There’s a writer who characterizes the lives of the saints as “bibliographic entries onto the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.” A bibliography: a series of additions to the one story; i.e., variations on how Jesus’ story plays out, new and slightly altered versions of His narrative that are triggered off (in The Spirit) by different times and cultures and movements — and perhaps especially by seemingly unconnected and accidental events. In one way or other, these other stories retell the story. Or better, as they’re happening they are that One story as it’s in the process of being set out again for another age.
So St. Peter today. Here he is traveling the land, following and filled by The Spirit of God, (or as one translation has it, “walking in the consolation of the Holy Spirit”). And doing what? Doing what Jesus did, proclaiming the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God and healing people in God’s name. To the paralyzed man, “get up and make your bed.” And more spectacularly to this woman being laid out for her funeral, “Tabitha, rise up… And he presented her alive to the holy ones and the widows gathered around.”
It’s Jesus’ story being retold to that first generation after Jesus has “gone away for a little while.”
But then come all the other saints, or as the bible says “the friends of God and prophets.” In one way or other, they are also re-tellings. They are like little tiles in a big mosaic, each giving off some of the light that shines through the founding story which back lights them all. They’re not the exact same as Jesus story, but indeed variations on it, elucidations of it for particular times and places, “remakes” of the original version each one of which sets that story more snugly and recognizably into some later age.
And how well we in the Vincentian Family are familiar with those “remakes” made in the 17th century, those accounts of Louise and Vincent who in their attitudes and behaviors and works left especially vivid portrayals of who Jesus was for their day (and is for ours). But closer to home, there are the people we’ve known, both in our own families and especially those special ones in the wider Vincentian Family, who “told the story.” Their life histories recounted at their wakes and funerals and anniversaries have come to be appreciated as one version or other of the original.
This line of thought provides a kind of gospel examination of conscience for all of us. How do we fit into that story in what we do and how we see and judge things, and in how much we pay attention to the One who’s always continually telling that story?
A practical lesson and question. How often do I set myself inside that story? That is to say when the different experiences of life come at me:
– have I gotten into the habit of connecting what’s happening to me with what’s happening in that original version?
– can I line up the dots of my story according to the much bigger pattern of the Christian narrative?
– do I try to get my bearings by its stars, and find my meaning by viewing my history inside the overarching meaning of this all-encompassing story?
Who does this? It’s the person who tries in her joy with Jesus’ delight as He spots the finger of His Father at work in the everyday world. It’s the individual who in a period of suffering follows closely along behind the Lord carrying His cross. It’s the person who at crisis times hands it all over into the loving hands of the Father.
All of these are further “bibliographic entries,” biographies of Jesus Christ as His story gets remade, re-imagined, re-issued, and re-lived in every age.
Do I see myself telling the story of Jesus in my life?
Can other recognize my variation on the storyline of Jesus?
Fr. Tom Mckenna currently lives in Philadelphia with our candidates in the Internal seminary or Novitiate. This reflection first appeared in FamVin. He has served as an advisor to the Daughters of Charity of the St. Louise Province. Prior serving a Provincial he taught theology at St. John’s University.