The stories we tell
A reflection for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
by Patrick Sullivan
It is a very human and healthy thing to tell stories. And in our own lives, how we speak about our experiences matters greatly in forming our own identities and even shaping the decisions that we make from here on out.
For example, we have all sat around the table at one moment or another and shared some tale from our childhood. “Mom used to say this to us all the time. I didn’t understand it at first but as I grew into an adult and had kids of my own, it finally made sense to me.” Or “we used to play this game, what was it called again? Oh yes, catch me if you can. My brothers and I could get lost in it for hours.”
And we tell stories about more recent events as well. “I wasn’t fired, I quit. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.” Or “I will never go to that grocery store again. They have the worst customer service…”
These conversations and many like them are not merely ways to bond with others – although they certainly help us to do that – but they aid us in an extremely important task which is to deal with the fluctuations in our lives.
Let’s think about this. Though there is much that we do have control over, our emotions and the circumstances that surround us quite rarely fall within this category. Instead, what others do and say often cause us to feel in ways that we don’t like, so much so that our day and our perception of it seem to change quite suddenly with little warning.
It is when we find ourselves at the mercy of these powerful feelings that our stories can help us to make sense of our lives and to form some continuity with what came before. Of course, this is very good.
But as is the case with every need of the human heart, there lurks a danger – a temptation if you will – to take our stories and twist them ever so slightly so that the final narrative does not quite conform to the real thing.
The stories of our defeats, the stories of our victories, and of course, the stories of love lost and gained can all become muddled and ultimately harmful if we do not let our stories reflect the truth. Jesus, and later his apostles, knew this.
This is why Peter is so insistent that the role of the Israelites in Jesus’ death be spoken about even if certain decisions and actions were made in ignorance. This is why John is so emphatic that we speak the truth about ourselves – the most prominent character in our lives to be sure – so that sin cannot maintain its hold on us. And of course, this is why Jesus in the beautiful episode spoken about in today’s Gospel must again call the disciples back to the reality of the Scriptures – that measuring stick for all that was and will be in our lives of faith.
There is no getting around it. If we are to love and serve the God who loved us first, the same God who is the way, the truth, and the life, then we must learn – practice even – to speak the truth. This means that if our relationships are broken or limping, then we need to take a real hard look at the persons involved and our personal contribution to the wounds. It means that if we have kept the Lord at a distance, avoiding our community of faith and the sacraments that save, then we need to be brutally honest with ourselves as to why that is.
As the people of God, it is incumbent upon each of us to not only live in the truth but to speak it, to tell our stories in the light of Easter morning. After all, that was the day when truth prevailed and the very reason we are Christians at all.
The readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B, are
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
1 John 2:1-5
Patrick Sullivan is an author and frequent retreat speaker. His talks have aired on FORMED, EWTN, and Shalom World Media. He is the founder of Evango, a Catholic lay apostolate which uses the new media to re-evangelize the baptized.