The Memory of God

(Homily Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B)

If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand be forgotten!
May my tongue cleave to my palate
if I remember you not. (Ps. 137:5-6)

The Bible often speaks about remembering. We are urged to remember our Maker and we ask him to remember his people. Today's psalm, written during the Babylonian exile, encourages the Israelites to remember the holy city of Jerusalem. It is another way of saying, Remember God.

St. Augustine, in his work On the Trinity, wrote about memoria Dei (remembrance of God). Before we can know and love God we must first remember Him. We are like people who once belonged to a beautiful, sunny kingdom. Venturing out in a small craft we got blown off course and wound up in a land barren and cold. At first we kept alive the memory of our former kingdom, especially its wise, gentle ruler. As time passed the image grew dull and we lost track of where we had come from. Our hearts began to cool; courtesy and respect disappeared. The talk about getting back home seemed sentimental, even irritating; instead we found ourselves struggling for a greater share of the rock pile. But no matter how much we possessed we could never be happy because deep inside was the memory of our true king.

Some people consider that kind of memory a cruel twist - better to self medicate it with drink or work or sex or TV or solitaire or... But St. Augustine did not think so. For him what matters most is that a man remembers God. His words, which are really a development of a rich biblical theme, are more important to us than ever before. We live in a secular culture where people have not so much stopped believing in God as thinking about him. But still something does stir inside us when we remember him.

I saw an example of this several months ago. A couple of young nuns came to visit me here at the parish. Since I did not have any lunch handy, I invited them to a nearby restaurant. As we walked thru the business district of White Center, I could see heads turning. It was not that there weren't other nice looking young ladies or even strangely dressed ones. There was something about the veil those sisters were wearing. They were calling attention not to themselves, but to the Bridegroom. Some weeks later I ran into a lady who confessed to me, "I am not a Catholic, but I saw those sisters the other day who were with you. I just felt something good inside of me."

We go thru this life in a fog, like a person trying to remember something important, but just can't bring it back. The simplest incident - like seeing those sisters on the sidewalk - can jog our memory. C.S. Lewis described how hearing about a certain character in Norse mythology filled him with a longing he could not explain. It is possible to put such an experience aside and to "get on with things." Or to think that because it cannot be replicated - as in a scientific study - it is therefore unreal. But to suppress it, to pretend that it never happened is the worst folly. If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten.

Last week we had a beautiful opportunity to remember God. It was hard not to be aware of Pope John Paul's visit to the Holy Land. For me two moments were most powerful: In Jerusalem when a holocaust survivor told about the young priest who carried her to safety.* Whether the priest was actually the future pope as she maintained, it summed up the Holy Father's desire to embrace and offer to God the terrible sufferings of Jewish brothers and sisters. The second was during the Mass at Manger Square in Bethlehem. After the pope finished his homily, the loud speakers on the mosque announced the Moslem call to prayer. The pope and the entire congregation paused. You could see the intense prayer on the Holy Father's face. This was true, deep ecumenism - the only way to bring unity to mankind and to each individual: Memoria Dei. Remembrance of God.

Now, I don't want to leave you with the impression we get saved by some kind of mental effort - like racking your brain trying to remember where you left the keys. Jesus makes clear today that our salvation does not depend ultimately on our own effort: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son..." (Jn 3:16) We are saved not so much because we pursue God; our efforts are too feeble, too ambiguous. Rather we are saved because God pursues us, going to enormous lengths to bring us to our true senses.

Here is a rough comparison: When I realize, Oh, no, I've lost my keys! I usually spend a few minutes in frantic (and futile) search. But then I calm down, say a prayer (in my case, "St. Anthony, help me find those keys.") and often at that very moment, God brings back my memory. When all is said and done, we can only remember God because he remembers us.



From the Archives:

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2012: Everthing Matters - Except Everything
2009: The Beauty of Humility
2006: A Passion Which Transforms
2003: No Refuge from the Love of God
2000: The Memory of God

Year A (RCIA):
Small Gesture with Enormous Promise (2008)
Seeing and Knowing (2005)
Men Who Went Blind (2002)
Fatal Blindness (1999)

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Letter to Parishioners

American Bishops' Overseas Appeal

SMV Bulletin

Parish Picture Album

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