March 3, 2017

The Face of Mercy / Daniel Conway

Memory is a grace that makes hope possible

“Hope: Looking to the future. Just as one cannot live a Christian life without memory of the steps taken, one cannot live a Christian life without looking to the future with hope.”
(Pope Francis, homily on Jan. 27, 2017)

Continuing one of his favorite themes—on the importance of “going forward in the faith,” and not letting ourselves get stuck in the here and now—Pope Francis tells us that “memory,” our ability to remember, is essential to moving forward on the journey of life. Memory is motivation. It is what compels us to keep going, and to be people who honor the past even as we look to the future with hope.

When we remember God’s goodness, his abundant gifts, we can be grateful. The pope says this is especially true when we recall “the memory of troubles in my life,” and “how the Lord has saved me from these troubles.” We cannot really understand the saving power of God unless we acknowledge the power of sin, and “the anguished trials” that men and women of faith have endured throughout past generations.

“Memory is a grace,” Pope Francis tells us. “Lord, may I not forget your presence in my life, may I not forget the good moments, also the ugly; the joys and the crosses.”

Even the memory of bad times is necessary if we are to avoid being paralyzed by inaction. Moments of suffering remind us not to settle for less than perfection—in our own lives and in the lives of others. We are called to search and strive for what is good and true without letting ourselves become satisfied with the minimum requirements of Christian life.

Pope Francis believes that a minimalist approach to Christian discipleship—keeping the commandments but not taking risks, not going the extra mile out of love for Christ and his people in need, can paralyze us. “It makes you forget so many graces received,” the pope says. “It takes away memory, it takes away hope, because it doesn’t allow you to go forward.”

“This is faintheartedness: this is the sin against memory, courage, patience, and hope,” the pope says.” May the Lord make us grow in memory, make us grow in hope, give us courage and patience each and free us from that which is faintheartedness, being afraid of everything.”

From the beginning of his pontificate, the pope from Argentina has urged us to “move beyond our comfort zones,” to go forward in faith and not hesitate to proclaim the Gospel in words and in action.

He has made a special point of challenging us to go to the “peripheries,” the margins of civil and Church society, where the saving action of Jesus Christ is needed most. The Holy Father has previously spoken out against “lazy Christians,” those of us who are too comfortable or set in our ways to be courageous in our words or actions on behalf of others.

“Hope: Looking to the future,” is what Pope Francis calls us to remember as we pray for the gift of memory to help us resist faintheartedness and apathy. “Just as one cannot live a Christian life without memory of the steps taken, one cannot live a Christian life without looking to the future with hope … of the encounter with the Lord,” the pope says. “He who wills to save his life will lose it,” Pope Francis reminds us.

The effort to save our lives—to be protected, comfortable and unconcerned with the trouble of others—will destroy us in the end. It will cause us to forget all the hopes and joys that come from living full, productive lives in imitation of Christ who gave everything to save us from our sins.

Memory is a gift from God. Remembering all that God has done for us—in good times and in bad—allows us to accept Christ’s invitation to follow him and to proclaim his Good News to the ends of the Earth.

“Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19, 1 Cor 11:24), the Lord commands us. Are we willing to listen and obey? Or have we become too comfortable, too frightened or too faint-hearted?

Memory is a grace that makes hope possible. Let’s pray for the grace to never forget the Lord’s goodness to us—or his great commission to proclaim the Gospel in our words and our actions throughout the whole world!
 

(Daniel Conway is a member of The Criterion’s editorial committee.)

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