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Defining our autobiographies

Kate Barrett | Thursday, September 27, 2012

At a beautiful funeral I attended earlier this week, the eldest son of the woman who had died described her life as a classic, unforgettable book,  filled with great plots, memorable characters, significant themes and details to talk about for years to come, as those who loved her will continue to recall different elements of what made her life “a great read.”
I have been thinking about his analogy as I return to the ordinariness of my daily life, even as his family continues to mourn and struggle with the loss of this remarkable, faithful lady. For if we pay attention to the “books” which contain each of our autobiographies, certain moments highlight the deep and vast extent to which we must allow our faith to guide and direct our stories. To believe with all our hearts the promise that if we have lived seeking God in our lives, in our deaths God will in turn seek us out and draw us close to him. To trust that our deepest longings can be filled by nothing and no one other than our Lord. This faith gives authentic meaning to the experiences and relationships, which make up both who we are and who we might become. Our belief in God’s intimate presence in our lives provides comfort when we fear death or grieve for one who has died. It becomes a compass when we face difficult choices. It provokes and challenges us when we have become complacent or self-satisfied.

Catholics believe that our faith can imbue our life stories with meaning when we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Eucharist, when we read and pray with the Word of God in the Scriptures and when we look to the lives, examples and prayers of holy people for guidance.  These next few days just happen to offer a ridiculous abundance of opportunities to unite our faith to our stories, to who we hope to be.

Take today, for example. The Church celebrates the feast of St. Vincent de Paul today. Ordained a priest, he was assigned to the household of the queen of France. Doesn’t that sound something like drawing the lucky straw for “doctor on an Alaskan cruise ship” or “tour guide in Tuscany?” However, St. Vincent de Paul allowed his faith to shape the real plot and themes of his life, and he devoted himself to feeding the poor, freeing slaves from the cruel conditions which they endured and organizing charitable societies to help orphans, homeless, sick and disabled people. What caused St. Vincent’s change of heart? What do we allow to influence ours?

Within the next couple of days, we celebrate feasts of martyrs and archangels and hear Scriptures during Mass that should shake us up if we read or hear them with open hearts.  In tomorrow’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replies, “The Christ of God.”  Will our stories include time spent on serious reflection about who Jesus is, or do we stick to easier questions that don’t require much of us to answer?  

Promise yourself right now to listen as intently as you possibly can to Sunday’s reading, and get ready for verses from scattered parts of the Bible that promise vivid characters, startling plot twists and challenging, even daunting, directives to examine the way we think about and treat others.  Jesus, in Sunday’s Gospel, says to the disciples: “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.” In the very next sentence, Jesus says: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” First, Jesus says that we don’t get to choose who is a part of the Kingdom of God, even though we often certainly act like we do. Second, he tells us that we may have to choose what we will give up so that we don’t rule ourselves out of the Kingdom.  
As we think about people who are examples to us in our lives, hear these Scriptures and participate in the life-giving celebration of the Mass, perhaps we can ask God for the courage to allow the plot lines, the characters, the themes and yes, even the details of our life stories, always to be oriented toward him.


Kate Barrett is the assistant director of undergraduate ministry in Campus Ministry. She can be reached at kbarrett@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.