Remembrance – Pastor’s Reflection
This letter comes to you from 2015. It has come back to perform several tasks. First, it is relieving a tired-after-HolyWeek-mind that cannot come up with something new. Second, it introduces a project of reflecting on the Gospels of the Easter Season which I hope will be timely for this pandemic. Finally it captures the spirit of a less burdened time. We will need to tap into this optimism when it is time to emerge.
Some moments possess enduring power. It took three minutes for the Provincial and two helpers to clothe me with the Dominican habit, but 27 years later my “vestition” remains a live event. I grapple with what it means, and new implications still emerge to startle me out of complacency. We could all look at Holy Week through the same lens. All kinds of preparation flows into several episodes of liturgical intensity; the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Liturgy of the Passion, and the Easter Vigil. On the pages of the Missal they seem endless, yet in the experience they are but moments. Given their concentrated nature, they too have the potential to remain alive in our hearts, or they can be forgotten in waves of relief and in the thrills of Spring. The post communion prayer of this Sunday’s Mass makes a direct appeal on this point: “Grant, we pray, almighty God, that our reception of this paschal Sacrament, may have a continuing effect in our minds and hearts.” As always, liturgy and life pose similar challenges and offer similar rewards. Both insist on the work of remembrance.
The well-lived life demands the intentional use of memory. The time I spend with the question, “what happened to me?” turns out to be a crucial investment that pays me back with self-awareness and closeness to God. Early on in the Church’s life catechists taught the newly baptized through systematic reflection on the events of their initiation. Indeed, during this Easter Week, we who celebrate the “Liturgy of the Hours” read from The Jerusalem Catechesis. This Fourth Century masterpiece keeps the Neophytes right on task. “You were led down to the font of holy baptism just as Christ was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb.” (From the Matins of Easter Thursday) St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who delivered these lectures, wants his charges to review a spiritually charged event and begin to pull additional layers of meaning out of it. The new Christians need to grasp baptism not as a past event, but as the beginning of God’s work of conversion. Remembering the event will connect them with its present effects.
I think this is how we generally perceive things. Most of us do not get the full meaning of events and situations as they happen. Only over time do we fully receive them, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. Of course, we can only plumb the happenings of our lives if we were present to them in the first place. To get this point, watch people with cameras. Some use the camera to enter into what they behold, and they produce pictures pregnant with insight. For others, picture-taking offers a way to record events without entering into their intensity. When I toured Europe, I felt sad to watch people taking dozens of pictures of a chateau or a church, and never take in a word the guide said about them. They will have a record, but not a memory.
If allowed, the human senses and the human mind work together to register things in a way that unpacks their complexity over time. God’s grace builds on the work of natural memory, so that our liturgical encounters with him disclose layers of meaning. The Holy Week Liturgies offer much to preoccupy us at the surface. Their music, decor, choreography, and vesture provide all the elements of ceremonial and we can immerse ourselves in the quality of their execution. But in the economy of grace those same factors combine to reveal the risen Lord organizing, healing, and transforming His people.
For example, this year’s Holy Week was ceremonially enriched by the corps of servers we have developed over the last two years. At the surface, the liturgies pleased because the servers endowed them with more completeness and elegance. Yet, as I look back, the serenity of their presence revealed something deeper: they have become a group, and to a large extent they organize their tasks and cover for each other. This makes for a gracious ceremony, but it also reveals the reality of Christ continually forming the Church in our midst. Indeed, all of Holy Week reveals itself to my memory as an interplay of groups; servers, Lectors, Ministers of Holy Communion, Collectors, the Choir, and Friars. To these are joined the Witnesses to faith who spoke at the Seven Last Words, and members of Social Concerns Committee who tended the icon of the Dead Jesus, the Epitaphios, on Good Friday Evening. The solidarity of each group, and its connection with the whole makes these rituals work at the level of the Spirit, which is why their beauty stays in the mind. At the deepest level these liturgies are Pentecost, souls being gathered from all over made into a beautiful new whole.
For each of us the Fifty Days of Easter bring an opportunity for mystagogy, exploring through memory the implications of the sacraments in our lives. The Gospels place us intimately with the Risen Lord in the Upper Room, or on the road to Emmaus, and He asks, “Do you perceive the meaning?” What does it mean that I receive the Eucharist each day? What does it mean that I am gathered with you in the Church? What does it mean that I have been given a set of gifts and deficits to deal with in relation to the set you have received? What does it mean that I profess Jesus to be alive and with God in heavenly places? Answering these questions is the work of a lifetime, but brings fresh results each Easter. So now, consider if you will the Collect (Opening Prayer) for this day.
God of everlasting mercy./ who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast/ kindle the faith of the people you have made your own,/ increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed,/ that all may grasp and rightly understand/ in what font they have been washed,/ by whose Spirit they have been reborn,/ by whose blood they have been redeemed.
Each Easter, so the prayer says, we are called to perceive, with more love and less fear, that God has made us His own. The implications of this truth give a shape to life we can explore through this whole Paschal Season.
Published in our bulletin April 19, 2020