Preparing young people for the Sacrament Confirmation is a challenging task. Before embarking on an all too familiar litany of those many challenges, it’s imperative to recognize the need for understanding both the sacrament itself and how to help young people embrace it. Confirmation as a sacrament of initiation must be presented clearly and effectively if the Church is to continue with vitality in its evangelizing mission. Youth ministers, DRE’s, catechists, and volunteers sometimes struggle with how best to engage and reach the hearts of the youth in their preparation for this sacrament. Fortunately, Ascension Press now offers a 24-week-long DVD program entitled Chosen: Your Journey Toward Confirmation that is orthodox, thorough, and engaging. This program is meant to help in the formation of young people to receive with joy and vigor the Sacrament of Confirmation.
The first thing that stands out in the Chosen series is the amount of thought and research that has gone into it. As mentioned recently in CNA/EWTN News, “the program is the result of five years of planning and consultation.” The team at Ascension Press has done a remarkable job of creating a program that takes into account the authentic needs of young people preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. The aim, clearly, is to put youth in communion with the person of Jesus Christ. The Ascension Press team understand that the definitive purpose of catechesis is to teach toward conversion, which begins in an encounter with Christ and results in a transformation of one’s life in Christ.
Having said this, what also strikes me from the outset is that those involved in its production have truly listened to and understand the heart of the youth in our modern culture. The folks at Ascension Press are producing highly engaging and thoughtful material will change lives and make an impact in the era of the New Evangelization. Their consultation with those in the Lord’s vineyard (catechists and parents, especially) has resulted in a presentation of the faith that is deliberately memorable and impactful. They understand the challenges and issues catechists face today.
Production Value: This may seem rather superficial, but it is something one immediately notices about the DVDs. One question I ask when looking at catechetical material is: does the quality detract in any way from the messages and truths that are conveyed? The answer with Chosen is an emphatic, “No!” On the contrary, the producers of this series have made sure that it is of high quality. From its choice of filming locations to the directing style, from its youth-appealing music to its graphics and presentation quality (all of which is intentional for its appeal to youth) Chosen grabs and keeps our attention in order to deliver the faith in a thoughtful and attractive way.
Taking Young People Seriously: “Let no one”, wrote St. Paul to the young Timothy, “despise your youth” (1 Tim. 4:12).Valuing young people for where they are in their lives and seeing their youthfulness as more than just a mere stage to pass through, Chosen is respectful to the sensibilities and concerns of young people. Once youth are taken seriously, they can they fully engage and seek the truth in freedom. Chosen offers a companionship of sorts (though limited; more on that below) to the youth it seeks to evangelize and catechize. Adolescence is a time when we can develop passionate interests about some of life’s biggest questions and most difficult challenges; it’s a time when we begin to take a position about reality in one way or another. Chosen poses the fundamental questions of life in an attention grabbing way. In the first segment, Chris Stefanick, the program’s co-author and host, presents Christ’s earth-shattering question to the first disciples, “What are you looking for?” (cf. Jn. 1:38). This question sets the tone and encourages the youth to be open to the truth and challenges them to seek the truth.
Dynamic Presenters: Chosen features some of the best and most dynamic presenters of the faith to young people today. What is palpable from each of these men and women is their passion for souls and their infectious love of the faith; they offer real life experience in relation to the topic at hand. These witnesses convince us by their personal witness and their zeal that they truly believe, that their lives and struggles are not that different from mine. If the production quality alone doesn’t grab your attention these witnesses of the faith certainly will.
A Clear and To-The-Point Catechesis: Finally, any program will fall flat on its face if the content is not the Catholic faith, whole and entire. Chosen offers the meat of the faith (see the segment, “Why Be Catholic?”), yet another reason for its effectiveness. The presenters cut to the chase when it comes to handing the truths of our Catholic faith. Their catechesis is done in a to-the-point manner, taking on and explaning complex doctrines without watering down the essential teaching. In conformity not only with the four pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the program also adheres to the systematic way the faith is presented in the Catechism. One teaching builds upon the other, and is presented in relation to a preceding teaching. The result is a compressive presentation of the faith that opens hearts to the mystery of Christ in a simple and clear fashion. Topics include “Why am I here?”, “Who is Jesus?”, “Why be Catholic”, “The Healing Power of Confession”, and “Getting to know God Through Prayer”, among others.
No program or DVD series is complete in and of itself. What the Church needs today are authentic witnesses, as Pope Paul VI reminded us: “Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness” (Evangelii nuntiandi, 21). Although Chosen has pooled together some of the most dynamic and gifted presenters in catechesis for youth, a sacramental prep DVD program—no matter how exceptional—should not be the whole program, to the exclusion of a catechist or team. A mere click of a button cannot substitute for an authentic witness in a catechist.
While I embrace the use of media in the realm of evangelization and catechesis, I must admit I was skeptical at the outset as to how effective Chosen could really be. No relationship with the program’s presenters is possible in real time, in a fully human way, which is an essential aspect of any catechetical ministry. Being a proponent of the visible, tangible witness in the person of the living, breathing catechist, I don’t think any program can replace a dedicated team of catechists with a mission to passionately reach out to the youth. We must not, whether out of laziness or something else, expect Chosen to carry the weight of preparing young hearts for Confirmation on its own. To do so, I would suspect, goes against the wishes of its creators.
Overall, Chosen is balanced, positive, structured and compelling in its approach to transmitting the Catholic faith through a modern method of catechesis. With the supplemental materials, workbooks, and leaders guide, and with an authentic witness in the catechist to execute and lead, this makes for a winning combination. I highly recommend the Chosen program, and I am looking forward to seeing its fruits!