June 19, 2020

The Face of Mercy / Daniel Conway

Stories reveal who God is, who we are

(En Espanol)

“Human beings are storytellers because we are engaged in a process of constant growth, discovering ourselves, and becoming enriched in the tapestry of the days of our lives. Yet since the very beginning, our story has been threatened: evil snakes its way through history.” (Pope Francis in his message for World Communications Day)

All children love stories, especially at bedtime or around a campfire. “Stories leave their mark on us,” Pope Francis says. “They shape our convictions and our behavior. They can help us understand and communicate who we are.” They can also reveal to us who God is, the deepest meaning and purpose of our lives.

In his message for World Communications Day on May 24, Pope Francis chose to call attention to the role of storytelling in the formation of human minds and hearts. This universal experience, which involves the painting of verbal or written portraits through images that inform, inspire, entertain and sometimes frighten us, can either build up or tear down the human spirit.

“Not all stories are good stories,” the pope reminds us. From the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden, the lies (false narratives) told by the Evil One have destroyed trust and inspired actions that are destructive rather than life-giving.

“Often on communication platforms,” the Holy Father warns, “instead of constructive stories which serve to strengthen social ties and the cultural fabric, we find destructive and provocative stories that wear down and break the fragile threads binding us together as a society.”

And yet, we continue to seek and find good stories, ones that illustrate the splendor of God’s creation, the wondrous love of Jesus who suffered and died to redeem humanity from its sinfulness, and the grace of the Holy Spirit which can open hardened hearts and transform communities that are bound by systemic evils.

According to Pope Francis, the Bible is “the story of stories.” The Bible recounts the history of God’s love for all creation, God’s patience with us rebellious and ungrateful children, and the story of Jesus, the master storyteller, who speaks of God “not with abstract concepts, but with parables, brief stories taken from every day life.” We encounter Jesus in the stories told about him in the Gospels, and we continue to hear his story as it is revealed more fully in the lives of Mary and all the saints.

The Bible truly is the greatest story ever told! It does not sugarcoat the reality of evil or the despicable actions of human beings who reject God’s love. But it weaves through the story of human history God’s unconditional love and ever-present mercy. It is truly good news for all whose hearts are troubled by the burden of our sins.

What Pope Francis calls “the story of stories” is, in fact, the story of every one of us. As the pope tells us:

“As we read the Scriptures, the stories of the saints, and also those texts that have shed light on the human heart and its beauty, the Holy Spirit is free to write in our hearts, reviving our memory of what we are in God’s eyes. When we remember the love that created and saved us, when we make love a part of our daily stories, when we weave the tapestry of our days with mercy, we are turning another page. We no longer remain tied to regrets and sadness, bound to an unhealthy memory that burdens our hearts; rather, by opening ourselves to others, we open ourselves to the same vision of the great storyteller. Telling God our story is never useless: even if the record of events remains the same, the meaning and perspective are always changing.”

Making love part of our daily stories is our vocation as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. In re-telling his story through our own words and actions, we bear witness “to what the Spirit writes in our hearts,” and we reveal to everyone that all our stories “contain marvelous things.” In this way, our individual stories become part of the continuing story of stories. We become both narrators and protagonists in the greatest story ever told.

Pope Francis concludes his message for World Day of Communications with a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who “wove the divine Word into your womb” and “recounted by your life the magnificent works of God.”

May your story become our stories, the pope prays. “Help us build stories of peace, stories that point to the future. And show us the way to live them together.”

(Daniel Conway is a member of The Criterion’s editorial committee.)

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