By Msgr. William Cleves.
In his excellent book, “The Gates of the Forest,” Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, having told a story, remarked that God made us because God loves stories. The image has remained with me since I read that book decades ago. It must have been with me when I first paged through the translation of the Roman Missal that was promulgated in 2011. As I leafed through its pages, I was struck by the number of times that God was addressed or described as “author.” This word is derived from the Latin verb augeo, augere, auxi, auctus. It has a number of meanings in English: to increase, to promote, to honor, to exalt and to spread. The Latin word auctor, derived from the last principal part of the verb, refers to one who increases, promotes, exalts. It is from auctor that we have the English noun author. What follows is not an exhaustive list of the ways in which God is described as author. In the new missal God is described or addressed as:
- author of our salvation
- author of divine generation
- author of all that is good
- author of all life
- author of our freedom and salvation
- author of love and peace
Every story we write is a share in the aboriginal authorship that properly belongs to God. So let us consider the stories that we write, and begin with the language in which I am writing, namely English. With the exception of the infinitive, every English verb carries some marker of tense (e.g., I see, I saw, I will see). We tend to think in terms of past, present, future. But this view of time and history is not the only way of conceiving these matters. It is possible to regard stories as timeless objects, standing outside any particular temporal period. In such a view, to tell a story is to step outside our time, to let the timeless wisdom of the story lift us up. The ancient Hebrews believed that, if one told the sacred story and engaged in sacred ritual, one entered the story, making it flesh for the group of people gathered for the occasion.
Consider our celebration of the Eucharist. We gather in a sacred space to tell sacred stories. We reflect on our part in these stories, realizing that they are our story, becoming flesh among us. This is the Liturgy of the Word. We engage also in sacred ritual, presenting and then offering bread and wine to be transformed, so that we who eat and drink are ourselves transformed. We are then sent forth to announce the Gospel of the Lord or to glorify God in our lives. In the Eucharist, whose author is God, we are lifted up (is this not the meaning of the verb augeo?). God lifts us from this moment of time, to taste the gifts that are to come. We do, after all, refer to the Eucharistic celebration as the foretaste and promise of the paschal feast of heaven.
One of the stories in the final chapter of the Gospel according to Luke is what happened on the road to Emmaus. It is not merely a story of what happened then, but of what happens now. Two disciples walk on a road, sharing recent events. True to his promise (“where two or three are gathered in my name … “), Jesus appears and walks with them. He opens them to the understanding of the Scriptures. He then eats and drinks with them, and their eyes are opened in the breaking of bread.
Realizing whom they have seen, the disciples rush forth to tell everyone. This is our story. We bring to the Eucharistic celebration the events of our lives. Jesus joins us, true to his promise, and opens our eyes to the meaning of God’s Word. We eat and drink with him, and we are transformed; our eyes are opened, and we recognize him in the breaking of bread. We are then sent forth to tell everyone.
In writing the story of creation, God has exalted us, honored us, promoted us, and increased our faith. God made us because God loves stories.
Msgr. William Cleves is pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, Newport.