Friday, December 14, 2018

Living Power of Memory

Anamnesis is a Greek word that means memory but with a difference. For the most part, it is recalling something in the past but for the Christian, we try to remember what happened in the past to make it present again so as to live more fully.

In the Old Testament, this is what the Jewish believers did with the events in their history. As part of their celebration of the Seder meal at Passover a child asks: "Why is this night different from all other nights?" The answer is the story of the freedom from the slavery of Egypt.

A parish priest in a column of the Catholic Times gives us his thoughts on the medium of remembrance. He recounts the delivering of briquettes to the members of a poor area of the city, 160 volunteers were involved in delivering 3000 briquettes and other items. It was difficult but all was forgotten at meal time with the local residents.

It all began remembering the poor in society—their existence and to empathize with their situation. In today's society, the marginated, those at the edges of society are often forgotten. Help for these must begin remembering they exist.

Memory is a quality that makes us human. Consequently, we recall past memories, record history and reflect and examine the past. We know the pain that occurs when memory is lost or evades our attempts to remember both on a personal and social level.

In a visit to Germany, the writer recalls the many monuments that remember the death of the Jewish people during the Holocaust; the remains of the Berlin wall, Checkpoint Charlie, which brings to mind the division of the country during the cold war; the Cathedral with its memories, bringing all to mind in the here and now with a desire for peace and love and no more war and division.

Memory plays a very important role in religion. Saint Augustine, who wrote "Confessions", emphasized memories as cognitive abilities that recall the past and call back to memory what was forgotten.  Memory becomes the starting point for perception, it  convinces us to recognize and love God. In this sense, the power of memory is a precondition for the life of faith.

The Catholic Mass we offer every Sunday, every day, is remembering the Last Supper of Jesus 2,000 years ago, bringing it back to our minds, remembering the sacrifice of the cross and remembering Him now, reconsidering His will and pledging to live accordingly. The present remembrance of the memory of Jesus Christ should be embodied in the practice of faith. However, among many believers attending Mass, remembrance is limited to the time of Mass but once they leave the church, all is forgotten.  

We can not deny that the so-called "dementia of believers" is increasing in the church. Dementia is scary because it forgets, past memories are lost. Dementia patients are unhappy. We need a cure for the "forgetful believers" who have "deleted" from memory all God's graces, and find it easy to complain and grumble. When a computer no longer functions and does not work, it needs to be 'rebuilt' or 'formatted', a new rebirth.

We need to recognize the "forgetful believers",  help them to heal, and direct them toward God and neighbor. Henri Nouwen in his book "The Living Reminder" shows ways this can be done. Not only priests but all believers should be able to renew memories of God and neighbors—a living memory medium—a warm and humble  Advent practicing love and compassion.