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Which Story Tells Us the Truth?

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So often the stories we tell ourselves shape our view of the world.

If every family show we watch on Netflix, for example, has a father figure who is angry all the time, stupid, or just plain absent, that image seeps into our consciousness. Enough people buy into that image and the father figure will end up being demeaned in society. Young boys will grow up “learning” how uncool being a dad is, and having a family will become the last thing any man would want to do.

I see these negative narratives a lot, especially when it comes to how movies, shows, and music depict the solid American Christian. Of course, we feed the fire ourselves when we storm the Capitol building blaring Christian music and demanding Mike Pence be hanged. (Crusades, anyone?) But the condescending looks of Hollywood and the elite class in the United States are real even without that.

More often, they label the holy life as boring and pedestrian. Why would someone want to live a strict, moral life when loose sex, abundant alcohol, and money are calling us yonder to greener hills?

But what if I told you that true Christianity was freeing? That following Jesus brings us the deepest joy? What if the culture’s story is…..*long dramatic pause*……. a lie?

Our Share of the Truth

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Well, maybe not entirely a lie. Whenever someone tells you a story, it’s what Pope Francis would call a “share of the truth.” There is a fragment of truth in the statement, “Christians are fanatics.” We saw that on January 6th. There is something true about the statement, “Dads are slobs.” I’m pretty sure each of us has at least one friend with a dad who fits that description.

But I could also tell you stories, fiction and nonfiction, that express a different share of truth.

The Priest in Les Miserables

Two of my favorite books are Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. For some reason, I decided I wanted to read classics in high school and plowed into these books.

One of the great delights of reading both were their depictions of a priest and a monk. Les Miserables describes the life and character of a priest who reminds me of Pope Francis. He is offered a large building to live in. But he decides instead to live humbly and convert the large building reserved for him into a hospital. He walks constantly from place to place, looking up on the wellbeing of the people in his diocese. And he is the man responsible for turning the protagonist, Jean Val Jean, into an honest man. He shows him kindness when the rest of the world shuns him.

The priest has a constant peace in his heart. My favorite line from that book is in the section where Victor Hugo describes him in his old age, unable to see anymore. He is taken care of by a woman who tends to his needs, and Hugo describes the joy in him at being cared for by someone who loves him. Here, the author says:

The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.

Victor Hugo

The Monk in The Brothers Karamazov

In the Brothers Karamazov, there is an Eastern Orthodox monk named Father Zosima who influences one of the protagonists in the story as well. Fr. Zosima’s conversion story is one of the most beautiful I’ve read in literature. As a young man, he was a soldier and got into a spat with another soldier. A day or two before this big duel they were going to have, he had a spiritual awakening. He began to see all men as brothers.

When he entered the duel, his opponent fired and missed. Then he threw his own gun away and dedicated himself to a life of ministry.

My Share of the Truth

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My own story is not that dramatic. I grew up in a Christian home and took to the faith readily. But as a young man, I often obeyed not because I wanted to but because I had to. I had to save sex for marriage, which was frustrating. Still, I obeyed. I had to be faithful to my wife even through the hard years. The Catholic faith was foreign to me, but I made the leap just the same.

I didn’t ask God to make this easy for me. The life of faith is about just that: faith. We can’t see the Promised Land from the desert. If God was not giving me deep emotional experiences of joy and bliss all the time, that was no reason to give up.

But as I kept walking in that obedience, a lot of that faith turned into sight anyway.

Something married people might find hard to explain is the deep fulfillment in having a family. We live in a world where our connections are ever more loose and fragile. Having a relationship with someone you know will always be there and who knows you will always be there, in a bond that has taken years to build, has to be one of the sweetest experiences life has to offer us. I didn’t know that when I was twenty.

Spiritual Habits

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Another story you might not here often is that over time, spiritual habits begin to feed you on auto-pilot. It’s like the person who has been a jogger for years or who every day has a salad for lunch. However they feel about jogging or eating salad, the healthy habits create a healthy life for them. They do these things because it’s what they have always done and that is a good thing.

I know that, however difficult my week has been, Sunday Mass is there at the end of it to refresh me. I used to have to pull myself out of bed to go to church. Now church has become something that would feel strange and uncomfortable to miss. That is exactly how it has been in this season of Covid. And whether all the feels grip me or not at Mass, the priest always gives me the Eucharist, Jesus himself, who feeds me spiritually.

Sins that used to be a problem are not a problem anymore. Temptations that used to tie me up in knots have given way to peace. That is not to say I don’t still have issues, but if you resist the devil, he will flee from you.

This is the narrative so many of us who have chosen the holy, Christian path in life are living. It’s not all of us. It’s not all the time. It’s only a share of the truth. But it’s the truth nonetheless.

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