Forgetfulness – Or Memory and Faith Part II

I wrote a post a little while ago on Memory and Faith and I’ve found this theme appearing again and again.

My school, being the awesome place it is, had a retreat for all of the faculty at St. Mother Cabrini shrine. Even though it was only for one day, it was one of the best retreats I have ever experienced.

The speaker, a Franciscan graduate (and I confess, I am always a bit wary of Franciscan ‘charismatic’ spirituality – not because it is bad but because sometimes it makes my reserved, New England self a bit uncomfortable) did a fantastic job. He said many things that stood out to me, but the one I’ve been thinking most about is this: that sin is more often than not a matter of forgetfulness, and faith is a matter of remembering.


Wouldn’t Socrates be pleased? He similarly seemed to think that “sin” was often the result of lack of knowledge, or ignorance, or I suppose the sort of momentary ignorance that comes from forgetfulness. Didn’t he go so far as to say that “the only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance” ?

Yet I, and many other Christians, take issue with this because we know that sin is primarily an act of the will. An action is sinful precisely because we DO have knowledge of the good and yet we reject it.

Moreover, that whole “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” thing…

But our retreat speaker insisted that sin very often results from forgetting what we know – or what we ought to know. For example, Eve did not eat the fruit of the tree because she thought to herself, “I hate you God and I deliberately reject you and your rules” — but rather because she had turned her back on all of the other beautiful fruit trees in the garden and forgot God’s generosity. She was completely absorbed in how “ the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom” (Genesis 3:6). She forgot who God really is, and so she chose herself instead.

And how many times do the prophets in the Old Testament tell the Israelites to remember! “Remember how I brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Remember all of these ways that I showed you that I love you.

And how much of the Jewish faith is tied up in memory? The Passover, Hannukah, Tabernacles.

And what does Christ say at the last meal He shares with his disciples before He dies? What does He ask them to do? “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:25). Remember me! Don’t forget me!

And, sitting there, I realized I am one of the most forgetful people ever. How many times do I forget what God has done for me? In all of my anxiety about choices I need to make, I forget how He has been there for me in all of the difficult decisions I had to make in the past. Choosing the University of Dallas was a very tough decision for me, and not a decision that “felt really good” at the time. Choosing to do ACE was very similar. (“What did you say? Where in the world is Plaquemine!?”) Even choosing to move here to Denver was another stumbling into the dark… “Why are you moving to Denver? Do you have family there?” “Uh, no, but… well… it kind of seems like a good idea…”

And yet God was there for me in that uncertainty. He is here for me now and will be in all of my decisions.

So often, the reason we sin, and make bad decisions, is because we forget who God is. We forget how generous He is. We forget everything He has done for us, and out of fear and forgetfulness we choose ourselves.

I see this EVERY day when I teach.

I mean, really. So much of being a good student is just about remembering stuff! Remember to do your homework, remember to study, remember to turn in that paper, remember these due dates. And although laziness can be a big factor in doing poorly in school, I think forgetfulness is often the bigger culprit. Students are distracted. They forget what their chief vocation is. They forget what God is asking them to do. They forget that doing their school work actually MATTERS – not just in terms of grades and college, but in terms of what God wants – He wants us to do whatever task is set before us to the very best of our ability. Doing our “jobs” — in their case, being a student — glorifies Him.

So we are all high school students. We are those kids who forget to do the most basic things. “Uh, Ms. Shea, I forgot my pencil. Can I go to my locker and…?” or “Ms. Shea, I totally forgot we had a quiz today…” “What? That stuff was written on the board?” “Wait… we had to read that last night?” “Ah Ms Shea I’m so sorry, I forgot to come at lunch today to make up that test!”

I had a great conversation yesterday on the phone with one of my dearest friends from UD about this as well. In Lumen Fidei, the Pope emphasizes how much faith is tied up in memory:

Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time. On the one hand, it is a light coming from the past, the light of the foundational memory of the life of Jesus which revealed his perfectly trustworthy love, a love capable of triumphing over death. (Lumen Fidei, 4)

As a response to a word which preceded it, Abraham’s faith would always be an act of remembrance. Yet this remembrance is not fixed on past events but, as the memory of a promise, it becomes capable of opening up the future, shedding light on the path to be taken. We see how faith, as remembrance of the future, memoria futuri, is thus closely bound up with hope. (Ibid, 9)

In this regard, though, we can speak of a massive amnesia in our contemporary world. The question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path. (Ibid, 25)

So, so true. We all suffer from “a massive amnesia.” We forget who we are and who God is — and it is this forgetfulness, this inattentiveness, this distraction, that leads to sin.

As an English teacher, a lover of words, I particularly love this section of the encyclical:

Language itself, the words by which we make sense of our lives and the world around us, comes to us from others, preserved in the living memory of others. Self-knowledge is only possible when we share in a greater memory. The same thing holds true for faith, which brings human understanding to its fullness. Faith’s past, that act of Jesus’ love which brought new life to the world, comes down to us through the memory of others — witnesses — and is kept alive in that one remembering subject which is the Church. (Ibid, 38)

And John tells us that Jesus IS “THE Word,” the Logos. He IS the Word that we need to remember, and repeat, and tell to ourselves and to each other over and over again. As Pope Francis indicates, this is indeed what the Church does, and what Tradition really means. Scripture is part of the Living Tradition of the Church, Her very memory, which has been passed on from the apostles to us. That’s why Paul says,

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,k that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread,24and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”25In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”l26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

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