Have I got a story for you! Immediately, we lift our chins from our chest, focus our attention, and prepare to listen. Everyone enjoys a good story, which is why movies and novels are so popular. We enjoy seeing how people make decisions and choose choices in the situations they face in life.
When I was studying preaching, the instructors would encourage us to start homilies or instructions with a story. Beginning with a story helps listeners relate better to a message and open themselves to learning something from the speaker.
We enjoy stories because we are living a story, and the events and happenings we are going through today become part of our story in the future. In the future, we will be saying, “I remember where I was when,” about today to future generations. Everything we experience becomes part of our story regardless of its impact.
Earlier in my priesthood, I served seven years as a hospital chaplain at Sturdy Hospital in Attleboro. While I was there, I enrolled in four semesters of Clinical Pastoral Education. CPE is a program to help chaplains and pastoral care providers to understand and empathize more with sick and suffering people. One of the teaching tools CPE used was our writing our autobiography. We were required to put our life stories on paper to share with the other students.
It was a challenging but important assignment, and it called for me to learn about my own story. I had to reflect on my past experiences and how they influenced my life. I had to make decisions about just how open and honest I wanted to be with other people about the circumstances of my life. I found listening to other students’ questions and reflections on my life very helpful, and I believe I helped them.
Writing an autobiography causes us to go back to learn our story. It causes us to reflect on life events, our decisions and reconnects us with our past. It is good to learn how we make decisions and helps prevent us from making the same mistakes again. I wrote my autobiography four different times, and each time I found I told my story just a little differently. Each time I understood more about my life.
Our stories are important because of us, but we are not the main character in our autobiography. God is the central figure in each of our stories, and it is God who wrote the outline. God chose the time and place of our birth. God selected the situation we were born into, rich or poor. God determined our physical features, who our parents were, and shaped our personality. We get to fill in the details.
We need to know our stories better to use them to shape our future. When we look back on our life stories, we become better able to see God’s hand in them and see the purpose of our lives. When we recognize God’s role in our lives, we learn how we help reveal God to the world. We can learn to understand even the bad things in life have meaning. We can use our stories to help others. Having a better understanding of our past makes our story worth telling.
Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, and we recall the beginning of Jesus’ story of ministry. We have four gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that tell the story of Jesus’ ministry. But they all reported that story a little differently. Matthew wrote about Jesus’ ministry from a Jewish perspective, and he concentrates on how Jesus fulfilled the people’s hope for the Messiah. Mark wrote to Gentiles and emphasized the disciples’ need to establish a personal relationship with Jesus. John stresses the divinity of Jesus. Luke, whose gospel we read from this year, points out how Jesus used prayer to strengthen his relationship with God the Father and Jesus’ outreach to people on the margins of society.
The four gospels all tell us the story of Jesus‘ life, death, and resurrection and that this ministry of salvation began with Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. The gospels tell us how Jesus fulfilled the story of the Messiah Isaiah proclaimed in today’s first reading. They describe how Jesus didn’t come crying out or shouting, how he came to bring justice to the earth. The gospels proclaim Jesus was the light of the nations, opening the eyes of the blind and those who live in darkness and giving prisoners freedom. They tell how Jesus cooperated with God to help God reveal God to the world.
Like Jesus, our stories of faith began at our baptism. On that day, God proclaimed we, too, were God’s beloved sons and daughters. That was the day our story of salvation began too. It was when, as disciples of Jesus, we began revealing God to the world as Christians.
Today start investing some time in getting to know your story. Begin going back over your life to see how it was formed and shaped by your experiences. Learn about yourself. As you reflect on life, transform it into a conversation with God. Be honest with God by sharing your emotions and memories. Some will bring you joy and happiness, but some will cause you pain, grief, and anger. That is good. God has broad enough shoulders to handle our anger. God wants to heal us as we release our anger.
As we reflect on life, God will offer us much-needed insight. That awareness will open lines of communication with God, will enrich our prayer, and bring us closer to God. We will listen better and understand how God is trying to guide us through our lives. We will see how God’s grace can strengthen us to answer the call to conversion and become more faithful to God.
Remember, it is the ending of the story and not the beginning that is most important. The best stories take twists and turns. They have unforeseen developments and surprise endings that are powerful and memorable. It is the same with our lives. The conclusion is what is most important.
As we recall our life stories, keep the words of today’s gospel in mind. “You are my beloved Son (or daughter) with you I am well pleased.” God might not be pleased with everything we do or think, but God is pleased with you because God made you the way he wants you to be. He made you so you can fulfill God’s dream for you.
God wants you to be part of his story of salvation, just as God wanted Jesus to be part of the story. As Titus wrote, “The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires.” Through our baptism, we have received God’s grace to help us be faithful to God and to bring God’s presence into our world. Through our story of faith, we contribute our chapter to God’s story of faith and love for the world.