Becoming more familiar with our stories and the church’s story

In his book “A Church On the Move,” Joe Paprocki says the church must abandon once and for all the mistaken notion “that we can debate people into discipleship,” “argue them into submission,” and finally leave them no choice “but to recognize their own stupidity.”

Many of us could no doubt suggest dozens of examples here, because this is a fact of life which we discover fairly early on in our experience of raising or teaching children, particularly teenagers.

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However, Paprocki says, people are open to hearing stories which reveal the hidden mystery of God’s presence and the deeper truths of our faith.

It’s another way of saying something I think we have mentioned here several times over the years: people don’t care so much about what we believe — they want to know what difference it makes in our lives.

As people who are responsible for the faith formation of children and youth, we need to become more familiar with our own stories and with the church’s story — and more comfortable telling those stories.

Here Paprocki offers a number of helpful suggestions:

  • Identify the significant people in your life — people who have modeled the faith for us. Once we do this, Paprocki says, we will begin to remember stories about how these people lived their faith.
  • Identify moments of joy in your life. By reflecting on moments of joy (both large and small), Paprocki says, we will begin to recognize and be able to tell stories about how God has acted in our lives.
  • Identify peak moments of encounter and grace — those very special (sometimes rare) moments when we have felt that the Divine Presence was particularly close to us. Moments like these, Paprocki explains, are what confirm our intuition (and what we are told in church) about the existence and presence of God.
  • Identify milestones in your life — those significant moments when one phase ends and a new one begins. These moments are often experiences of grace and faith which combine both gratitude for the past and trust in the future.

Remember that Jesus did not teach a lot of doctrine; neither did Mary or, for the most part, the saints. What made a difference was the stories they told — and more than that, the stories they lived.

The fact is, lived-stories are so important because they reveal deep mysteries which words alone cannot perfectly describe. That’s why every catechetical moment should begin and end with a reference to the student’s lived-experience.

If we want to become a “church on the move,” Paprocki says, we will have to become better storytellers. I think he’s got that exactly right.

What do you think?

 Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group dis­cus­­sion or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how well prepared you are to tell “stories of faith.” How would you have rated this five years ago?
  • What are the most important stories of faith in your own life? … the important people who have lived lives of faith? How do they reveal, affirm or confirm what you have been taught about the faith? What might be sources of faith in the lives of your children, grandchildren or students? In what ways might their lived-experience affirm the important doctrines of our faith?
  • I think the most important story of faith I know is ….

 Join the Conversation

Add your comments to this week’s discussion at facebook.com/FaithLeaders­Corner/.

Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.

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