Message of the Holy Father for the XXVIII World Day of the Sick
“So that you can tell and fix in memory” (Ex 10,2).
Life becomes history
Message of the Holy Father Francis for 54th World Communications Day, Sunday, May 24, Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord:
I want to dedicate this year’s Message to the theme of storytelling, because I believe that in order not to get lost we need to breathe the truth of good stories: stories that build, not destroy; stories that help to find the roots and strength to move forward together. In the confusion of the voices and messages that surround us, we need a human narrative, which talks to us about us and the beauty that lives there. A narration that knows how to look at the world and events with tenderness; that tells our being part of a living fabric; that reveals the intertwining of the threads with which we are connected to each other.
1. Weave stories
Man is a narrating being. Since childhood we are hungry for stories as we are hungry for food. Whether they are in the form of fairy tales, novels, films, songs, news…, stories influence our life, even if we are not aware of it. We often decide what is right or wrong based on the characters and stories we have assimilated. Stories mark us, shape our beliefs and behaviors, they can help us understand and say who we are.
Man is not only the only being who needs clothes to cover his own vulnerability (cf. Gen 3:21), but he is also the only one who needs to tell himself, to “put on” stories to keep his own life. We do not only weave clothes, but also stories: in fact, the human ability to “weave” leads to both fabrics and texts . The stories of all times have a common “frame”: the structure includes “heroes”, even daily ones, who in order to pursue a dream face difficult situations, fight evil driven by a force that makes them courageous, that of love. By immersing ourselves in the stories, we can find heroic motivations to face the challenges of life.
Man is a narrative being because he is a being in progress, who discovers and enriches himself in the plots of his days. But, from the beginning, our story is under threat: in history evil winds.
2. Not all stories are good
“If you eat, you will become like God” (cf. Gen 3: 4): the temptation of the snake inserts a hard knot to untie into the plot of history. “If you own, you will become, you will reach …”, those who use so-called storytelling still whisper todayfor instrumental purposes. How many stories narcotise us, convincing us that to be happy we continually need to have, to possess, to consume. We hardly notice how greedy we become of gossip and gossip, how much violence and falsehood we consume. Often on the frames of communication, rather than constructive stories, which are a glue of social ties and the cultural fabric, destructive and provocative stories are produced, which wear down and break the fragile threads of coexistence. Putting together unverified information, repeating banal and falsely persuasive speeches, striking with proclamations of hatred, human history is not woven, but the man of dignity is undressed.
But while the stories used for instrumental and power purposes are short-lived, a good story is able to cross the boundaries of space and time. Centuries later, it remains current, because it nourishes life.
In an era in which falsification is increasingly sophisticated, reaching exponential levels ( deepfake ), we need wisdom to welcome and create beautiful, true and good stories. We need courage to repel the false and wicked ones. We need patience and discernment to rediscover stories that help us not to lose the thread between the many lacerations of today; stories that bring to light the truth of who we are, even in the ignored heroism of everyday life.
3. The history of the stories
Sacred Scripture is a story of stories . How many events, peoples, people presents us! From the beginning it shows us a God who is creator and at the same time narrator. In fact, he pronounces his Word and things exist (cf. Gen 1). Through his narration, God calls things to life and, at the peak, creates man and woman as his free interlocutors, generators of history together with Him. In a Psalm, the creature tells the Creator: «It is you who formed my kidneys and you woven me into my mother’s breast. I give you thanks: you made me a wonderful wonder […]. My bones were not hidden from you when I was formed in secret, embroideredin the depths of the earth “(139,13-15). We were not born complete, but we need to be constantly “woven” and “embroidered”. Life was given to us as an invitation to continue weaving that “wonderful wonder” that we are.
In this sense, the Bible is the great love story between God and humanity. At the center is Jesus: his story brings to fulfillment God’s love for man and at the same time man’s love story for God. Man will thus be called, from generation to generation, to tell and fix in memory the most significant episodes of this story of stories , those capable of communicating the meaning of what happened.
The title of this Message is taken from the book of Exodus, a fundamental biblical story that sees God intervene in the history of his people. In fact, when enslaved the children of Israel cried unto Him, God hears and remembers: “God is remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God looked at the condition of the Israelites, God thought about it “( Ex 2,24-25). From God’s memory springs the liberation from oppression, which occurs through signs and wonders. It is at this point that the Lord gives Moses the meaning of all these signs: ” so that you can recount and fix in the memory of your son and your son’s son the signs that I have done: so you will know that I am the Lord!” (Ex 10.2). The experience of the Exodus teaches us that the knowledge of God is transmitted above all by telling, from generation to generation, how He continues to make himself present. The God of life is communicated by telling about life.
Jesus himself spoke of God not with abstract speeches, but with parables, short narrations, drawn from everyday life. Here life becomes history and then, for the listener, history becomes life: that narration enters the life of those who listen and transform it.
Even the Gospels, not surprisingly, are stories. While they inform us about Jesus, they “perform” us to Jesus, they conform us to him: the Gospel asks the reader to participate in the same faith to share the same life. The Gospel of John tells us that the Narrator par excellence – the Word, the Word – made himself narrative: “The only-begotten Son, who is God and is in the bosom of the Father, is he who told him ” ( Jn 1:18 ). I used the term “told” because the original exeghésato can be translated both “revealed” and “told”. God has personally woven himself into our humanity, thus giving us a new way of weaving our stories.
4. A story that is renewed
The history of Christ is not a heritage of the past, it is our history, always current. It shows us that God has taken man, our flesh, our history to heart, becoming man, flesh and history. It also tells us that there are no petty or small human stories. After God made history, every human history is, in a certain sense, divine history. In the history of every man the Father reviews the story of his Son who came down to earth. Every human story has an irrepressible dignity. Therefore humanity deserves tales that are at its height, at that dizzying and fascinating height to which Jesus raised it.
“You – wrote St. Paul – are a letter of Christ written not in ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets, but on tables of human hearts” ( 2 Cor 3: 3 ). The Holy Spirit, the love of God, writes in us. And writing in it, he fixes the good in us, he reminds us of it. In fact, re-cording means bringing to the heart , “writing” on the heart. By the work of the Holy Spirit every story, even the most forgotten one, even the one that seems written on the most crooked lines, can become inspired, can be reborn as a masterpiece, becoming an appendage of the Gospel. Like the Confessions of Augustine. Like the Tale of the Pilgrim of Ignatius. Like the story of a soulof Teresina of the Child Jesus. Like the Betrothed , like The Karamazov brothers . Like countless other stories, which admirably scripted the encounter between the freedom of God and that of man. Each of us knows different stories that smell of the Gospel, which witnessed the love that transforms life. These stories demand to be shared, told, made live in every time, with every language, with every means.
5. A story that renews us
In every great story our story comes into play. As we read the Scriptures, the stories of the saints, and also those texts that have been able to read the soul of man and bring to light its beauty, the Holy Spirit is free to write in our hearts, renewing in us the memory of what we are in the eyes of God. When we remember the love that created and saved us, when we introduce love into our daily stories, when we weave the plots of our day with mercy, then we turn the page. We no longer remain tied to regrets and sadness, linked to a sick memory that imprisons our hearts but, by opening ourselves to others, we open ourselves to the very vision of the Narrator. Telling our story to God is never useless: even if the chronicle of events remains unchanged, the sense and perspective change. To tell the Lord is to enter into his gaze of compassionate love for us and for others. We can tell him the stories we live, bring people, entrust situations. With him we can knot the fabric of life, mending the breaks and tears. How much we need it, everyone!
With the gaze of the Narrator – the only one who has the final point of view – we then approach the protagonists, our brothers and sisters, actors next to us in today’s history. Yes, because nobody is an appearance on the world scene and everyone’s story is open to a possible change. Even when we tell about evil, we can learn to leave space for redemption, we can also recognize the dynamism of good in the midst of evil and give it space.
It is therefore not a question of following the logic of storytelling , nor of making or advertising oneself, but of remembering what we are in the eyes of God, of witnessing what the Spirit writes in the hearts, of revealing to everyone that his story contains wonderful wonders. In order to do this, let us entrust ourselves to a woman who has woven the humanity of God in her womb and, says the Gospel, has woven together everything that happened to her. In fact, the Virgin Mary has kept everything, meditating on it in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19). We ask for help from her, who has been able to untie the knots of life with the mild force of love:
O Mary, woman and mother, you have woven the divine Word in your womb, you have narrated with your life the magnificent works of God. Listen to our stories, keep them in your heart and make yours also those stories that nobody wants to hear. Teach us to recognize the good thread that guides history. Look at the pile of knots in which our life has tangled, paralyzing our memory. From your delicate hands every knot can be untied. Woman of the Spirit, mother of trust, inspires us too. Help us build peace stories, stories of the future. And show us the way to walk them together.
Rome, at San Giovanni in Laterano, 24 January 2020,
Memory of Saint Francis de Sales