Monday, January 5, 2015

We All Like Stories

Readings for Sunday, January 4/ Epiphany:
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13
Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

Everyone likes a good story. If you think about it, much of our lives revolve around stories. We’re drawn into stories as we watch movies and tv shows. We’re drawn into stories as we read our books and articles. I guarantee you that right now half of my facebook newsfeed is filled with stories: this inspiring story, that tragic one, this one that’s sure to make you cry (as if that’s gonna make me click on it!), and so on. Even our daily conversations are often simply telling stories to one another about what happened recently or in the past. Stories have a magical power that permits someone who is otherwise separate from a situation to have access to it – to be able to enter into a situation vicariously and have something of the same encounter.

The other day I was visiting with a friend who is applying to the seminary and he was asking about what to include in the biography and how long it had to be. I said ‘Just write your story. Length and such doesn’t really matter.’ After the conversation I began to reflect on my own journey in seminary and they many times that I was asked to share my story. It seemed like the second vocation as a seminarian because it seemed like every person I met or every group I encountered sooner or later got around to the question ‘Can you tell me/us your story?’ Over time my story would grow and evolve, not because the details were different, but because I understood things differently or sometimes would emphasize something that was specifically striking to me in that time or some knew insight I had recently realized. But in the midst of it all there was the invitation to reflect with others on the ways that God has shaped and guided my life to the point where I was then as a seminarian and where I was heading.

As we listen to our Gospel today we hear recounted to us the familiar story of the Magi, those three wise men from the East who come in search of the newborn king. The gospel narratives are necessarily short in this instance. This is because the writers were typically working with expensive scrolls of a certain length and so they had to be careful only to include what was most beneficial. But the vagueness of the Scriptures does make us wonder a little bit about the Magi. A few weeks ago we had our La Posada celebration as we went in search of the Holy Family, just like the Magi. To prepare for the journey we watched a little animated video narrated not from the perspective of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but from that of the Magi. They used a little creative license, but it got me thinking about the ways God might have worked in their lives to bring them together. How they may have been all in separate places and converged as they each separately sought the Lord, a sign of unity in Christ. What were the things God used in their lives to prepare them for that blessed day of finding the Christ child? What were the stories of the things that happened along the way as they risked their lives and livelihood on this journey chasing after a star?

It’s interesting to ponder all of this, especially in light of the fact that the Church traditionally honors the Magi as saints. We can see part of the reasoning in this at the conclusion of today’s Gospel reading. It says that they received a message in a dream not to return to Herod, but that they “departed by another way.” And as Fr. Robert Barron has noted well: isn’t this always the case that when we meet Jesus, we walk away changed, by a different route as it were. In every encounter our heart is either softened like that of Peter or hardened like that of Judas. We always leave by a different route.

And what about us? What about you? If someone were to walk up to you today and ask you to tell them your story of faith, what would you say? If someone said to you ‘tell me the story of your vocation’ what would be the places that are significant? Where are the places where God has invited you to make a journey of faith chasing after your own star? Where are the places where you encountered the Lord and went off by a different route? What is your story?