“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you . . . that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.” Luke 1:1-4
I recently overheard someone remark on the bias of certain media organizations that “their story is written before they even show up to report on it.” In other words, a pre-set “narrative” already exists into which various details are inserted. For journalists it is important to be as objective as possible in covering a story. But I also suspect that it is not absolutely possible to avoid one’s predisposed attitudes and understandings. All of us, it seems to me, adopt a “narrative” of some sort to make sense of life and its meaning. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is what God wishes us to do—to know the true narrative, and not a false one.
When one exhorts parents to “pass on the Faith” to their children, in part, this means passing on the narrative of God’s saving action in history, beginning with Creation and the descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people, and fulfilled in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, born of Mary into history of as our Savior and Redeemer. This narrative of Salvation history becomes personal when we enter it through baptism—the narrative becomes ours! We become a part of this same People of God, the Church, and the events and actions of Christ are made specifically for us and our salvation through the sacraments. Conversely, our lives and actions become His.
Along with this comes so much more, what we might call our patrimony. Our lives are joined to the others in the narrative (or story), including the saints, and everyone else in the family. We get a new understanding of suffering and its redemptive meaning in Christ. We see our life as a part of a beautiful plan that is moving toward fulfillment.
We also see a pattern develop as part of this narrative. That everything is a gift from God who is Creator and Father. The meaning and purpose of everything: our life, our purpose, our destiny, death, sin, and suffering, is found in this true narrative. This is what so many converts from agnosticism and atheism have shared as their great joy; realizing they are not cosmic orphans, but beloved sons or daughters; that life is not meaningless.
This past week, I joined 150 other bishops from North, Central, and South America in Dallas for a symposium sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the National Catholic Bioethics Center. The theme for the two day session was Healing Persons in a Wounded Culture. Experts in the field of science presented data and the results of research on a variety of topics related to the human person in order to assist the bishops in responding to persons who find themselves wounded. Many of the deep wounds people have today are the result of following false narratives.
A common feature of all these false narratives is that they reject the Creator. In this, they also fail to see the truth about the creature, including the true meaning of the body. This gives rise to the narrative that the human person is self-creating. Without the true narrative, one is left to create one’s own meaning in isolation, or at best, with a tribe of like-minded people. To cite one example, one may even change one’s given sex, to male or female or even to something else. The body, according to this false narrative, has no inherent meaning given by the Creator, it is merely a thing or tool for the sovereign self. The same threads of this false narrative can be found in many other trends too. These promise happiness and fulfillment to the wounded, but they only disappoint and make the wounds deeper.
This past week’s first reading for Monday Mass was taken from the beginning of the Book of Genesis, in which we heard the beginning of the narrative of creation. In that narrative we are told that our joy and peace comes from receiving God’s Word and believing its truth, so much so that we stake our lives on it. The narrative also told of a deceiver, who introduced another, false narrative: “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’ . . . You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God . . .” (Gen 3:1, 3-5).
This is, in large part, the challenge of the day. The powerful false narrative that is wreaking havoc in so many lives is that we are free to create ourselves and even re-define the “givens” that have been bestowed upon us by the Creator. The path to peace and joy comes from finding and following the narrative that is not our own but, like everything else, is given as a gift to be received.
–Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr.
Catholic Key, February 17, 2017 issue