Father Andre

He Loves to Tell the Story

FrAndreAuthor of ten books on spirituality and the Christian life, and a self-described "storyteller," Father Andre Papineau, SDS is also a professor of homiletics at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. The following interview reflects his understanding of the importance of storytelling in proclaiming the Good News of our Savior and the never-ending story of God's unconditional love, mercy, and forgiveness.

Father Andre's latest book is Homilies to Transform Hearts and Minds, available through Resource Publications.

Many of the stories you've both written and the ones you relate in your homilies concern God's grace and the impediments we so often place in the way of it.

Many of us as Christians aren't comfortable with God's unconditional love for us. I know that may sound severe, but it's true. We think we need to "earn" God's love, that it shouldn't be a "free ride" because we don't deserve that. And if we don't deserve it, and haven't earned it, we don't trust it.

I think it's very difficult for us, living in the sort of achievement-based society that we do,  to accept God's love for us as a "given." The theologian Paul Tillich perhaps said it best: We have a real problem accepting God's acceptance of us. But unless you come to recognize that you are accepted, then you really don't think you have anything to offer.

So it's like the proverbial Catch-22 situation: If someone feels that he or she has nothing to give, it's hard to think that you can "earn favor" with God.

Exactly! But the secret is to accept the fact that God is love, and because of this God accepts us as we are.  It's that simple, child-like faith that Jesus taught.  On the other hand, if people are being told constantly that they don't measure up, that somehow they haven't given enough, or if we in the Church otherwise come down too hard on them, how are they to think that they have anything to offer to their fellow man or God?

This is what I'm dealing with in a good many of my books and in the stories I share with our seminarians at Sacred Heart. Within our teeming mass of humanity, we've got all these so-called nobodies among us. And yet, you and I owe them our love and respect as human beings for the simple reason that they are created in God's image.

But we are fallen and fallible creatures, and we do sin.

Of course! And the first thing you must do is ask for forgiveness, because you ain't comin' to the banquet table unless you do. On that point the Gospels are clear. Jesus would like to see people change for the better, there's no doubt about that.  But the point I keep trying to emphasize is the one St. Paul made in his letter to the Romans, namely that "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Jesus says to each of us, "I'm so anxious to have you come to the table. You belong because I want you here."

Now as then, that message doesn't always go over too well.

Jesus was crossing lines and ruffling feathers all the time. That's what comes from accepting folks just as they are. And yet this was the major thrust of his life and ministry. He himself became "unclean," just like the rest of us, by reaching out to and touching the "unclean." Then he washed away their sins. It's messy, but that's how redemption works.

Trouble is, along the way he managed to antagonize some pretty important people. If you think about it, he still is.

We understand you've had candidates for the priesthood who barely spoke any English. How does this message of acceptance apply within your teaching ministry?

It's true, we've had fellows coming to us from Latin America, Vietnam, you name it. There's no sin in that, of course, but it still represents a challenge. The first thing they need to know is that they're welcome and accepted. Very often they're somewhat fearful and reluctant to open up. They're afraid of what their English will sound like.

So I tell them, hey, it's OK, just go ahead and preach in Vietnamese or whatever one's native language may be. I'll want to hear what it sounds like, the music in the language; because that's something we Americans rarely are blessed to hear. If I were to start off by trying to correct their English pronunciation or grammar, I wouldn't get to first base with these guys.

You've written and published quite a few books as well. Are they all concerned with this issue of accepting God's love for us, as well as the stories it inspires?

In some way or another, yes. Our journeys toward faith seldom take us along a straight line. This is what makes our stories interesting.

So, whether spoken or written, is it fair to say that storytelling remains at the center of your ministry?

Absolutely! You see, we're all storytellers. When we see something unusual, a lovely sunset, or even if we get caught in a traffic jam, we begin by saying to anyone who will listen, "Wait 'til I tell you!" We launch into a story, just like that. We don't stop to ask ourselves if we're any good at it, nor should we. We just do it automatically.

Most of us don't think of ourselves as storytellers, but we are nonetheless. It's how we grieve and grow and heal. It's how we make sense of things and affirm that our lives have meaning. I'm afraid we'd be pretty boring people without our stories to tell.

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Founded in 1881 by Father Francis Jordan, the Society of the Divine Savior is a Roman Catholic religious community, praying and working to share the love and mercy of our Savior, Jesus Christ, through all possible means.


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