Director, La Salette Shrine
I wonder how long I will be remembered after I die. I wonder, too, what I will be remembered for. Shakespeare wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
What would you like to be remembered for? What do you think you will actually be remembered for? You might have to write your memoirs to ensure that the answer to both questions is the same.
What will guarantee that remembrance? Photos? Mementos? The day will surely come when someone will look at those pictures and say, “They should have written the names on the back.” And the mementos will end up in a box and someone for whom they no longer have meaning will one day discard them.
A monument would be nice!
The Statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial was sculpted by Daniel Chester French. It’s a “memorial” precisely because it guarantees that Lincoln’s memory will live on; but where is Daniel Chester French’s memorial? Actually, his memorial is... that same statue of Lincoln! It’s his greatest achievement, for which he will be forever remembered.
There are different ways, of course, to make your mark. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, for example, will certainly never be forgotten.
Neither will Florence Nightingale or Rosa Parks, but for totally different reasons.
In today’s Old Testament reading, Moses’ first word is “Remember,” which he repeats a few verses later with the negative phrase, “Do not forget.” The saving acts of God on behalf of his people were not to be taken lightly. The Passover and many other festivals were meant precisely to keep the memory of them alive.
Jesus did not want to be forgotten. So he “left us a memorial,” as we heard in the opening prayer of today’s Mass. The memorial Jesus left us is unique, because it doesn’t point only to the past. It’s much more than a reminder. In it we believe that he is actually present among us. We believe that he gives himself to us, truly, as food and drink. As St. Paul reminds us, “The cup of blessing that we bless is a participation in the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a participation in the body of Christ.”
“Do this in memory of me.” These are the words that conclude the Consecration of the Bread and Wine, taken from St. Luke’s and St. Paul’s accounts of what Jesus did at the Last Supper. They are a command, but they can also be taken as a plea, a solemn request, that we never forget him. On the eve of his death, he gave us something to remember him by. He wanted to be remembered for his gift of self.
The memorial is the Sacrament. The memory, however, resides in the whole Church, which passes on the story and the teaching of Jesus from generation to generation. Every time we share in the memorial, our memory is refreshed.
In the Eucharist, however, the concept of “memorial” is turned upside down. Listen again to Jesus’ words: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” Instead of just keeping someone’s memory alive, this memorial actually gives life—and eternal life, at that—to those who engage in the act of remembering.
Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem with the recurring refrain:
Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget.
From a Catholic perspective, that prayer is answered perfectly in the Eucharist!