The Vatican released this message on January 24, the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalism and Catholic media. This is the 54th annual World Communications Day message. The messages are posted as a preview on this particular feast day, although World Communications Day itself officially occurs on the Sunday before Pentecost—this year, that’s May 24.
The title of the message this year is taken from Exodus 10:2—“That you may tell your children and grandchildren … Life becomes history.” See the New American Bible translation of this passage as provided on the website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. In this passage, God tells Moses the Israelites should recount to future generations the story of how God has done great wonders and taken His people out of captivity. This is salvation history, the ultimate story to be remembered and shared.
Pope Francis goes on to talk about storytelling, a human phenomenon at the core of how we live our lives and give them a sense of meaning and purpose. Our search for, and sharing of, truth helps us see the connections between each other, among generations, and with God in personal relationship. The Holy Father points out that the word “text” comes from the same root as “textile,” which means something which is weaved together. Our lives are weaved together, and stories help reveal this.
God is the Great Storyteller, says Pope Francis. Jesus shows Himself to be a great story-teller through His parables. We need to make our own the truths that are told in good stories. They remind us that there is indeed reality external to ourselves, not reducible to relativism. Powerful stories are not merely imagination or statements of principles; they reach us where we are, with relevance to our personal experiences. Ken noted that the Parable of the Mustard Seed was very relevant to people of Jesus’s day because they could see mustard seeds all over. Good stories are not an isolating thing. They connect us to reality and to each other.
Not every story is good, Pope Francis pointed out in section two. Many of the stories we hear in the popular media are manipulative. These stories, often driven by the profit motive and the desire to manipulate, strip others of their human dignity.
The stories we want to cling to, as parts of our liturgy, or as parts of high-quality journalism and the sharing of legacies, are those which enlighten and expand our world view. They often have an element of surprise because they are stories woven by a God who loves surprises. They tell of God’s presence in our lives extending across time, giving us the context of His Lordship and our discipleship into the future. They help us see where we fit into the broader story of humanity and our relationship with God. They give us a sense of identity and purpose which is lacking for too many people today.
This message about passing along godly stories between generations holds differences and similarities with Francis’s World Communications Day texts of 2018 and 2019. Bill noted that the 2018 message talked more specifically about the need for journalism as an instrument for finding truth and thereby building peace. The 2019 message talked about social media and today’s digital culture, which too often establish alternative communities that isolate us and disconnect us from reality. Both messages dealt with specific topics, but they share with the latest message a call to connectedness that ties together communication, community, and communion.
The need for human beings to spread good stories to future generations recalls a theme Pope Francis addressed in his 2019 apostolic exhortation on young people called Christus Vivit. Older members of a community show their love for the young by sharing instructional stories with them, he said. Storytelling responsibilities of the older generation were explored in paragraphs 187-197.
Scripture is the story of salvation, a great love story, and God is a great narrator who nevertheless allows the various Biblical writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to express themselves, to share their story and play a role in telling the overarching story of God’s salvation. In this story, God loves man so much He enters humanity’s story. The story is alive and ever-changing. Saints have stories; they are sinners who embarked on a journey toward experiences of redemption and conversion.
You can find Biil Schmitt’s writing about the World Communications Day messages of 2018, 2019, and 2020 in his blog at OnWord.net. He spoke with Redeemer Radio program host Kyle Heimann about this year’s message in an interview on Jan. 28, 2020.