Tuesday, June 28, 2022

What Kind of Story Are We In?

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s 3-volumn epic tale, The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam are slogging their way through yet another difficult situation, desperately trying to complete their dangerous quest. All of a sudden Sam stops and asks, “I wonder what kind of story we’re in, Mr. Frodo?”
What an interesting question. Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft writes, “It is a great question, a concrete way of asking the abstract question, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ That the question is asked at all shows that we are in a story, not a jumble, and a story points to a storyteller.”

Our life here on earth is not just a bunch of random events, from womb to tomb, with no ultimate meaning. Every single one of us is in the middle of an exciting adventure. The reason this is true is because of the divine storyteller, God, who is the author of all life. This means He is the co-author of our personal story. The other co-author, of course, is each one of us.

Recently, I had to write my mom’s eulogy. How do you squeeze 92 years of living into a 10-minute talk? Is it just a series of random events and anecdotes? Certainly there were many humorous moments, and I could only discuss a handful of them. (Thankfully, the folks at the funeral Mass dutifully chuckled at the appropriate times.) It may have seemed that I was describing a series of unrelated episodes, but there was a genuine story there, too; a heroic journey. Maybe not quite as breath-taking as Tolkien’s literary masterpiece, but my mom’s story is compelling nonetheless. She grew up during the Depression, married and raised five kids on a less-than-shoestring budget, passed the values she learned from her parents and the Church on to the next generation, and shared her love and enthusiasm with countless people right up until the day she died.

When we ask the questions, “I wonder what kind of story we’re in?” or, “What is the meaning of life?” far too many people nowadays say, “There is no story,” or, “There is no meaning.”
How sad. Each and every one of us has been created in the image of God. Therefore, our existence is not meaningless. We are all in the midst of an epic tale. OK, maybe not with fiery mountains and wizards and elves, but it is a genuine saga. Whether or not the story ends in triumph will depend in large measure on whether we realize that we’re actually in a grand story rather than being a mere piece of meaningless driftwood washed to and fro by the tides of life.

An interesting aspect of our personal story, co-authored by God Himself, is that although we are the other co-author, we also are the main character in the tale. As such, we are living the drama, and we do not know how the final chapter ends.

But that’s OK. The protagonist never knows the ending while the story unfolds. That would take away all the excitement, joy, and yes, occasional anxiety, of the journey.

If you’re not sure how to fulfill your part as God’s co-author of your personal story, just look to the Baltimore Catechism. One of the questions and answers, written for school children to memorize, gives the simplest, most profound, and most accurate answer to the abstract question, “What is the meaning of life?” Here it is: “Question: Why did God make you? Answer: God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.”

That’s the perfect formula for a meaningful life. People who know and love God are the most happy and content folks in the world. And serving God requires that we help and encourage the people around us, which means we will develop close relationships with them. Those of us who have been around for many decades have come to learn that true happiness and contentment in life is not based on owning lots of things; it instead comes from having many loving relationships with other people. 
So, the Baltimore Catechism tells us the meaning of life and the path to a fulfilled and happy life. Then when we pause and ponder all the events of our lives, we can see there is a genuine story, an epic tale with tragedy and triumph, sadness and joy, and ultimately, like all good stories, a happy ending. 

Every few months, turn off all the electronic distractions, go into a quiet room, and ask yourself the question Sam asked Frodo: “I wonder what kind of story I’m in?”

With God Almighty as your co-author, you can be sure that your personal story is exciting, heroic, and ultimately triumphant. 

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