by Father Mark Goldasich
Well, February is almost here . . . again.
Why does it seem like this shortest month of the year always feels like the longest? Maybe it’s because we’re mired in the doldrums of winter or we know that Ash Wednesday is just around the corner. Or maybe it’s because this February will, in fact, be longer as this leap year gives us an extra day to contend with.
In any event, perhaps to help us survive, February is stuffed with all kinds of special days to celebrate. We’re familiar with the more famous ones like Groundhog Day, Mardi Gras, Presidents Day and Valentine’s Day. But even those might not be enough to get us through, so this month features: Wave All Your Fingers at Your Neighbor Day (Feb. 7); Cherry Pie Day (Feb. 20); Curling is Cool Day (the Scottish game, not the hair style); For Pete’s Sake Day (Feb. 26 — Oh, for Pete’s sake, why?); and Floral Design Day (Feb. 28).
There is, however, something so special that it couldn’t be assigned only one day or week. Instead, celebrating the Catholic press is given the whole month of February.
One thing that has always been a part of my life and ministry is storytelling. Its inspiration was the following Jewish folktale:
When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There, he would light a fire and say a prayer. And the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted.
Later, when his disciple, Magid of Mezritch, saw the people in distress, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer.” And again, the miracle would be accomplished.
Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people yet again, would go to the forest and say: “I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place, and this must be sufficient.” Once more, a miracle.
Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story of my people, and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient . . . because God loves stories! (Adapted from “The Sower’s Seeds,” by Brian Cavanaugh, TOR.)
I do believe that God loves stories. After all, the Bible is chock-full of them: the creation accounts, the original sin, Cain and Abel, Noah and the ark, the Tower of Babel — and these are just in the first few chapters of the Book of Genesis. The late Jesuit Father Anthony de Mello, a master teller of stories, believed that “the shortest distance between a human being and Truth is a story.” That’s no doubt why the Scriptures are so packed with them.
Storytellers have a tremendous responsibility. Author Esther de Waal said they must “be able to transform what lies to hand, let the mundane become the edge of glory, and find the extraordinary in the ordinary.” For me, that’s the mission of The Leaven. At heart, we’re storytellers.
We are the archdiocesan historians who collect the stories of our parishes, schools and ministries — their roots and growth, their reach and influence. We are educators in the faith — from articles on how to pray and appreciate the Scriptures better, to helping people understand what the church teaches on various topics. We are a voice for Pope Francis and Archbishop Naumann, giving them a forum to reach and teach believers.
But our favorite task is summed up in this little story:
People in an African village bought a computer. For weeks, all of the children and adults gathered around it — morning, noon and night — surfing the Internet. After a couple of months, though, the computer was turned off and never used again.
A visitor to the village asked, “Why do you no longer use the computer?”
“We have decided to listen to the storyteller,” replied the chief.
“But doesn’t the computer know more stories?” asked the visitor.
“Yes,” the chief replied, “but the storyteller knows us.” (Adapted from “Stories for the Journey” by William R. White.)
Thank you for the honor of letting us be the tellers of your stories, 16 pages at a time, 41 times a year.
Happy Catholic Press Month!