At the moment, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is being performed at the Arts Theatre in London till January. It’s a public reading of the book, just as Dickens would have read it himself. Dickens (definitely up there with my favourite English authors) would apparently have two to three thousand people enthralled at a time at these readings. There is something about a good storyteller. Even in our everyday lives we love to retell side-splitting moments or hear others recall and exaggerate details of a funny or interesting moment. The book I am reading at the moment (Alice Hogge’s God’s Secret Agents – highly recommended) is truly gripping in its tales of the pulse-racing operations of the Jesuits under the reign of Elizabeth I, their living in fear of betrayal and ultimately, for the majority of them, their brutal deaths. These stories are all the more gripping since they are historical, real and, as English Catholics, definitive for our own living of the faith.
Catholicism is all about a Story that is definitive to the whole history of humanity, and in fact, to the history of everything that is. This is the Story of our salvation – the Story of God’s entering human history to draw us to himself. On Friday, the school next door for deaf children asked last minute for someone from the parish to come in to tell the Christmas story at their assembly. It was a real experience – I felt like a foreigner not being able to speak their language. But for all that, we were able to communicate completely fine, and the young people asked some great questions. I think that sometimes when people speak about the Christmas “story” they don’t think of it as something which actually happened. So the students seemed baffled when I affirmed that, yes, there was an “actual” angel that appeared to Our Lady, and that King Herod “actually” killed the Holy Innocents in order to try to kill Jesus. The questions ranged as far as the Death and Resurrection – “yes, he really rose from the dead – only God could rise from the dead, so Jesus must be who he said he is – God!” They wanted to know all the gruesome details of the Crucifixion and all the reasons I had for knowing all this was true.
It was a great experience. They were fantastic kids with little exposure to Christianity from what I could tell, and it was wonderful to be able to tell the Story of our faith knowing that these are historical events which have changed the course of… well, everything. History is important to Christianity. Events are important. This is why catechesis is given in the context of the telling of salvation history – the Catholic Family Story – the Story of humanity being drawn into the Trinitarian life of God. This is why stories are important for catechesis. Our own personal stories, the stories of the Saints, and stories which make doctrine come alive and practical. We learn most often through events – our own and the stories of others’ – before we learn through lectures. This is why it is the event of the Paschal Mystery which makes God’s revelation most visible – an Action rather than words. And this is an event we don’t merely ‘retell’ but actually ‘make present’ in the Mass.
Many different thoughts here with lots of different interconnections – word, story, event, mythos and logos… Let’s leave it there!