Arts and Culture

The Beauty of a Heroic Story Offers Redemption

During the last few weeks, writing this series of columns about how we, along with God, freely create our life stories, has helped me understand my own history better.

Looking back on decisions I have made in my life, I think I have seen more clearly that some of the free choices I made in the past seem to have been the right choices and that some of the other free choices may not have been so wise.

I have also come to see, perhaps in a new way, that some free choices involve considerable risk.

John Haught in his book “What Is God? How to Think About the Divine” (New York: Paulist Press, 1986, pp. 143, $14.95) claims that religion in its essence is adventure.

How many of our contemporaries think of religion as adventure? I wonder. Haught writes the following about religion:

“Its openness to novelty and the risk involved in this openness are evidenced in the great religious visionaries and innovators (for example the Buddha, the prophets, Jesus, Paul, Muhammad, Francis, Luther, etc. and their devotees).

Theirs have been the most disturbing and discordant voices of all. But the chaos they have often left in their wake is not the result of any … doctrine of disorder on their part.

Rather it is the vision of an ultimate and transcendent order that includes the widest possible novelty and contrast.

In attempting to implant their vision into the contemporary scope of human awareness, they and their disciples have inevitably disturbed the monotony of the status quo. A truly adventurous religious spirit will always disrupt the cult of monotony at the same time at which it promises the ultimate contentment.

The more I think about the power of religion to shape, form and challenge people, the more I become aware of the importance of community.

To be a member of a community with others who share the same values that you embrace is a great blessing. There is a photograph on my wall of my father, mother and sister, and my niece is in my sister’s stomach, scheduled to appear in about four months.

My mother was a daily communicant. My father became a Catholic when I was in college, and my sister, who was six-and-a-half years older than I, was a saint. When I finish writing this column, I plan to walk over to that photo, recite a few prayers and say “Thank you.” Whatever is good in me is due to the Holy Spirit and my family.

The idea of religion as an adventure really speaks to me. There are many adventures, but I think that the adventure of religion is the most important. Why? Because religion deals with the human person at the deepest level of the self.

The consequences of the risk that religion deals with are more serious and important than those involved in any other risk. What is at stake? Nothing less than salvation!

    In one of the earlier columns in this series, I pointed out that John Haught mentioned the value of heroic stories in our formation as persons:

“Since such stories involve the narrative patterning of struggle, suffering, conflicts and contradictions into a complex unity, they stand out as one of the most obvious examples of beauty.”(p.73)    

One of the great examples of an heroic story is Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I read the novel in my senior year at Xavier High School in Manhattan.

Years later I saw the great screen adaptation starring Ronald Colman. The main character Sidney Carlton, a brilliant lawyer and a recovering alcoholic, offers his life for the woman he loves by helping her husband escape from the Bastille and then taking his place so that the husband’s escape will not be noticed.

Carlton freely embraces the guillotine because of his love for a woman and to keep his pledge that if ever he could do anything to help her in a difficult situation he would do it.

Just before his beheading Carlton says, “It is a far, far better thing I do now than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

Of course the greatest heroic story is the story of Jesus. We can spend our lives reflecting on it and trying to imitate in our daily experience the unselfishness of Jesus.

The story of Jesus is the story of God and the human race and also of the material universe.

With Jesus’ death and resurrection all creation is redeemed. That at a Eucharistic celebration we can participate in Jesus’ offering to his Father is awesome.

The eucharist should be our deepest and most sincere “Yes.” Jesus’ story is still going on, and we continue to be an important part of it. 

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.