Sacramentum explores the sacraments of the Catholic Church – the depths of their meaning, history, and, above all, the impact they have on each of us in our daily faith lives. In this reflection, Fr. Emmanuel Ekanem of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis reflects on the power of memory and the role remembrance plays in the celebration of the sacraments and the graces we receive from them.
Life is full of sacred memories.
November, the month of REMEMBRANCE is special. For the entire month, we recall our loved ones – family, friends – who have gone before us, and we reflect on the ways they were part of our lives. We offer prayers for them in a distinct way in this month. We also call to mind the men and women who gave and continue to give their lives in world conflicts. We have memories, some are unforgettable and timeless. Some memories are sweet, pleasant, heartbreaking and painful. We remember names, persons, numbers, places, faces, things, stories and events. “Lest we forget” is a common phrase we see and hear at this time of year. Whether young or old, we collect many memories which cause us to smile, to laugh, or to cry. Thus, memory is God’s gift.
Scientists tells us that the average adult memory has the capacity to store 2.5 million gigabytes of information. It’s amazing to know the limitless information that the human brain can store and remember. God fashioned us with a memory to treasure the beauty of our being and his creation. For this reason, Scripture tells us that the memory of the righteous is a blessing… (Proverbs 10:7). We are able to call to mind certain things, reflect on them, pray, discern and make decisions that align our steps toward God. Even if you forget or cannot remember some things, we call on the Holy Spirit – “He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26).
With the gift of memory, we have freedom to choose what to take in and what to discard. What we store and remember has the capacity to affect us positively or negatively.
It is not everything that happens in our lives that we keep. The human memory is not a robot magnet that takes everything flying around. Some events will occur and we sparsely remember them, and other things will happen, but we replay them over and over. For instance, my mother remembers my birth story vividly. It was the second twin birth for her, and telling the story brings up a multitude of feelings. The details in her narration render me speechless every time I recall them.
As someone said, “Memory is the diary that we all carry with us.” A friend shared a life-changing sacramental memory, a testimony to learn from. He explained how frequent devotion to Eucharistic adoration turned out to be a sacramental therapy for overcoming pornography addiction. For over twenty years, his visual memories were filled with inappropriate images from the web. This affected his life and relationships for years. Websites blockers alone were not enough. He needed something divine to replace or rewire his mindset. His biggest challenge was how to stop the tons of visual images flooding and resurfacing in his mind uninvited.
In addition to the psychological supports for the addiction, the picture of Blessed Carlo Acutis with the logo of the Eucharist at the center inspired him to visit the Blessed Sacrament bi-weekly. He was consistent with his visits, and occasionally participated at online Eucharistic Adoration to heal his memory defected by pornography. He did this for months, though it came with falls and discouraging moments. But his persistence saw him through – constantly praying and focusing on Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
This helped him over time to overcome the possessive pornographic images that tormented him for over two decades. As a sacramental discipline, this picture became a bookmarker, a wallpaper for his phone and iPad. Also, a scriptural phrase that inspired him through this healing is “Do this in memory of Me.”
Jesus and his disciples had significant moments – the four Gospels recall those treasured moments. One significant event which must have become a treasured memory was that evening meal Jesus and the Apostles shared. As Jesus passed the bread to them, He also spoke these words, “Do this in memory of Me” (Luke 22:19). This was not only an invitation but also a mandate to keep alive the memory of this event. When Jesus expressed these words, His disciples may not have fully comprehended what Jesus was saying to them. After all, they were celebrating Passover! But this Passover was different. This was to be the final Passover with Jesus very present to them. As we read this account in the Gospel of John, Jesus had chosen these ordinary men to go forth and spread the Kingdom of God. For the apostles, they would experience suffering, rejection, even death. Yet out of love and faith in the Master, they would “do” this in “memory” of Him.
For over 2000 years, we have continued to hear the phrase “Do this in memory of Me” prayed at every celebration of the Holy Mass. We need only witness these words spoken and gaze at the crucifix and “remember” – call to mind – the greatest of all sacrifices. This act of love can be a source of inspiration for us to “do” likewise. Granted we may never suffer the blows which Jesus underwent. We may experience what seems unsurmountable at times. We can be overwhelmed and overpowered, but we are never alone! Jesus is with us.
The apostles, too, must have felt lost and empty without their Master. However, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, they were enflamed with the fire of God’s love. They remembered the promise Jesus had given – John 16:12. With love and courage, they would carry out the spreading of the Good News. Today, we are the recipients of this mandate. It is now our turn, as followers of Jesus and His teaching, to reach out in love to all, especially to those who may experience the lack of love in their lives: to the broken, to the forgotten. A smile, a touch, a listening ear, a thoughtful gesture are but only a few ways to enflesh the invitation of Jesus to “Do this in memory of Me”.
Each encounter with the Sacraments is a memory to cherish. Following the example of Mary, who “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), let us go forth and walk the path of the Sacraments – storing and treasuring life-changing memories for our self and others. Keep in mind, we are not alone. Jesus journeys with us as He promised, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Then, in turn, with love and courage we can follow through in fulfilling His mandate – DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME.