Gateway Episodes: This Concept Opens Up Some Possibilities

Thank you, Abby Ohlheiser, whose post in the June 25 Slate introduced me to the concept of “gateway episodes.” Abby mused on how a TV series, perhaps a now-cancelled series that one always wanted to sample  and still can catch up on via DVD sets or online archives, may have produced one episode that serves as the perfect introduction to the essence of the series–its characters and characteristics. Check out the gateway episode, and you then can determine whether you want to experience more.

Indeed, you could become “hooked” on the series, which calls to mind the darker predecessor term, “gateway drug,” as applied to marijuana. I prefer a more positive interpretation, and use, of the “gateway” concept. Robert Frost popularized the idea that “good fences make good neighbors.” In these days when a lot of metaphorical fences are being built, we need to celebrate gateways that break through walls and traps into broader thinking and brighter possibilities.

Now I’ve started thinking about “gateway episodes” as they apply to TV series I’ve loved, but I’m gladly going forth from there to ask questions relevant to my work and my faith: Might it be a good communications/marketing strategy for an organization to seek out and highlight a story that serves as a “gateway episode,” a great entry point and introduction that compels first-time visitors to come back to learn more about the organization? If you had to pick a “gateway episode” in the history of Notre Dame, what would it be? Is the typical Fighting Irish football weekend a gateway episode into Notre Dame’s past, present, and future? Does the Catholic Church need to identify and publicize “gateway episodes” in its history or present-day story that draw people close enough to understand some basics, to become intrigued by some mysteries, and to pursue deeper knowledge of the institution–and of the Risen Christ?

Does every human life’s story have a gateway episode? In an age when our popular culture often seeks out and spotlights personal episodes of embarrassment or accusal or superficiality for the purpose of entertainment or schadenfreude, do we as communicators or journalists, or brothers and sisters in Christ, owe it to others to seek out gateway episodes in people’s lives–rather than episodes that build fences? Does every individual’s spiritual journey toward God have a gateway episode? Is God always in the business of creating and opening gateways that open up possibilities for closer relationships?

These are big questions that I hope to come back to over time. Right now, I’ll begin my practice of the concept by asking smaller questions that are nevertheless fun. What was the best gateway episode for the classic “Star Trek” series? It turns out that this conversation has already taken place online. And I love the first answer I saw at this site–namely, the great episode titled “City on the Edge of Forever.” No pun intended, the correspondent advises us, realizing that the episode is about a mysterious alien gateway that allows the Enterprise officers to go back in time to a profound setting of love, friendship, and adventure. This was indeed Star Trek at its best. Perhaps seeking out such gateways is a wonderful way to approach storytelling and celebrate intrinsic, positive possibilities.

The Priesthood, Education, and ACE

The connection between the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) and religious vocations is very real, partly because the connection between education and the priesthood is very real.

We’ve seen the ACE connection a lot recently. During Lent, it was my privilege to talk with Tony Hollowell, an ACE graudate who is studying in Rome to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He eloquently discussed how the embrace of vocational discernment in ACE supported him on his path toward a priestly vocation. His journey allowed him to be present in St. Peter’s Square when Pope Francis emerged on the balcony for the first time, and Tony was interviewed on national Catholic radio the next morning describing that memorable experience.

More recently, our ACE newsblog carried the report of two new ordinations of men who had served as ACE teachers. Congratulations to Fr. Luke Marquard and Fr. Andrew Nelson!

Then there’s the example of Father Timothy Klosterman, a priest for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He was ordained in 2008, and he’s joining ACE’s Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program now to prepare to serve as a principal or other leader in Catholic schools. You can read his story in a May 31 posting from the archdiocesan newspaper, The Tidings. (Scroll down to see his story as part two of the article.) Father Timothy served first as a lay teacher. Now a priest, serving as a chaplain in a Catholic high school, he continues to find joy in the call to teach and to reach young people with the message that God is calling all of them into service.

Of course, most of those striving to sustain, strengthen and transform Catholic schools through ACE are laypeople throughout their whole lives. But the amazing experience of service through teaching obviously prompts some men and women to consider the even higher levels of commitment called priesthood or consecrated life . A new report from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, titled “The Class of 2013: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood,” reports that fully 18% of the men ordained as priests in 2013 previously held full-time jobs as educators.

How does one explain this connection? In the case of ACE, I see a zeal for service and an atmosphere of discernment, nourished by intentional faith communities. There’s also the inherent kinship between education and the Church’s even broader call to evangelize.  Teachers and priests are called to make the Lord present to people, in perpetuity. The resurrected Jesus issues the mandate in Matthew 28:19-20, often summed up as the call to “go forth and teach.” He missions his followers: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”