know their faith, understand how to live practically, and be able to articulate it to others. Symbolon is that program. It’s a video series for adult faith formation that was filmed on location in Rome, the Holy Land and Calcutta and in the Augustine Institute studios in Denver. It features dozens of teachers who explain the Catholic faith simply and in an engaging, life-transforming way.
CWR: What was the genesis of Symbolon, and how did the program come about? Who are some of the folks involved in producing the program?
Dr. Sri: The program originally was intended for RCIA, but we quickly saw that it would have a much wider impact being used by parishes and individuals for any adult faith formation setting. Many parish and diocesan directors of catechesis who saw some of the initial episodes said, “We want to use this for adult faith formation, for men’s groups, women’s groups, marriage and family ministry!” And that’s fitting. The Church teaches that the RCIA is the model form of adult catechesis since many adult Catholics need to go through the same stages of conversion as those who are entering full communion in the Church. Indeed, as John Paul II once said, many adult Catholics are “quasi-catechumens” (Catechesi Tradendae, 44).
So the Symbolon program, from its very beginning, had a focus on evangelization, on leading souls through the Catholic faith step-by-step in a way that inspires them to surrender their lives more to Jesus Christ and to live in communion with him in the Church.
The Augustine Institute produced Symbolon with our amazing video and print production team we have right here on our campus in Denver. Some bishops expressed to our President Dr. Tim Gray the challenges facing RCIA today and encouraged him to have the Augustine Institute develop a new program. It was his vision to go in this direction and build the team and the studios that made this all possible. His vision for the Augustine Institute to form Catholics for the New Evangelization through training and through resources like Symbolon has brought together a team of very talented people to serve in this mission.
And it truly is a team effort here at the Augustine Institute. I was blessed to work alongside our faculty, our production team, and many catechists around the country on the development of the curriculum, the video series and the supplemental parish resources. In particular, Lucas Police, who is the Associate Director of Symbolon at the Augustine Institute, was invaluable. His many years of experience in parish and diocesan catechetical work helped ensure we were not just making a beautiful Catholic video, but one that would serve the Church’s evangelizing and catechetical mission well.
CWR: There have been a number of catechetical programs produced in recent years. What are some of the particular strengths and unique features of Symbolon?
Dr. Sri: Many of the individuals and parishes leaders who have been using Symbolon have said it’s unique in that it provides a comprehensive A-to-Z presentation of the Catholic faith. One person described it as a “one-stop shopping” kind of program covering everything from The Trinity, Creation, the Cross, and the Church to the Bible, the sacraments, Mary, and the Church’s moral teachings on sexuality, marriage, human life, and care for the poor. A parish director of education said she loves the program because she knows anyone going through it will be getting the breadth of the Catholic faith
People also have told us they like the fact that Symbolon has a team of teachers. It’s not just one person or a talking head. Every episode features several dynamic presenters, teaching in different settings—sometimes in Rome, sometimes in an interview format, sometimes straight to camera, sometimes giving a talk in front of a live audience. The variety of teachers, settings, and styles keeps the videos moving and engaging. Each episode leaves people hungering for more. As one person said, it creates a “to be continued” feel.
Another key feature of Symbolon is the emphasis on life application and the call to conversion. It constantly is bringing the faith to real life—how do I live this out practically in my life? It also engages current cultural questions people have today: Why do I need a Church? Isn’t Jesus just one of many great religious teachers? What is marriage? Is there really a right and wrong for everyone? Do I really have a responsibility toward the poor? And every episode culminates with a call to conversion, inviting viewers to consider how they can give their lives more to Christ through the particular aspect of the faith being discussed.
Finally, people also tell us they are immediate impressed by the beauty of the video presentation. The videos don’t just teach the faith, they show the faith through the sacred art, spectacular cinematography, the beautiful churches of Rome and the beautiful music throughout.
CWR: What sort of training is available for catechists? How does the program work in a typical parish environment?
Dr. Sri: Parishes are using Symbolon in a variety of ways: men’s and women’s groups, adult faith formation, RCIA, Bible study groups, marriage and family ministries. Some parishes are using Symbolon to train all their volunteer catechists. Others want to use it for parents coming for baptismal, First Eucharist or Confirmation preparation. Still others have families watching the videos together at home.
Many people may simply watch the videos on their own. But in a parish setting, they can be used as part of a small or large group study. Our leader’s guides provide a simple step-by-step process that includes an opening prayer, the showing of the video, small group discussion, and time for each individual to prayerfully reflect on what was taught and how it affects their lives. The guides provide the small group questions as well as the personal reflection questions for individuals to take to prayer either right there at the parish or later on their own time. The framework for these sessions was shaped by many leading catechists from around the country, so that they would be effective in the process of evangelization and catechesis.
As far as training, the Augustine Institute provides training seminars for dioceses on the New Evangelization in general and on adult faith formation and RCIA in particular. Our team received outstanding reviews from the diocesan-wide trainings we did in this initial year. People were excited about how practical these training days were, and how they were led by catechists with real life parish experience for many years. We also provide helpful training tips in our leader’s guides and on our website.
CWR: What are the foundational resources used in Symbolon? And what other resources are recommended or used?
Dr. Sri: The foundational Symbolon resources include the video series, leader’s guides, participant guides and a parish starter pack.
The video series is being released in two parts. The first ten episodes called Symbolon: Knowing the Faith focuses on core Catholic beliefs such as prayer, the Bible, the Trinity creation, the fall, redemption in Christ, the Church, Mary and the saints, and the Last Things. It’s is available now in a 5-DVD box set.
The next ten episodes called Symbolon: Living the Faith will be released in the fall and will focus on our encounter with God in the seven sacraments and in the moral life.
Symbolon leader’s guides and participant guides also are available. These provide more background information on the faith and help make it very easy for any volunteer to facilitate a Symbolon small group study at home or in the parish. The leader’s guides walk a volunteer step-by-step through a Symbolon small group session. The participants guides help participants to go deeper in their faith on their own and to reflect prayerfully on the aspects of the faith being discussed, so that they encounter Christ more and give their lives more to Him in every session.
In addition to these foundational resources, we recommend other articles and resources on our website for the topics related to each episode for those interested in further study.
CWR: Many Catholics lament that catechesis has, for the most part, been mediocre or in a bad way for several decades. Why is that the case? And how does the Symbolon program seek to address some of the problems and weaknesses found in many Catholic catechesis programs?
Dr. Sri: One challenge the Church faced in the years after Vatican II is that there was not a universal Catechism that incorporated the teachings of Vatican II and served as a standard for all catechists to follow when teaching the faith. That’s why John Paul II gave us the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Symbolon program is modeled after the Catechism, walking people through the Creed, the Sacraments and the Moral Life and not only providing teaching on prayer, but in every session inviting people to encounter Christ in prayer.
Another challenge in the post-conciliar period has been, at least in some settings, a lack of systematic catechesis that shows the organic unity of the faith. This is related to the point I said earlier: many people today have a fragmented understanding of the faith. We must certainly teach that we are wounded by original sin, Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, that Mary is the Immaculate Conception and that abortion is wrong. But how does it all fit together? It’s not enough to give people isolated pieces of the Catholic faith, however orthodox those pieces may be. We must show how all the aspects of the faith fit together into the larger story of salvation. The General Directory for Catechesis makes this point when highlighting how the story of salvation is foundational for the four pillars of the Catechism (GDC, 107-108). Symbolon aims at not only providing a comprehensive, orthodox, systematic presentation of the faith, but one that highlights the beautiful, organic unity of the faith.
One other challenge worth mentioning: teaching for conversion. John Paul II emphasized that catechesis aims at putting souls into communion with Christ (cf., Catechesi Tradendae, 5). It’s not just head knowledge. Catechesis increases understanding of the faith so that one might yield their lives more to Christ (Catechesi Tradendae, 20). It’s about teaching for conversion. At every step of the way, the Symbolon program seeks to form not just the head, but the heart. People have told us how much they appreciate the life application that permeates throughout every episode. The presentations attractively call people to ongoing conversion—to give their lives more to Jesus in the particular doctrine being discussed.