Faith-filled Memories

Memory is such a treasure. When we hear the word, “memory,” does the theme song to the musical CATS sung by Barbra Streisand get conjured up? If you are a techie, does the thought of how many gigabytes of memory are in your hard drive come to mind? If we play a parlor game like Trivial Pursuit, we hope to be partnered with someone who has a good memory. Students rely on memory when taking a test, hoping there will be total recall of everything crammed into their memory bank the night before, when thinking “I only need to remember this for the exam tomorrow.” 

memory
Just as Mary pondered events concerning her son, we have stories of Jesus in our lives that help shape and form our faith. The Crosiers photo

Our memory is a big part of who we are: we can recall family members’ birthdays as we do our own, or that red means STOP. At Mass, we hear “let us call to mind our sins,” and the most significant line, “Do this in memory of me.” Like much in our lives, we assume that our memories will always be there. When the memory of a grandparent or cherished person in our lives fades and no longer remembers even our name, so much is lost. 

Memories are formed in many ways. Science says that some information outside of us is sensed by us (we see it, hear it, smell it, feel it (tangibly or emotionally), and the information is processed by our minds. It may (or may not) be stored to retrieve in the future when we play that Trivial Pursuit Game or take that test or even examine our conscience. 

Our faith relies much on memory. During the past months we heard so many Scripture stories reminding us of the importance of those who had an experience of God and remembered enough of it to tell us through their writings. Just imagine if no one remembered the stories passed onto them and, consequently, never wrote anything to pass onto the next generation. We know from John’s Gospel that only a portion of that which was remembered was even written, “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written” (Jn 21:25). We have to accept the fact, therefore, that some memorable stories are lost forever. 

In every generation, all people must deposit stories of faith in their own memory banks. One’s experience of God may be unique. Other experiences may be shared by many, having occurred in common and therefore remembered collectively and later recollected in common. The persons and personalities of the Scriptures give us examples of both unique stories and collective stories. 

creating new memories
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus invites the two disciples to remember all of salvation history and to use that memory to experience the new story forming in their burning hearts to create a new memory, which they then shared with others. The Crosiers photo

• Mary “kept all these thing in her heart” (Lk 2:51). Those few words ending the infancy narrative as Luke begins describing Jesus’ public ministry invite us to do the same. Whatever experience we have of our God may be such that we do not know what to do with it at the time. We store it away and let it grow with the inkling that there will be more stories to ponder and consider in our heart. This one line invites a Renaissance painter to paint Mary with an inquisitive facial expression as if she knew there was more to come. She already had years of unique stories — from the Annunciation to the visit of the shepherds (Lk 2:19) to Simeon’s words to Mary and Joseph (“The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about Him”), including “and you yourself a sword will pierce” (Lk 2:34f). Mary had a lot to remember and to ponder in her heart. 

• The Prodigal Son: “How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger” (Lk 15:17). Imagine if the young man’s memories of his childhood and his father had not been good memories. His good memories were enough to bring him “to his senses” to go home and create a new memory of unconditional forgiveness. 

• The Apostles at the Last Supper in John’s Gospel (Jn 13:7). Here is a collective experience for them to ponder together later in life. Through the very words “what I am doing, you do not understand now, but will understand later,” Jesus almost begs them not to forget that night’s experience which He implants in them so its meaning can be harvested at a later time. How many of our own experiences in life make sense only in hindsight? At the time, we often don’t even realize that something we are experiencing is an experience of God. Though the apostles shared the same supper on the same day, each of them may have come to understand the meaning of that meal in his own unique time and way. That unique time becomes one’s own memorable “aha!” experience. 

• The two walking with Christ to Emmaus: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the Scriptures” (Lk 24:27). Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32). The two travelers are invited to remember all of salvation history and to use that memory to experience the new story forming in their burning hearts to create a new memory which they then shared with others. 

• Kerygma (1 Cor 15:1-8): “Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received. . . for I handed on to you . . .that He appeared to Cephas. . . that, He appeared to more than five hundred. . .that He appeared to James, then to the apostles. . .Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me.” Most likely, the Risen Christ did not appear to Paul between the Resurrection and the Ascension as He did to Peter, James and the 500. Paul, though, makes their story his own story. His experience of Christ some years later, becomes his own story now. In writing to the Corinthians, some decades later, in a land not even close to Jerusalem, Paul gives them permission to have their “appearance of Christ.” In inviting them to have their experience of the Risen Christ in their time and place, he invites us to do the same in 2013. 

This Year of Faith is a good year to cherish in our hearts all the stories of Christ in our own lives and keep, not only the stories, but Christ, alive in our hearts. Every person and every generation needs their story. We cannot rely solely on our ancestors’ stories. In an analogous way, consider all the collective stories that describe and form a generation. 

Whether the story is good or tragic, all of us want to have our own stories that shape and form us. We do not want to live our lives vicariously through another’s story. Unlike the lists above, the Resurrection of Christ is not repeated for each generation; however the Christ event still unfolds for each generation. Each of us relishes our “appearance” story. We wait; we search for that moment when, like Paul, we can say, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me.” 

When that does occur, we have an obligation like those before us to tell the story so that each generation knows to be open to the experience. We all know those who have no memory and, therefore, no experience of God in their lives. Those of us who know God see their lack of memory or experience as tragic. The richness of stories remembered in common throughout salvation make fertile our own hearts, minds and souls so that, in 2013, we can experience Christ again. What we do, we “do in memory of” Him but it becomes embedded in our memory banks now. We store the experience, knowing that like that good steward we can go to the shelves of that memory bank of cherished stories and bring them out for others to share in the experience of Christ (Mt 13:52). TP 

FATHER CARRION is pastor of Holy Cross, Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. Mary, Star of the Sea in Baltimore, Md., and is director of the Deacon Formation Program for the Archdiocese. pcarrion@archbalt.org