Augustine Institute and The Value of Sound Storytelling

by Paul McCusker

It was inevitable that the Augustine Institute, with its foundations established by St. John Paul II’s call to a new evangelization, would move aggressively into the realm of Story. A cursory view of the AI’s video series Symbolon, Beloved and Reborn vividly shows that beauty in Art is at the heart of the Augustine Institute’s efforts – and telling stories is a key part of that artistry. And so it should be. Reclaiming the arts to show the fullness of the Catholic faith is long overdue. Considering the history of the Church, the decline of the Arts in Catholicism over the past century or so is an aberration, not the normal state for the Church.

airt-logo-wo-shield-blackWhy story? The answer is found with the words “Once upon a time…” or, as we look to the Bible, “In the beginning, God created…” Before we know anything about God as a King, or Father, or Judge, we learn that He is a Creator. It’s no coincidence that the Bible is a collection of some of the most powerful stories known to Mankind. Jesus used Story (parable) as a means of expressing profound truth in the most accessible way possible. The Gospels themselves declare the power of Story as few other documents can. Story communicates with powerful immediacy, bypassing the intellectual defenses to touch our hearts and imaginations. There we find personal discovery, insights into the human condition, the mystery of relationships and the wonder of life.

Most statistics and surveys indicate that this generation – and the generation to come – responds more to Story than traditional forms of teaching, particularly when it comes to moral and ethical issues. One could effectively argue that the dramatic shifts in our culture to a Secular Worldview were made possible not through legislation and proclamation but by the effective use of Storytelling in the cinema and television. (In other words, we’ve lost our culture because we weren’t telling stories well enough.)

Some of C.S. Lewis’ greatest representations of the Christian faith are found in The Chronicles of Narnia, impacting readers far more effectively than Mere Christianity. JRR Tolkien author was a staunch advocate for incarnational expressions of Truth (meaning, primarily, Story) and showed how it’s done in The Lord of the Rings.

Within the realm of Storytelling, there is audio drama, which some people confuse with “old time radio.” An initial question might be: why audio? For the first time ever, the sales of audiobooks has surpassed print. (In 2015 print and e-books dropped by 12.3% while downloads of audio books increased by 38.1%.) People are listening to audio in more places while doing more things. The popularity of Evangelical audio programs like Adventures In Odyssey and Focus On The Family Radio Theatre among Catholics suggests there is a place for audio storytelling in the Catholic marketplace.

As a starting point, the Augustine Institute has just released Brother Francis: The Barefoot Saint of Assisi, a 10-part drama featuring award-winning British actors, cinema-quality sound design and music. The desire is to show that good story-telling is possible, without the fear that, because it is Catholic it is second-rate. For example, the production team recorded the voice-tracks for the drama at the Sound House Studios in London, featuring over 50 actors including Joseph Timms (Atlantis), Tony Award-winner Owen Teale (Game Of Thrones), David Suchet (Hercule Poirot), Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones), Raffey Cassidy (Tomorrowland), Simon Jones (The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), Geoffrey Palmer (Mrs. Brown), Wendy Craig (Butterflies), Raad Rawi (Spy), Finty Williams (The Importance of Being Earnest), Philip Cumbus (Much Ado About Nothing).

There is no flinching from St. John Paul II’s call to a new evangelization. Isn’t it remarkable that, to engage in something new, he pushes us to use something as old as Story?

EWTN will air The Story of Augustine Institute Radio Theatre, a documentary on the Augustine Institute’s efforts to reclaim the arts and media for the New Evangelization, on Monday, January 2nd at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, and on Tuesday, January 3rd at 2:30 a.m. Eastern.

 To learn more about Augustine Institute Radio Theatre, go to airtheatre.org.