After the success of Father (now Bishop) Robert Barron’s Catholicism, it seemed to me certain that the “new” evangelization had taken a welcome turn; that more video series would surely follow. Barron himself has continued the trend, with Catholicism: The New Evangelization and just recently Catholicism: the Pivotal Players.
Now From St. Benedict Press and Tan Books comes Luke: The Gospel of Mercy, written and narrated by Paul Thigpen and Father Jeffrey Kirby. Dr. Thigpen handles the exegesis of the third Gospel and Fr. Kirby follows up with applications of Luke’s (and the Church’s) teaching in everyday life.
There are in the video series, three discs containing in all eighteen “sessions,” each of which has fifteen minutes of Thigpen lecturing and five minutes of Kirby homilizing. The videos are accompanied – depending upon how one might purchase the program – by a Leader Guide and a (participant) Study Guide – both over 300 pages. So it’s obvious that Luke: The Gospel of Mercy is designed to be a part of a Scripture study program in churches and, perhaps, homes.
The video, according to a flyer provided to TCT by the publisher, has a list price of $99.95 and the books are $44.95 (Leader) and $39.95 (Study). One could buy the video alone, and benefit from its instruction at home, but the program is clearly meant to be a group experience, presumably in hour-long, weekly church gatherings in which the 20 minutes of video are accompanied by 40 minutes of discussion, with or without donuts and coffee. In fact, the Leader Guide provides a plan that divvies up the session time, and it will probably be the plan most parishes will follow.
There’s also a Leader Pack that includes a streaming video license and some invitation cards) and promises that parishes may review the program “risk-free.” The pricing (and more) is explained at the website of Catholic Scripture Study International, a group new to me, although they’re not new at all.
As a publicist for St. Benedict Press told TCT: “Catholic Scripture Study International has been around since 2003 and has published more than 30 Bible and faith-related programs from well-known authors and Biblical scholars such as Scott Hahn, Mike Aquilina and Steve Ray.” There are also CSS studies, in an old format, on the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Matthew.
The content of the videos is very good and reminiscent of videos in The Great Courses series, each of which features an academic lecturer in a studio meant to resemble a college lecture room or professor’s office, and the quality of which rises or falls on the skill of the teacher. The videos in Luke: The Gospel of Mercy are closer in approach to The Great Courses than to Barron’s Catholicism – not to take anything away from Dr. Thigpen and Fr. Kirby. To be sure, the scope of their enterprise is smaller than Barron’s vast survey of our faith. Father Kirby is certainly outside in the midst of some fabulous scenery, but it’s mostly in and around Rome, whereas Bishop Barron was here, there, and everywhere.
And this new series addresses one of the more absurd charges made by some outside the faith: that Catholics don’t study the Bible. Of course, given the cycle of Mass readings, a regular churchgoer will “read” (it may be just listening to) more Scripture than most Protestants. Still, the charge has some merit, in that the exegesis of the readings is left to the priest, who may or may not provide much context – and who is often considering readings from both Testaments.
And this is assuming he has a taste for the richness of Scripture and isn’t the sort of spontaneous exegete who doesn’t really remember much from his Bible courses in seminary. Luke: The Gospel of Mercy provides the best exposition of the Third Gospel you’re likely ever to get.
The field of Biblical studies provides a wealth of books about the Gospels, including dozens about Luke. I’m a big fan of the commentaries published by Opus Dei out of Spain’s Navarre University. The Navarre Bible commentaries on all the New Testament books are available at Amazon, and they’re worth it.
But let’s face it, those wonderful books are missing two things: video content and other Catholics to talk with. I know, I know: who has the time, right? Indeed, my hope for the broad success of Luke: The Gospel of Mercy is tempered by my suspicion that some (many?) pastors in our attenuated Church may decide they have neither the time nor the staff to take on a four-and-a-half-month survey (in once-weekly gatherings) of one version of the greatest story ever told.
Thus it may fall upon laypeople to step forward and ask the pastor simply for weekly space in the parish center or the school gym. Failing that: buy some folding chairs for your home and set up a phone tree to determine who brings the coffee and donuts each week.
As Professor Thigpen says towards the end of his final lecture (“The Road to Emmaus”) – the risen Lord showing himself to many – “the witnesses are multiplying.” Let it always be so.