Besides having the narrative of our own lives to deal with, other narratives are constantly being urged upon us, begging for our notice – often with all kinds of tricks to demand our attention. Buy this new car, shown driving up a mountain (which few of us will ever do). Then there’s the Star Wars saga, sucking us into multiple sequels and prequels, and littering the house with “memorabilia” of things that never happened, that many, even so, reorganize their lives around. And there is Disney’s monetizing of childhood; the hours spent binge-watching Breaking Bad. Or buying something guaranteed to “change your whole life.” We add such things to our own life story sometimes reasonably, often enough not so much.
Many narratives crowd in, from our friends, from commercial enterprises, politicians, and – in the full Christian perspective – even from evil spirits. Our souls become clearinghouses of a sort, listening to and having to choose among narratives that might make our lives seem better at least in the short term, or that might lead over time to all kinds of disasters.
Catholics know, however, that there one narrative that should put all others in their proper places: the glorious narrative of salvation. Many Catholics don’t necessarily want to acknowledge that, or delve into it too deeply. But there it is. And it is the only narrative that is completely true.
In the mists of antiquity, in the Old Testament, God called together a people. Moses told them to offer sacrifice and to pray:
My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. . . .So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the first fruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me. (Deuteronomy 26)
This is a story about God’s constant care of and presence to His people, more wondrous than any fable about some product that claims it links us to some movie star who does not know – or care – that we exist. Often when I preach, I lift up the Lectionary and remind people that this is our family story, our religious family that is.
Into this people was born Jesus Christ who is the New Testament and who “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
And if that isn’t enough to move you, it continues on:
He is the head of the body, the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross [through him], whether those on earth or those in heaven. And you who once were alienated and hostile in mind because of evil deeds. He has now reconciled in his fleshly body through his death, to present you holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before him, provided that you persevere in the faith, firmly grounded, stable, and not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven. (Colossians 1)
Followers of this story are the real heroes, not the fictional ones who in our jaded culture have to be upgraded to “superheroes” in order to make any impression. They are actual women, men and children, clergy and religious, who follow Christ.
This truth should lead you to ask yourself: Who are you surrounding yourself with? What are you reading today? What movies are you watching?
Then there are the monuments of this great story: the crucifixes, the statues, the church buildings (well, some of them). We need more, of course. For example, it is strange to walk into a “Catholic” home and not see a single religious picture or statue. People trying to be “modern,” not wanting to make their friends uncomfortable, are just following the agnostic, materialist narrative.
Very importantly, we have the Bible. And as Saint Jerome, the preeminent translator of the Bible, once said: “Read the divine Scriptures frequently; indeed, the sacred book should never be out of your hands. Learn there what you must teach.” There, in one place, is the narrative of our salvation, the witness to Christ himself. This is not something to be kept on a shelf, or a coffee table; it must be opened and read again and again.
Lastly, there are the documents of the Church, the stupendous music of the Church and its art, and of course the irreplaceable liturgies. Faith and grace pour from these concrete expressions of the presence of the divine Word to reform and expand our culture and lead us to a “high standard of ordinary Christian living.” (St. John Paul II).
Let’s rediscover the narrative of our salvation and not lose it in the hubbub of the fictions that surround us.