Back in May, I was starting to pack up the vast array of stuff that had accumulated in my room during the five years I lived at Mundelein Seminary. I was sorting through files, books, clothes, belongings, the whole mess. This was not a task I really enjoyed, of course – I don’t think anyone really likes having to pack and move. When I thought about why I disliked packing so much, I realized that part of it is that I didn’t like the overwhelming task of going through everything to decide what would come with me and what wouldn’t. But another part of it, for me, is the emotional attachment that we have whenever we live somewhere for a while. Well, one afternoon during my packing, I happily came across a scrapbook that had been given to me by my coworkers just before I moved on to seminary, five years earlier. I stopped to look through the book, and all the memories of that time of my life came back to me. I laughed, I cried, and well, I didn’t get much packing done that afternoon!
Everyone has their own memories. Whether it’s scrapbooks or photo albums, or even just stories shared at the dinner table, we treasure the memories of the people, places and events that have made up our past. Those memories make up who we are now, and have helped to shape the people we will be in the future. It’s important for us to revisit those memories from time to time: to find the scrapbook, to flip through the pages of the photo albums, to tell the great family stories around the dinner table. Memories are meant to be shared, to be retold, and to be treasured. Memories make us who we are, whether as individuals, or as families, or as nations, or as a Church.
In today’s readings, we are called to look again at the memories that we have as a people. The first reading has Moses instructing the Israelites on how to present their offerings to God. It’s not just the sacrifice that’s important here, it’s why the sacrifice is made in the first place. Which is why Moses tells them to re-tell the story: that their father (probably Jacob) was a wandering Aramean, whose household was tiny, but that God preserved them and made of them a great nation in a land flowing with milk and honey. That’s why they bring the first fruits of their crops as gifts for the Lord. Retelling the story is an occasion of gratitude and the sacrifice is made with great joy.
The Gospel reading is kind of the negative portrayal of remembering. Because the devil would like nothing more than for Jesus to forget who he was and why he was here. He would have Jesus forget that real hunger is not satisfied by mere bread, but must be satisfied by God’s word. He would have Jesus forget that there is only one God and that real glory comes from obedience to God’s command and from living according to God’s call. He would have Jesus forget that life itself is God’s gift and that we must cherish it as much as God does.
But Jesus won’t forget. He refuses to turn stones into bread, remembering that God will take care of all his real hunger. He refuses to worship Satan and gain every kingdom of the world, remembering that he belongs to God’s kingdom. He refuses to throw away his life in a pathetic attempt to test God, remembering that God is trustworthy and that he doesn’t need to prove it.
In the second reading, St. Paul calls the Romans to remember their own faith. He reminds them that the word that was preached to them is not something far off and remote, but is very near to them: on their lips and in their heart. Their salvation comes from the Lord, and the Lord can be trusted with their eternal lives. So, St. Paul says, it is fitting for the Romans to remember this and to proclaim it in their lives.
The way that we live our memories as a Church is through Liturgy. In the Liturgy of the Word, we hear the stories of faith handed down from generation to generation. These are the stories of our ancestors, whether from the Old Testament or the New. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we re-present the story of Christ’s Passion and death, and as we do that, it becomes new for us once again. There’s a part of every Eucharistic Prayer that recalls Jesus’ suffering and death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. This is called the anamnesis, which is translated as recollection, or remembering, but is perhaps best rendered as a re-presentation. Because our remembering as a Church isn’t just some kind of fond reminiscence, it’s not just a recalling of some events that happened hundreds of years ago, no … our anamnesis is a re-presentation of Christ’s passion and death and resurrection, the whole Paschal event that saved us and made us the people that we are. When we as a Church gather to remember, we are there, right in and among that saving sacrifice that made us God’s own people once again.
This Lent our community is developing habits of faith, hope and love – habits of the soul. Today, the habits suggested by our Liturgy of the Word are remembering and proclaiming. We must be people who remember who we are, who remember our stories, who remember our ancestors in faith, and who remember, above all, the salvation we have from Christ’s Passion, death, and resurrection. We must also be people who proclaim what we believe. We must confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, we must proclaim that Christ is our salvation, we must shout from every place where we find ourselves that God is faithful and just and that everyone who turns to God will be saved.
And then we have to live that way. We have to be the scrapbook. We have to be the photo album, we have to be the story that is told at the dinner table. Our actions can proclaim our faith in the Christ we remember. Our service to our brothers and sisters in need can shout to a world that needs to hear it that God has concern for the poor and the needy. Our very lives can be an anamnesis of the God who is our salvation, and of our Christ who pours out his life for us at every Eucharistic feast. We are a people called to remember and to proclaim that our God is faithful and alive in our midst.