On January 24, Pope Francis chose the feast of Saint Francis de Sales, patron Saint of communicators, to publish his message linked to the 54th World Day of Social Communications, on the theme " that you may tell your children and grandchildren"(Ex. 10, 2).
I would like to devote this year’s Message to the theme of storytelling, because I believe that, so as not to lose our bearings, we need to make our own the truth contained in good stories. Stories that build up, not tear down; stories that help us rediscover our roots and the strength needed to move forward together. Amid the cacophony of voices and messages that surround us, we need a human story that can speak of ourselves and of the beauty all around us. A narrative that can regard our world and its happenings with a tender gaze. A narrative that can tell us that we are part of a living and interconnected tapestry. A narrative that can reveal the interweaving of the threads which connect us to one another.
1. Weaving stories
Human beings are storytellers. From childhood we hunger for stories just as we hunger for food. Stories influence our lives, whether in the form of fairy tales, novels, films, songs, news, even if we do not always realize it. Often we decide what is right or wrong based on characters and stories we have made our own. Stories leave their mark on us; they shape our convictions and our behaviour. They can help us understand and communicate who we are.
We are not just the only beings who need clothing to cover our vulnerability (cf. Gen 3: 21); we are also the only ones who need to be “clothed” with stories to protect our lives. We weave not only clothing, but also stories: indeed, the human capacity to “weave” (Latin texere) gives us not only the word textile but also text. The stories of different ages all have a common “loom”: the thread of their narrative involves “heroes”, including everyday heroes, who in following a dream confront difficult situations and combat evil, driven by a force that makes them courageous, the force of love. By immersing ourselves in stories, we can find reasons to heroically face the challenges of life.
Human beings are storytellers because we are engaged in a process of constant growth, discovering ourselves and becoming enriched in the tapestry of the days of our life. Yet since the very beginning, our story has been threatened: evil snakes its way through history.
2. Not all stories are good stories
“When you eat of it … you will be like God” (cf. Gen 3:4): the temptation of the serpent introduces into the fabric of history a knot difficult to undo. “If you possess, you will become, you will achieve…” This is the message whispered by those who even today use storytelling for purposes of exploitation. How many stories serve to lull us, convincing us that to be happy we continually need to gain, possess and consume. We may not even realize how greedy we have become for chatter and gossip, or how much violence and falsehood we are consuming. Often on communication platforms, instead of constructive stories which serve to strengthen social ties and the cultural fabric, we find destructive and provocative stories that wear down and break the fragile threads binding us together as a society. By patching together bits of unverified information, repeating banal and deceptively persuasive arguments, sending strident and hateful messages, we do not help to weave human history, but instead strip others of their dignity.
But whereas the stories employed for exploitation and power have a short lifespan, a good story can transcend the confines of space and time. Centuries later, it remains timely, for it nourishes life.
In an age when falsification is increasingly sophisticated, reaching exponential levels (as in deepfake), we need wisdom to be able to welcome and create beautiful, true and good stories. We need courage to reject false and evil stories. We need patience and discernment to rediscover stories that help us not to lose the thread amid today’s many troubles. We need stories that reveal who we truly are, also in the untold heroism of everyday life.
3. The Story of stories
Sacred Scripture is a Story of stories. How many events, peoples and individuals it sets before us! It shows us from the very beginning a God who is both creator and narrator. Indeed, God speaks his word and things come into existence (cf. Gen 1). As narrator, God calls things into life, culminating in the creation of man and woman as his free dialogue partners, who make history alongside him. In one of the Psalms, the creature tells the creator: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made … My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (139:13-15). We are not born complete, but need to be constantly “woven”, “knitted together”. Life is given to us as an invitation to continue to weave the “wonderful” mystery that we are.
The Bible is thus the great love story between God and humanity. At its centre stands Jesus, whose own story brings to fulfilment both God’s love for us and our love for God. Henceforth, in every generation, men and women are called to recount and commit to memory the most significant episodes of this Story of stories, those that best communicate its meaning.
The title of this year’s Message is drawn from the Book of Exodus, a primordial biblical story in which God intervenes in the history of his people. When the enslaved children of Israel cry out to Him, God listens and remembers: “God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel – and God knew” (Ex 2: 24-25). God’s memory brings liberation from oppression through a series of signs and wonders. The Lord then reveals to Moses the meaning of all these signs: “that you may tell in the hearing of your children and grandchildren… what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord” (Ex 10:2). The Exodus experience teaches us that knowledge of the Lord is handed down from generation to generation mainly by telling the story of how he continues to make himself present. The God of life communicates with us through the story of life.
Jesus spoke of God not with abstract concepts, but with parables, brief stories taken from everyday life. At this point life becomes story and then, for the listener, story becomes life: the story becomes part of the life of those who listen to it, and it changes them.
The Gospels are also stories, and not by chance. While they tell us about Jesus, they are “performative”; they conform us to Jesus. The Gospel asks the reader to share in the same faith in order to share in the same life. The Gospel of John tells us that the quintessential storyteller – the Word – himself becomes the story: “God’s only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (Jn 1: 18). The original verb, exegésato, can be translated both as “revealed” and “recounted”. God has become personally woven into our humanity, and so has given us a new way of weaving our stories.
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