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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinJanuary 19, 2007 Issue 

Exceptional stories you can't put down

Stories about God's gifts are not only compelling, but shape our lives as well

January 21, 2007 -- Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Bishop Robert Morneau

photo of Bishop Robert Morneau
Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. What do stories do for you?

2. What is the core story of Christianity?

3. How do you tell the story of God's presence in our life?

Stories have great power to shape our imagination, even more, to shape our lives and destinies. When St. Augustine read about one of the desert fathers, everything changed for the future Bishop of Hippo. Augustine was challenged to live a life of intense service of the Lord. He was put to shame at the mediocrity and sinfulness of his life up to that point.

St. Luke's Gospel is a story about the person of Jesus. In the first chapter, our reading for this weekend, we are told that others have compiled a narrative (story) of the major events that had recently happened to the writer and his audience. Now, Luke's Gospel was going to present certain and important teachings by retelling the story of Jesus in a new and dramatic way.

Basically, the story is one in which the Holy Spirit worked through Jesus for the salvation of the world. It is a story of concern for the poor, healing for the ill, wisdom to the ignorant, compassion for the suffering. It is a story of God's love and mercy made manifest in the words and deeds of Jesus and of His discipleship. It is a story of redemption and salvation.

In his novel, The Prayer of Owen Meany (1989), John Irving reminds the reader that to justify in telling a story it must be somewhat exceptional. Irving writes: "We storytellers are all ancient mariners, and none of us is justified in stopping wedding guests, unless he has something more unusual to relate than the ordinary experience of every average man and woman" (519).

The life of Jesus is exceptional. We do well to stop all wedding guests, football fans, teenagers, and everyone else, so as to share the story of creation, redemption, and sanctification. In the Book of Nehemiah, Ezra read at some length God's law. Although it might sound as if it was a boring lecture or reading, in the end the people are challenged to rejoice and not be sad. For, in the end, even Ezra's story is about God's gifts of rich food and sweet drink, a story of how holy all creation is because it is of God.

St. Paul gives us a slice of the Christian story in his letter to the Corinthians. It's a story of diversity in unity, a story of unity of various people in the Holy Spirit, a story of so many gifts meeting so many needs. The analogy of one body and many parts is a theme in the Pauline story that protects our uniqueness while challenging us to collaboration. But St. Paul was not merely an objective storyteller. He was a participant in the story in that he lived the values and vision of Christ. He could not not tell the story. For, in Christ, he was given liberty and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amos Niven Wilder, in his Jesus' Parables and the War of Myths, maintains: "There is one basic test of all storytelling, which again we are apt to forget, and that is that it should hold the auditor or reader. So the reader said, 'I could not put it down,' or, 'I had to see how it came out'" (63). On first reading the Gospels, many people were compelled to read it all the way through to see how the story of God's creation and redemption turned out.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.)

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