Tag Archives: salvation history

The Story of Faith

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!

Not make-believe

Last week I was struck by how, in our sceptical, rationalist culture, what we say can sound like make-believe to the uninitiated if we are not careful. I was telling the whole Story of salvation history to a group of enquirers. Why is this an important thing to do? Well, it is a good way of helping people to see our faith as a ‘whole’ – something that encompasses the whole of history, the whole of time. Seeing the bigger picture, you can begin to understand how all the smaller parts slot into place. So I told the whole Story: from before time began, to the end of time when Christ will come again.

I got to the Fall, and mentioned that, before the fall of humanity there was a fall of the angels. My listeners seemed to take it quite well – but you know when you have a moment when you hear yourself and think: is this really watertight?! How would you defend this if someone challenged you on it? Some bad angels in the spiritual realm rejected God and set out to tempt humans… “Sure…OK…” you can hear people muttering sceptically. Thankfully, I reached the end of time with the group all still on board (so to speak).

There was another time this happened to me. One girl in the Catechumenate brought her fiance along to one of the sessions. He was a Sikh and really interested and we said he’d be welcome. Shortly after everyone arrived we began the session as usual with a Liturgy of the Word. The week’s topic was on Our Lady and the opening reading was from Revelation: the woman clothed with the sun, with twelve stars at her feet, giving birth to a child who was about to be devoured by a monster… Uh oh. What on earth could the Sikh fiance be thinking?! In the catechesis, I taught how Mary was immaculately conceived, how she gave birth to Christ as a virgin, and how at the end of her life she was assumed into Heaven. I didn’t skip anything, but couldn’t help thinking how this must all sound to the Sikh fiancĂ© – completely nuts.

When we broke for coffee halfway through, I came up to him and commented that all this must sound a bit foreign. I was surprised by his reply. He said: “Did you say just then that Jesus is God?” I replied, Yes. (I think I had been explaining that as Mary was the Mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God, Mary is called the Mother of God.) He went on: “But during Mass, you say that he is ‘seated at the right hand of the Father.’ So how can he be God?” I was amazed. I hadn’t realised this guy had been coming to Mass, let alone listening so closely to the words we say. So I delved into a short explanation about how Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and that when he ascended into Heaven, he brought human nature with him, which God glorified by seating him at his right hand.

It’s amazing. Often what we think people are hearing is completely different to what is actually going through their mind. We should never “cut out” or water down any part of our Catholic ‘Story’ and Faith as if we know better than God what people can accept and what they can’t. We must be faithful to what we receive in the Deposit of Faith.