“We remember how you loved us to your death
And still we celebrate for you are with us here.”
I have been thinking a lot about memories lately. This reflection happened as I found myself thinking about my father. My father was disabled with debilitating heart disease in 1973 … a long time ago. And while I don’t want this article to be a “pity party” about my father dying young, I do want it to be a reflection on the power of memory – its healing ability and what it says about Lent and our faith lives.
My father was one of those Type-A people. He was all about his work and providing our family with what we needed. It wasn’t in his plan to have to retire so young. It wasn’t in his plan to die young. He fought death in every way he could. In his last years, he found living very hard. He became depressed. He wasn’t the same father my sister and I knew anymore. I remember coming to the realization that our family was hurting and was not the picture-perfect image I had held for so many years.
The last time I saw my father was before New Year’s in 1977. He was in the hospital on the south shore of Boston. He reminded me in a very unusual upbeat way to make sure I enjoyed life each day. I was taken aback as I went back to teaching in St. Louis. On the day of the blizzard of 1978, he went back to the hospital by fire engine. On February 19, he died.
Many of us share similar memories. Memories reveal heartache, joy, laughter, pain. I have found over time that my memories of my father have changed. I don’t focus on the difficult times as much. I remember my father when he was young and vibrant, and when we would go for long rides in the car after church; and when laughter was a common experience around the table. The table was important to my father. He loved to tell stories at the table.
"God gave us memory that we might have roses in December."
— J. M. Barrie, Courage
Lent is about memories. It is about taking the time around the table and in prayer to remember and take stock of our faith lives. I love the quote from soon-to-be-canonized Sister Thea Bowman: “It is not who we are but whose we are.” To remember is to re-member. It is to remember whose we are. Years ago, I heard a new way of thinking about the word remember. To re-member is to bring to mind again, to bring a memory to consciousness. And it seems that, in the act of remembering, we reshape the memory and it comes to us anew.
Every time we remember, we come to a new understanding of our memories. This happened to me with my father. I came to a new understanding of this man who loved me, wanted the best for me and did whatever he could to create a good life for our family. I find myself reviewing the life he gave me. Lent is a time to pray with our memories and to find the life these memories hold. My father wasn’t that sick person. He was full of life.
In prayerful remembering, we do not remember the death; we remember the LIFE. We focus on LIFE in our memories. That is what we do in this season of Lent. We put together (re-member) the life of Jesus and reflect deeply on it. The crucifixion is part of that life, but it is only one part of a bigger picture. We need to look at the bigger picture. What is memory?
In Liturgy, we find a sacred place that enables us to engage in remembering. At Mass, as a community, we sing; we ask for forgiveness; we listen to God’s Word; we offer ourselves the “stuff” of our lives to God and transform it into life. We remember and acknowledge how God loves us. We celebrate with symbols and signs of that life and love. We are renewed in remembering God’s love in our belief. And then, most importantly, we take this remembrance, this memory of Jesus’ life into our families and workplace.
Lent is about remembering. It is about putting things back together again. We do this with our families, friends and with our God. The life and message of Jesus challenges us to change, to be transformed. When we follow the Gospel and look at ourselves and remember God’s grace in our lives we see in a new way. This Lent, pray with your memories.
The heart of most spiritual practice is simply this: “Remember. Remember who you are. Remember what you love. Remember what is sacred. Remember what is true. Remember that you will die, and that this day is a gift. Remember how you wish to live.” — Wayne Muller, How, Then, Shall We Live?