We Come to Share Our Story
Twenty-eight aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparent from my extended family gathered for a vacation together and spent a week sharing our story. We heard stories about my great grandparents, about my grandpa when he was in college, about my grandma and grandpa meeting and dating, and about my dad and my uncles as they were growing up as children. As the stories were told the family laughed and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. We relived the events in the stories as the stories were told.
The family bonds that were formed during the events of the stories were strengthened as the stories were rehearsed in the family gathering again. We often retell the story of when one of my uncles was eating lunch in grade school and attempted to hide his hot dog in a milk carton to throw it out. His teacher caught him and was going to force him to eat the gross food, but my other uncle heard about it on the playground and came inside to grab the hot dog and eat it for him. The brotherly bond formed in those grade school years continues to grow now that they are adults, especially in moments like this when we are gathered and sharing our story.
Some stories were heard for the first time, but many of the stories have been told many times before and their familiarity only makes them all the more exciting to hear again. Furthermore, each time they are told it is a little bit different. Everyone in the family knows the story of grandma and grandpa's first date when he almost lost his chance at a second date because he did not buy her popcorn at the movie. Hearing the story this time was a little different because my grandma died in the past year. Hearing the story of the beginning of their relationship took on new meaning now that we've seen how my grandpa loved her to the last moment of this life. I continue to think of the story when I wait in line at the concession stand to buy popcorn when I go to a movie.
Knowing the family story provides a sense of belonging. Being a part of the family includes knowing the family stories. Three of the young men in the family brought along a wife or fiance for the vacation. In a sense, these women have joined the family when they have learned the family stories. I feel more a part of my wife's family the more I learn and share in their stories. Even though I wasn't there for many of the stories, these stories have become my stories. Now the new stories that we were creating on this vacation were becoming a part of the bigger family story. I know that some of the events of this vacation will be rehearsed and replayed again and again at future family gatherings.
Every family has a story to share, and our family in Christ is no different. When the Word of God is proclaimed in the Liturgy of the Word during mass, the family tells its stories. There should be just as much excitement when we hear the stories proclaimed at Mass as there is excitement when we hear our family stories proclaimed at family gatherings. As I sat back on one of the evenings of the vacation and watched the family telling stories, I was reminded of a passage from a book that I read in my Eucharist class while working on my masters degree:
Something is happening in this dramatic encounter; it involves more than the simple reading of a static passage from the past. The community of listeners is part of the revelation in this moment of Jesus' proclamation of the divine plan of redemption... The ongoing action of fulfillment circulates through this time and space and gathers depth, penetrating into the lives of believers and strengthening the bonds of intimacy with their Lord. The sacramental union of Christ and the church, therefore, draws the assembly's contemporary story into communion with the saving mystery unfolding in Christ's life, death, and resurrection.
Just as the early Christians realized that the story needed to be written down to ensure it would be preserved for future generations, there would be some value in writing down the family story and being able to read it. However, reading the family story from words on a page would not be the same as hearing the story proclaimed in the midst of the assembled family. The experience is not only understanding the words of the story, but the experience of hearing it proclaimed together, of laughing out loud together, of seeing each other smile is a part of the experience of the story. The story comes alive as it is recited aloud and the family experiences it anew together in this new circumstance.
Similarly, the story of Salvation is part of my story and my story is a part of the story of Salvation. When the story is proclaimed in the midst of an assembled congregation, it comes alive in a way that it cannot when I am reading the words of Scripture on my own. We understand our experience of God in a new way when we hear how God has interacted with the human family throughout history, and our understanding of God's interactions with the human family through history deepens as we experience God with us in the present.
Part of the RCIA process, in which we welcome new members into the Catholic Family, is for the members of RCIA to join us in the Liturgy of the Word. This is not by accident. Learning the family story is one way that you become part of the family. It would not be the same to hand a bible to the candidates and tell them to read the story. No, they have to hear the story proclaimed in the midst of the assembly, to feel the excitement of the assembly as the story is told again. They have to react and join in the responses and the songs. When it comes time for them to be baptized and join the family officially at the Easter Vigil, we will proclaim the family's story with a number of additional readings that are not part of our normal Sunday gatherings, because the family story will now be a part of the newly baptized members' stories.
I also think it is no mistake that in the image of my family telling stories above, there is food and drink on the table. I often say that where two or three are gathered, there is probably food somewhere in the middle. It seems right that sharing a meal and sharing a story should go together. This is demonstrated in the relationship between the Eucharist and the Word of God which Pope Benedict XVI described this way:
Saint Jerome speaks of the way we ought to approach both the Eucharist and the word of God: “We are reading the sacred Scriptures. For me, the Gospel is the Body of Christ; for me, the holy Scriptures are his teaching. And when he says: whoever does not eat my flesh and drink my blood (John 6:53), even though these words can also be understood of the [Eucharistic] Mystery, Christ’s body and blood are really the word of Scripture, God’s teaching. When we approach the [Eucharistic] Mystery, if a crumb falls to the ground we are troubled. Yet when we are listening to the word of God, and God’s Word and Christ’s flesh and blood are being poured into our ears yet we pay no heed, what great peril should we not feel?” Christ, truly present under the species of bread and wine, is analogously present in the word proclaimed in the liturgy.
How unfortunate it is when the story is being proclaimed in the Mass and the people in the pews are reading the bulletin, daydreaming, or still walking in from the parking lot. I sometimes struggle to focus during the readings myself. But the experience of my family's storytelling on vacation encouraged me to approach the Liturgy of the Word with the same excitement once again. Just as I would not want to miss one bite of the amazing feasts my family enjoys together on vacation, I do not want to miss one word of the great story proclaimed to my Catholic family.
 Paul A. Janowiak, Standing Together in the Community of God: Liturgical Spirituality and the Presence of Christ (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2011), 53, accessed August 22, 2017, https://books.google.com/books?id=_vQOF1u9dG4C.
 Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, September 30, 2010, 56, accessed December 23, 2016, http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20100930_verbum-domini.pdf.
In her book Where Two or Three are Gathered, Florence Caffrey Bourg wrote "What makes a family a domestic church is a habit of interpreting its ordinary life - for better or worse - as the means through which family members are to seek, know, and love the God made known in Jesus Christ." This is one example of how I interpreted an ordinary experience from life in my domestic church. Have you had a similar experience in your domestic church?