Loves to Tell the Story
Author 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
But we are fallen and fallible creatures, and we do
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
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
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.