Monday, November 25, 2013

Memory and Hope


                Scripture is replete with admonitions to remember what God has done. Indeed, the whole of the Bible can be called “memoirs”, in a sense, as Saint Justin Martyr referred to the Gospels.  Saint John of the Cross teaches that the theological virtue of hope perfects the memory (which he considered a separate faculty), just as faith perfects the intellect and love perfects the will. 

                The trouble is that we may have painful memories that pop into our heads, and can remain with us thus actually taking away our hope. Memory of a failed relationship can hinder us from entering into a new one.  Remembering a past difficulty that turned out badly can restrain us from trying the same kind of activity again. Pondering over an act of abuse from our past can return us to a place of weakness and rob today of its strength.  This may be one reason why the Lord inspired the Scriptures, so that we could, by reflecting upon them, store up memories of what He has done for those in trouble, so that we can draw strength from Him today.

                It is in this light that I reflect upon the 5th Joyful mystery, the finding in the Temple. How odd that of all the things that must have happened in the hidden life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph that this event was recorded for our reflection. It is obvious that Saint Luke makes a parallel between the loss, and finding, of Jesus to the three days leading up to the resurrection. It is significant that Jesus remained in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. I am sure that each time they went to the Holy City He was thinking of His coming mission of preaching, dying and rising again. (And, yes, I am convinced that He knew what was to take place in His future earthly life.) 

                And maybe the rest of His earthly life in the home of Joseph and Mary was simply quite ordinary, and nothing spectacular happened.  That in itself is “revelation”, for everyone has a more or less ordinary life, day to day things that were as common for the Holy Family as they are for us. They worked and prayed, had friends and family around, celebrated their faith and interacted with their community.  All of this in an atmosphere of grace.

                Yet for some reason, Mary told Luke this story of the loss and finding in the Temple, and he chose to include it in his Gospel.  It stuck in her mind all those years.  This means that she really did “keep it in her heart”, and reflected upon it.  It is one of those moments that she found, not odd, but mysterious, in the Biblical sense of the word.  There is no indication that Jesus ever took her aside and said, “Hey, mom, remember when you thought I was lost, and you found me in the Temple?  Well, this is the reason why.”  He spoke a word to her that day when He was twelve, and never explained what it meant. 

                Until Calvary.  The Virgin Mary, as with us, had to live a life of faith.  Her faith was greater than that of the rest of us combined.  Yet it was not vision until she was taken to heaven. God did not explain everything to her, as He does not explain everything to us, at least not as we might like or grasp at the time.  As she watched Him die on the cross, and then be buried, she would have certainly been considering her life with Him: the circumstances of His conception; His birth; their early trials, and the words of Simeon especially.  She also knew His teaching, that He would rise on the third day after being crucified. It is my considered opinion, dare I say, that her mind went back to that event 21 or so years before. 

                There is no evidence that she went to the tomb on Easter morning.  Why should she? As her Son told her, “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know I had to be about my Father’s business?”  That gentle, shall we say, rebuke, so mysterious, so seemingly out of character, was preparation for her so that she could face those days of darkness until the dawn of Easter.  She remembered her panic, sorrow and concern for her pre-teen child, and the calm way He replied to that worry and sorrow.  “I must be about my Father’s business.”  She found Him back then, and she would see Him again.

                Now that is all well and good for her, but what does it do for us, aside from perhaps gaining a new insight into that fifth joyful mystery, and its connection to the fifth sorrowful one?  God can do new things, and often does. Yet there is a way in which He is predictable, or rather, He follows the patterns that match His own Being and Nature.  He also made us a certain way, and still responds to the people of today as He guided and responded to the people of the Scriptures, including Our Lady. If this were not the case, then reading the Bible would only be a quaint exercise of perusing an ancient text, and not an encounter with the living and effective Word of God.

                When faced with a troubling event of today, it is entirely possible that the Lord spoke a word to us in the past that contains an answer for us now.  Something that was troubling in our past life that led to some sort of God-inspired resolution can contain the seed of the answer we need in this moment. Even events that still carry with them a twinge of remorse, regret, or even deep pain, may in fact hold a word of comfort that at the time made no sense, but answers a question we have about today’s current difficulty.

                It isn’t that we should bring up painful memories for the sake of bringing them up.  But in the face of a painful situation today, it may be of use to us think back and consider if we’ve experienced something even years ago that was similar, but worked its way through, even if incompletely in our minds. God was faithful in the past; He is faithful today.  He will be faithful tomorrow.  For Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.