Remembering and Forgetting


What We Long to Forget

When I was in my late 20s, a wiser and much older priest told me that one of God's greatest gifts to humans was our ability to forget. Until that moment, I had only heard senior citizens complain about poor recollection. They would lament about how their memory wasn't what it used to be. How quick their responses were when they were younger but, now that they were older, how hard they had to concentrate just to recall the simplest thing. Yet here was an ancient, saintly cleric extolling the virtue of forgetfulness. He never offered an example at the time but we all have experiences we would prefer to dismiss than retain. Some of the childhood trials we would gladly put to sleep can be the very thoughts that keep us awake at night, wishing they had never happened. A dressing down from a grammar school teacher, a stern rebuke from the phys ed coach, a scurrilous name-calling tag from the classroom bully-what we wouldn't give to lay these scars to rest and forget where we buried them.

What We Long to Remember

“Please remember” were the two words that stayed with me long after I left their small apartment. Do you know the worst time of the week to call on a priest? Sunday afternoon. Our Saturday morning Mass can be followed by a 10 a.m. funeral, followed by a mid-afternoon wedding, followed by one or two anticipated Sunday Masses with at least two more subsequent liturgies the next morning plus baptisms at 1 p.m. Trust me, you do not want to phone the rectory at 3 o'clock in the afternoon on the Lord's Day of rest to ask for a favor. But that's when he called me. John F. Junior from the retirement complex on the other side of town. Could I bring Holy Communion to him and the Sacrament of the Sick to his wife? I said yes and dragged myself to the tabernacle to retrieve a Host for my pyx. With the oil of the infirmed, a reversible purple and white stole and the ritual book in my pocket, I prayed for strength and that the traffic would be light. It wasn't. Nor was I thrilled about this duty. Why didn't God arrange an easier appointment for me at a more convenient hour during the week?

Mr. J. F. Jr., a surprisingly spry 92-year-old gent, greeted me warmly at the entrance to their tiny abode. Through an archway, I spied his white-haired wife, whom I guessed to be around the same age, sitting in a rocking chair staring off into space. John whispered that he could receive the Eucharist but his wife could not. She was suffering from the advanced stages of Alzheimer's and might not remember she was supposed to swallow the Host. As he led me closer to her rocker she glanced up at me for a split second, blinked twice and then went back to staring at the wall. John turned to me with excitement. “Did you see that, Father?” he asked. “Did you see her reaction to you?” Honestly, to me her glance was trivial but not to him. He wondered if my black suit or white Roman collar had caused her response. He hoped that my entrance or my attire had somehow jogged her memory with an association from the past. Something. Anything.

Next I witnessed the reason God dragged me away from my afternoon melancholy to this tender love scene which I shall never forget. John turned to his wife and increased his volume with, “Look who is here, Minnie. Father is going to bless you. Wasn't that nice of him to come and see you?” No response. Then he proceeded to kneel down in front of the lifelong spouse whom he was losing on a daily basis. He gently grasped her right hand in his left and lifted it to her forehead. He began making the sign of the cross with both their fingers intertwined, repeating the words they had exchanged long ago on their wedding day, “In the name of the Father…do you remember, Minnie,” he interjected into the Trinitarian formula, “…and of the Son…please remember, Minnie, please. Please remember one more time…And of the Holy Spirit…” his voice giving way to tear drops falling onto her lap.

Do This in Memory of Me

On the first Holy Thursday Jesus ate the Passover Meal with his apostles. As it turned out this was also his Last Supper. He knew he would be leaving them the next day. Perhaps He felt torn. Perhaps He was eager to return to His Father but at the same time wanting to stay. Even kneeling down in front of them and washing their feet wasn't enough to teach them about true leadership. So how could He help them remember? Simple. By not leaving at all. He would change the substance of bread and wine into His own body and blood and assure them that each time they did this, He would be present. No need to work to remember. No chance to ever forget. I am here. Do this and re-member yourself with Me. Each year on Holy Thursday we recall what many people easily forget: that, in the end, Christ loved us so much He could not leave us.

For Holy Homework

Let's make time this month to visit folks at a local nursing home and leave a spray of flowers or a small plant at the nurses' station. Let's assure the staff that they and their residents will be remembered in our prayers in a special way this Holy Thursday.

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