“A few months ago,” Fr. A— preached, “I visited my extended family after Christmas. While I was talking to my nieces and nephews, I was illustrating a point by bringing up the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den. I was met by blank stares. When I realized they didn’t recognize the story, I tried other Bible stories like The Crossing of the Red Sea and Jesus Calming the Storm. They had no idea what I was talking about.”
My ears perked up as the priest continued.
“What is lost when biblical literacy is lost? What happens when we no longer possess a common knowledge of even the most popular Bible stories? It’s one thing to pass on the Faith in the form of catechisms and doctrines, but that kind of knowledge can easily become abstract and inhuman. Without the illustrative power of stories from the Bible and from the histories of the saints, the Tradition of the Church is much harder to pass down to the next generation.”
As I mused on this sermon later in the day, I thought of the old pagan use of myth for the passing on of sacred mysteries, of the colorful hagiographies that once graced the breviaries of clerics all across Europe, and of my niece excitedly explaining the plot of Frozen to me in as few breaths as possible. It would be weirdly inhuman to abstract a meaning or lesson from all these stories and then, once the abstraction was complete, to be rid of the original source. What young girl would be content, once having decided that “the point” of Frozen was to escape undue societal constraint, to never watch the movie again? Themes, metaphors, and symbols can be extracted from a story, but these individual parts can not be assembled into a whole as great as the original source.
The story of Daniel being thrown to the lions has not served its purpose once its moral lessons have been extracted, like a spent early stage rocket booster tumbling into the ocean. A story (historical or fictional) is not simply a carrier for dogmatic or moral content, although both may be found in the stories from Holy Writ and the Golden Legend. The stories of God’s interaction with man are as much a part of Catholic Tradition as the ancient liturgies and dogmatic definitions. They are reminders that God reaches down to us even in our pilgrim state, that he does not wait until we are perfect contemplatives to grace us with his presence.