Friday, July 23, 2010


[Thoughts triggered by the title of a book by Pope John Paul II]

The old saying that you don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you came from is true enough. We need the trajectory of our lives to be traced out to see where we’re aimed. Kant insisted that the fundamental questions of life were “Who are you?” “Where did you come from?” and “Where are you going?” These answers do not have to have “cosmic” implications to be important.

Without the kind of memory that tells us where we are from we don’t know, really, who we are—right here, right now. A powerful clue into the answer of the question “Who are you?” is the answer to the question “What do you remember?” Tell me your answer to the latter, and I’ll tell you your answer to the former.

Memories are powerful and slippery things: mysterious in their nature because so often the memories are shadows (sometimes distortions) of actual events. But because the memories are real for us, they are more important than the actual events themselves.

It is said that 2/3 of our mental activity is unconscious. Of that activity, most is made up of memories—typically of persons and times when (as we believe) we have either loved or refused to love; when we were either loved or not loved. I know one person especially who believes that the most devastating part of his relationship with his (now deceased) Father is that he has no memory of ever being told “I love you” by him…

While in the seminary, at the request of my sister, I wrote a series of essays for her daughter (my niece), describing the “old neighborhood” and its personalities—the experiences we had as kids growing up in an inner city area of Chicago. My sister wanted her to know, and she reckoned I’d have memories she didn’t share. My Mom, before she died, wrote a similar set of essays describing her own upbringing in the Depression. As kids we could never have guessed the experiences she had. I wish (like the person in the paragraph above) that I had a similar set of memoirs from my Dad. I do recall one night in an uncle’s house when Dad and the family had had a few drinks and started telling the stories of the “old neighborhood” (we grew up in the same house my Dad and uncles/aunts did)—and how I wish I’d had a tape recorder for that session!

This is true for nations; it is true for the Church. It is a great loss that heritage (read: traditions; read: lived memories) is waning. After all, the essence of Eucharist is that it is a memorial (a remembrance) of the Lord’s redemptive gift of self to us. It’s why we proclaim the “Memorial Acclamation”—the Mystery of Faith.
So much more can be said on this topic; I must stop. I can only conclude with the words of the great philosophers Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: teach your children. Help them (and yourselves) to remember. Know where you came from, so you can know who you are and where you are going. And I hope you will soon sing in church Marty Haugen's contemporary hymn, We Remember.

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