Miriam Hogan, O.C.D.
Lent and Easter are especially good times to remember the kindnesses done to us in the past. First of all we are reminded to focus upon the Gospels and the Life/Death/Resurrection of Jesus. Then, we can also ask about our own understanding and growth in our relationship to Jesus in the past and in the present. Further, we can remember those people that have helped us in the past and to whom we owe a special debt of gratitude.
This third point became clearer to me recently, as we were discussing the movie on the Passion produced by Mel Gibson. In this context I was drawn to remember how much my own Irish Catholic family was helped by a certain Jewish man.
Even More Amazing
The story is that Joe appeared at the door, one day out of nowhere and expressed a desire to help my parents. When they asked, “Why?” he explained, that my grandfather many years ago had taught him how to butcher. In order to understand the impact of such a statement one needs to know that my father was only six years old when my grandfather was admitted to the State institution where he later died of a brain tumor. So just the fact that somebody knew his father was amazing. That Joe would like to do something to show his gratitude for a favor done in a previous generation was even more amazing.
Yet, Joe insisted that he wanted to help our family. As he talked, it became gradually apparent that such a desire arose from a deep religious conviction. My grandfather had helped him learn a trade when as a young man he first came into a strange country. Now that he was a respected businessman and owned the best butcher shop in town, he wanted to repay the favor. Thus began a friendship, which continued for more than twenty years.
At the time Joe first met us, my father had just returned from the War (WWII). Also, my parents had bought a farm and were beginning to raise the family they so much desired. Every week, Joe would go up to the wholesale market about twenty miles away. Before going he would ask my mother what she needed in the way of meat. He knew what was the best meat available for the best price. Then, he would bring back whatever my mother asked for at the wholesale price that he had paid. Such a wonderful gift! Always, as we were growing up, there was a ham for Easter, and a turkey for Thanksgiving as well as special meat for Christmas. As time went by, the family grew to include 13 children. Funds were often tight, but somehow Joe always found a way to make it possible to provide us with meat.
Now, when people talk about “the Jews,” I cannot help but recall with gratitude the deep friendship that developed between our family and Joe's family.
One could ask however, “What does this true family story have to do with your religious life today?” As I reflected further upon this subject, the first thing that became clear was that it is easy for me to pray for our Jewish brothers and sisters. We had learned as children to appreciate Joe's Jewish Faith as well as his goodness to us.
Secondly, this caused me to be more fully aware of the power that is present in our ability to remember. We know that we can choose our memories. Then, we can also focus on remembering the good and making it present in our lives again.1 This kind of activity brings us very close to what it means to pray with one's whole mind and heart. While such an activity on our part is just on the natural level, it can also be for us a foreshadowing of the supernatural mystery of the Eucharist where we celebrate Christ's love in liturgy and hear the words of Christ, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)
Remembering The Goodness Of Others
Now, of course, in the Eucharist, we are mindful of a unique mystery and a real presence that can only be dimly perceived in our other experiences. Yet, I think that in accepting and remembering the inherit goodness of others, we can also grow in appreciating the ongoing sacred mystery of the Mass in our lives today.
Finally,2 no matter what one thinks about Gibson's artistic portrayal of the Passion, we can be grateful for the Eucharistic implications in the movie. With the psalmist we pray: “Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.” (Psalm 25:6)
1This kind of prayerful remembering can be a wonderful consolation when we are sick, disabled or even imprisoned. For example, in his book, Man's Search For Meaning, Victor Frankl describes how it was the memory of his wife's love that kept him going in the extremely difficult circumstances of a German concentration camp. Further, when one is very sick there is little that one can do even in the way of prayer. However, one can call to mind the goodness of a loved one (whether they are dead or alive, it doesn't matter) and such an activity often provides both strength and comfort. Here, I would argue that when we get in touch with human love, we are also very much in touch with God's love which is the beginning of contemplative prayer.
2In order to trace just a few of the many references to remembering in the Old and New Testaments we would have to write a book or a much longer article. The bottom line, today, is that when we discuss our various faith communities, and our lived experience of sharing with those of other traditions, there are some stories that just need to be told.