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The need to remember


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“... take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things your own eyes have seen, and do not let them slip from your memory.” (Deut. 4, 9-10.)

Memory has always played a central role in the spirituality of the People of God--both positively and negatively. On the latter point, we might think of the description of sin in the Book of Deuteronomy--the unwillingness or inability to remember. On a more positive note, we might recall how the psalmist found personal strength through a pilgrimage back into memory: “When my soul is downcast, I remember you ...”

Even a cursory reading of the Old Testament would lead us to conclude that the “good news” of the People of God was based on memory--the truth of God’s fidelity even in times of darkness. Mary’s Magnificat is, in many ways, a prayer of memory: “the Almighty has done great things for me.” And memory continues to be a life-force in the spirituality of the People of God: “Do this in memory of me...”

Generally when dealing with the subject of memory, we should emphasize the positive. But since the grace-filled season of Lent is a time of doing penance and also a time of reparation for past sins, there is one area of our life which I believe is important for us to concentrate upon for our own spiritual growth and which is often overlooked: namely sins of omission.

The Anglican priest and poet R. S. Thomas has a poem called “Judgment Day” in which he views his life in a mirror. In it he discovers a disconcerting truth:

“In healthy happy Careless of the claim Of the world’s sick

Or the world’s poor.”

He prays that the Lord “will breathe on the sad mirror, erasing such images.” Of course, such is not possible. He ends his poem focusing on the faith-gifts God has given us--the ability to believe, the sacraments, the Church. And we might pray for the grace to recall times when we felt particularly close to the Lord; for example a Eucharistic experience or a powerful experience of forgiveness. The effect of such will lead us to a greater appreciation of God’s loving care for us.

It was the wordsmith Charles Dickens who coined the phrase “recollect forward’ (‘‘Bleak House’’). In our context, I believe that when we remember we are confident to face the future.

Msgr. McDonnell is a senior priest of the archdiocese and is in residence at St. Mary, Dedham.

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