Memory and Faith

- Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

One cannot overemphasize the importance of our collected memory with regard to our history.  I am not speaking here of the memory function that seems to weaken as we age or the loss of memory that comes with certain diseases.  The “collected memories” of our community of faith are the foundation of our cultic experience and of our understanding of who we are in relationship to God.  Lent as a season is dependent upon that collected memory as it informs our choices and our actions as we strive to journey through the desert with God.

When our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the Passover, they remember what happened to them as a people at that time in their history.  Their Passover supper is observed with questions and answers regarding what happened that night.  These questions supply the motive for their remembrance and make that night present to them just as if they actually participated in the first Passover.  Their memory makes it possible for them to participate in an event that took place thousands of years ago. 

The same is true for our Catholic liturgy.  When we celebrate the Eucharist, we recall what Jesus did for us on Calvary hill outside of Jerusalem so many years ago.  By remembering the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, we make that event present again in our communal worship so that we can participate in the event and, like our Jewish brothers and sisters, realize the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice.  At the same time, while we make the event present to us, the person of Jesus also becomes present to us under the appearance of bread and wine which we are invited to eat and drink.  One of the most popular hymns of our day captures this theological truth in its lyrics: We remember how you loved us to your death; and still we celebrate, for you are with us here; and we believe that we will see you when you come, in your glory, Lord, we remember, we celebrate, we believe.  (Marty Haugen)

The Book of Deuteronomy, from which we read today, is all about memory.  Moses asks the Israelites to pitch camp by the banks of the Jordan River.  They are about to end their forty year sojourn in the desert and cross over into the Promised Land.  Realizing that he will not cross over with them, he asks them to stop and remember what has gone on over the past forty years.  Recalling all that God had done for them, Moses then asks them to recommit themselves to the covenant relationship which they formed at Mt. Sinai forty years before.  Their recommitment ceremony makes it present to them again “today.”

As we spend forty days in the desert with Jesus, we too are asked to remember all that God has done for us.  At the end of our Lenten journey, we will gather to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord.  In that celebration, we will renew our baptismal promises; we will recommit ourselves to our covenant relationship with Jesus, our Lord and Savior.  

We remember; we celebrate; we believe.

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