The Avengers and Catechesis

I assume that most of you have seen The Avengers since it’s broken about every box office record it could. Personally, I thought it was the perfect comic book movie: a great blend of humor, action, and epic story telling.

I remember sitting next to someone at a movie theater a few months ago when an Avengers trailer came on. This person turned to her friend and said, “It looks just like the Transformers.” The tone of her voice made it clear that it wasn’t a compliment.

I wanted to turn to her and say, “This movie is nothing like Transformers!” But then tried to see the trailer through her eyes: Lots of explosions, big city buildings getting knocked down, and huge creatures fighting each other. Yep, that’s Transformers alright.

I didn’t like Transformers, either. So why was I excited about this movie and she wasn’t? The answer was simple. I wasn’t going to see the movie because I wanted to see New York City destroyed. I wanted to see what was going to happen to the characters.

WIth a big budget and a good special effects team, any studio can make movies where things blow up. But the novelty of disaster films has worn off. How many times have we seen Grand Central station destroyed? Yes, the final battle of The Avengers is pretty spectacular from a visual point of view. But that’s not what makes it exciting.

What makes it exciting is that Bruce Banner finally finds a way to control the Hulk. The Black Widow has a chance to do something good to make up for her past. Iron Man learns what it means to sacrifice for the sake of the team. We don’t just root for the bad guys to get destroyed, we cheer for the heroes who have discovered something in themselves and have made the right choice. To put it simpler, we get excited about what they do because we know who they are.

This is a great lesson, not just for any story teller, but for anyone who wants to pass on the faith. Msgr. Eugine Kevane once wrote that “catechesis is about being acquaintanced with persons.” The most effective way to catechize is not by teaching topics but by talking about people.

The person we should talk most about is, of course, Jesus Christ. And our faith is filled with amazing stories of men and women who have conquered their own personal demons to do something great for God. Isn’t that the same kind of drama we saw in The Avengers?

In passing on the faith, don’t just talk about the what. Talk about the who. I imagine that every Christian knows what Jesus did on the cross. But do they really know who He is?

That was one of my few critiques with the movie, The Passion of the Christ. It was a lot of what but only a little who. As a result, many Christians who knew Jesus had a powerful experience watching the film, but people who didn’t know Christ thought (to use the words of a non-Christian I know who saw the film,) “it was just a movie where a guy got the crap beat out of him.”

The Gospel has been rightly called “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” A great story has great characters: the incredible love of Jesus Christ, the struggle Peter has to know what it means to follow Him, the betrayal of Judas, the sorrow of His mother. The main reason I wrote my novel, Between the Savior and the Sea, was to try to make that drama come more alive in a contemporary literary genre. Because as I travel around the country (yea, the world) sharing Gospel stories, that’s what people respond most to.

I imagine that many people look at Catholicism the way the woman next to me watched the Avengers trailer: a montage of images and people that didn’t make any sense unless you already knew the characters. It’s up to those of us who pass on the faith (which, by the way, is all of us) not just to talk about what we believe, but Who we believe, and how we’ve been inspired by the stories of others who have done super-heroic things through the grace of the One they believed in.