Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Controlling Narratives

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 18, 2024

Journalists frequently use the term “narrative” to describe their reporting. Some narratives are accurate; others are false. Most are admixtures of truth and error. The challenge for the reading and viewing public is to determine whether a given narrative accurately depicts events. The challenge for every Christian is to conform his life narrative to his baptismal promises.

A thought precedes a word, and words and deeds precede a life narrative. The reverse is also true. A life narrative explains words and deeds. Carefully formulated words shape our thoughts. We search for the right word. The eternal narrative of the life of Jesus, the Word made Flesh, informs the narrative of our individual lives. “On the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mt. 12:36-37)

Prominent public figures have always attempted to control their life narratives by writing autobiographies. An accurate depiction of points of view and events through the eyes of the writer is useful to historians. But some autobiographies present a fabric of lies reinforcing self-serving myths. The inherent difficulties of autobiographies, biographies, and histories should not dissuade honest scholarly research.

The heavenly Father controls the narrative of the life of His Son, Jesus. His heavenly interventions confirm His approval of His Son in response to prayer. The evangelists report the events of the Gospel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The heavenly Father intervenes on three occasions to direct attention to the words and deeds of Jesus.

St. John baptizes Jesus to inaugurate His public life. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.’” (Lk. 3:21-23)

During the Transfiguration that manifested the glory and divinity of Jesus and prepared the apostles to endure the Passion, Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah. “He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’” (Mt. 17:5)

Shortly before His Crucifixion, Jesus again solemnly prays. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’” (Jn. 12:27-28)

These three interventions of the heavenly Father validate the divine integrity of His Son. Jesus is beloved of the Father, pleasing in His sight. Just as God inscribed the Ten Commandments on the tablet of stone, God elevates the Ten Commandments on the incarnate “tablet” of His Divine Son: “Listen to him.” Jesus is the new Moses, and the Heavenly Father glorifies Him as He fulfills His mission in the Cross and Resurrection.

By allowing the facts to speak for themselves, the evangelists encourage us to construct various speculative narratives that do no violence to Revelation. The evidence suggests remarkable integrity in reporting the events of the life of Jesus. There are no attempts to “control the narrative.” The narrative informs us and our lives. We can read the four Gospels in an afternoon. But we have the rest of our lives to “connect the dots” with commentary and application as we encounter the risen Christ in the Sacraments.

As the years pass, the inclination to look back over our personalized narratives becomes more pronounced. A life narrative of grievances is the easiest of autobiographical endeavors. Such “significant emotional events” provide the grist for the various “post-traumatic stress syndrome” (PTSD) themes of life. The Gospels also document the hatred that crucified Jesus, but Jesus mediates the scorn with His intercessory prayer on the Cross: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Lk.23:24) The Gospel narratives are filled with significant emotional events but are devoid of the PTSD that afflicts us.

It takes more effort to contextualize our PTSD events with the many encounters that enrich our lives with beauty and goodness. It’s challenging to weave in the details of our experiences into an accurate life story. The most arduous life narrative task is achieving integrity that recognizes departures from God’s narrative for us. How does the narrative of the life of Jesus inform our lives? How did we fail? An honest inventory of sinful patterns that undermine our God-given vocations to live and spread the Gospel completes a life narrative with integrity.

Purgatory purifies us of the effects of sin and completes our integral formation as we prepare for entry into heaven. For years following the Second Vatican Council, priests were expected to canonize the deceased and never mention the need to pray for the repose of their souls. On one occasion, an elderly lady expressed her outrage that the priest celebrating her sister’s funeral dared to pray for the repose of her deceased sibling’s soul. Pushing a walker, she erupted and said, “My sister went straight up!” The incident is at once humorous and revealing.

When we pray for the souls of the faithful departed, we acknowledge that every life narrative falls short of God’s plan. Purgatory is the doctrine of inescapable accountability, justice, and integrity. We control our narratives by our choices. But we cannot undo our sins that disrupt God’s plan for our happiness. We need a Savior to forgive and help us realign our life narrative with His saving plan.

St. Paul realized the convergence of his life with the life of Jesus. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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