Throughout my years of formation and priesthood, I frequently met with individuals and families to introduce them to the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement, so much so that I described myself as a ‘travelling salesman for God.’ I would give my spiel about our spirituality, our apostolic principles and activities, concluding with an invitation for them to attend a retreat or to collaborate either apostolically or financially. Invariably, however, the question would arise, ‘How did you come to join the Legion?’
They wanted to know my story.
Frequently my reaction was to not tell them too much, because I thought, ‘It’s not about me, it’s about the mission.’ That was a mistake. When I would then proceed to tell my story, people seemed to connect more with the Legion and the Movement.
There is something profoundly human about a story; it is something that we as Catholics possess but must rediscover. A story has power.
Satan, in his bid to separate us from God, wants us to forget who we are. He wants us to forget that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and that through baptism we become children of God. He wants us to forget our identity and our connection to others to isolate and weaken us.
Our story reminds us who we are because it reminds us from whence we came.
Fr. Collins, SJ writes, ‘There’s something very satisfying about telling our stories over and over again, especially with family, and… friends. Through the storytelling, through the common remembering, we are reconstituted. We are made again. In an amazing way, communal remembering gives us back our identities in a new way’ ['Three Moments of the Day', p. 48].
Our stories re-connect us with our communities, with our past, with our identity. This can be true of a family, a community, a nation, and of our Catholic Church. ‘Grandma, tell us what it was like when you were little’ is a very important request. Small children intuit that their very identity is intertwined with their family history, and it is our family stories that connect us with the larger stories of our Catholic faith: ‘We’re Irish!’ ‘We’re Catholic!’
Satan can separate us from our stories through ignorance, falsehoods or shame. Current secular trends use each of these elements: many of us do not know our history; consequently, we fall for distortions or outright lies about the past. This is most clearly seen in how we can become ashamed of either the Church or our country, thinking them completely corrupt institutions. For example, the Church is frequently accused of being hateful and violent. The Crusades, the Inquisition, Galileo and the Conquest of the Americas are presented as evidence by people who couldn’t even date one of these complicated historical events.
We should neither whitewash our past nor pretend that it was without sin or scandal. In his preparation for the Church’s entry into the Third Millennium, starting in the year 2000, St. Pope John Paul II insisted that the Church ask forgiveness for the sins of her children. At the same time, we should not fail to see the countless good that the Church has brought to humanity – on both a supernatural and natural level.
It was precisely in the face of societal evils or sins within the Church that the saints rose to the occasion to address those evils. There would have been no St. Francis, as we know him, had there not been immoderate extravagance and an urgent need for the Church to return to Gospel simplicity. There would have been no St. Ignatius of Loyola without the Protestant Revolt. There would have been no St. John Bosco without the injustices of the Industrial Revolution.
To see the good amidst the struggles, we as a Church must know our story.
Following are a few suggestions:
Listen to the Reading of the Mass as our story. Realize that to hear Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, is to hear the story of salvation – our story with God. [cf. Collins, SJ, 48].
Read the lives of the saints. Their stories provide history, doctrine and inspiration all in the context of a personal journey. We learn of their faith, their struggles and their victories along the way. We realize that they were human and can often relate their experiences to our own.
Read Catholic history books. While the approach may be a bit more academic than the lives of the saints, a well-written history reads like a story, and we see how the Church addressed some of the issues of the past. Two books are worth mentioning: ‘Heroism and Genius: How Catholic Priests Helped Build—and Can Help Rebuild—Western Civilization’ by Fr. William Slattery; and, ‘How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization’ by Thomas E. Woods, Jr., PhD
Ask you Parents and Grandparents to tell their stories. Listen attentively. Perhaps you could take notes, or even record their stories. They are the historians of your domestic Church.
Mediate and write your own story. What has God been working in your life? What have been the key moments in your life? [cf. Collins, SJ, 55].
Tell your story to others. Relay to others what God has done in your life. Evangelicals call it witnessing. Sharing your story enriches both you and the listener.
As light dispels darkness, story dispels isolation. We are reconnected with our families and the Church through stories.
With God, our story is meant to end with us living ‘happily for-ever after.’
Fr. John Bullock, LC