“Bible in a Year” podcaster and University of Minnesota Duluth Newman Center chaplain Father Mike Schmitz spoke at the BisonCatholic fundraising banquet recently at Delta Hotels in Fargo, asking the nearly 1,000 guests and student volunteers, “Which story directs your life?”
He mentioned some of the many movies claiming to be based on a true story, heightening viewer interest, though many are only loosely grounded in reality. “The Coen Brothers put that in there knowing it would get our attention,” he said of the famous woodchipper film, “Fargo.”
We all have a story that drives our lives, Schmitz said, but is it a true story or a fictional one? For example, the cultural story suggests that our life should be all about us, with selflessness being undervalued.
In other times in history, other stories have been elevated, he said, noting that during the Roman Empire, Caesar promised “good news” and peace for all—at least for people in power—while the gods of mythology made promises, too, as long as humans appeased them.
“In the Grecco-Roman world, there’s no purpose, no point to life,” Schmitz said. The fates determine our destiny and humans are slaves of gods, “their playthings,” and in this worldview, no one is made with purpose and dignity.
Too many of us wrongly believe in a version of this, Schmitz said, a false story in which “God is uninterested in your life, uninvolved, and irrelevant,” leading many to despair, and, like recently in the United States, trends such as dwindling life expectancy.
“Death by despair” has become common, he said. “For children between 10 and 14, suicide is now the leading cause of death.” And though Americans comprise only 5% of the world’s population, we consume 80% of the opioids.
But there’s another story, Schmitz said, the one St. Paul promulgated in proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah, and that he suffered, died and rose from the dead for love of each of us. This Good News tells of one God who is good and just. “Not only that, but he knows your name,” and “has counted every hair on your head.”
This story has the power to change our lives, and even the world, he said, as it did with William Wilberforce, an atheist living in the early 18th Century, who, after converting to Christianity, helped eradicate slavery in England.
“This is the reality we’re all invited to,” Schmitz said, and the Newman Center promotes.
Though soldiers in days of old “slashed themselves in the temple with their own swords and daggers, bleeding just to try to get the gods’ attention and get them to fight for them in battle,” he said, the true God vies for our attention. “He bled to get your attention.”
The true story relays the reality of a God who fights for each of us, Schmitz emphasized. This worldview transformed humanity for the good, and was meant to transform us, too, if we but say “Yes” to the invitation.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Nov. 20, 2023.]