A loaded word in our vocabulary, one laden with substance.
Chatting with people my own age—I just turned seventy—and beyond, I often hear them whisper with apprehension, “I worry my memory is beginning to slip.”
Or, visiting with elders at one of our residences, the family around her will warn me, “Her memory is gone. She will not know you,” one of the more chilling reports one can give.
After my sister Deb’s wonderful husband, Fred, died of cancer at sixty-six, she worried. “I only hope his grandkids will be able to remember him.”
Professors of memory, we historians, often warn, “Those who lose memory of the past are bound to repeat its mistakes.”
Or, as the guide to the haunting Auschwitz exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage explained to us on a recent tour, “We must never forget what happened.”
The Bible chants the essential role of memory in our faith.
How often the Old Testament exhorts, “Remember!” chiding God’s people never to forget what God has done for them. A people who forget quickly become pagans. To pass on those memories to our children and grandchildren is a sacred duty of a believer.
Then comes Jesus, who on the night before He died, at His last supper that Holy Thursday commanded, “Do this in memory of me!” As the Benedictine scholar Gregory Dix reflects,
“Was ever a command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings in their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America;...because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna [and the enemy] on the beach at Dunkirk;...tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of St. Joan of Arc...And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the holy common people of God.”
Earlier this week, on Wednesday, millions around the planet heard that word again, as we were smudged with ashes and began our forty-day hike to Holy Week and Easter.
“Remember, man, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”
To recall reverently our origin and our destiny is a noble task indeed.
We are dust, aren’t we, as we remember that our Creator fashioned us out of the soil of the earth.
We will return to dust, as our bodies, earthen vessels, are planted back into the ground and decay to the elements.
So much of what we pursue here—money, clothes, cars, homes, property, acclaim, prestige—will pass away like the driven snow on a February day.
Our good intentions can vanish as rapidly as the ashen cross on our forehead.
We remember from whom we came—the Lord—and to whom we are destined—eternal union with Him.
Because, remember! While our earthen vessel, our body, will indeed return to dust, our soul, the vessel not of dust but of God’s very life, is intended to live forever!
We are made in His image and likeness! We bear in our very person the dying and rising of Christ, the grand event of Good Friday and Easter Sunday for which we get ready these six weeks of Lent. As John Cardinal O’Connor often preached,
“I see in each one of you, whatever may have been your past, whatever your circumstances at the moment, the reflection of the sacred, the image and likeness of Almighty God. I see you as sacred persons to be loved, persons of priceless dignity and worth.
Indeed I may very well see you as being far better persons than some of you may see yourselves to be...To underestimate you is to underestimate God, for each of you is sparked with His divinity.”
This is indeed the season to remember, our origin and our destiny, the summons to greatness and eternity, the invitation to virtue and grace, the rejection of living only for the now with no memory of from where we came and to Whom we are going. No spiritual dementia for us! We remember! It’s Lent!