“Never forget!” was a common cry that followed the horrific events of September 11, 2001 because, as human beings, we naturally recognize the power of remembering. We create holidays and set up memorials so that significant people and events who have made us what we are do not become lost to us. In the monastic tradition there are numerous ways in which the spirituality of remembering forms and shapes our lives in both obvious and subtle ways.
On the more obvious side of the spectrum, Benedictine monastics dedicate themselves to remembering Christ at all times. The disciplines of the monastic life are to bring us back to Christ the Lord because our slothful natures tend toward “forgetting” and sinful disobedience. (RB Prol.3) Celebrating the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours are communal ways that monks work at remembering Christ–his teachings, his life, his passion, death, and resurrection. Benedictine serve one another–in the kitchen, at table, in the Infirmary, in leadership roles and in carrying out menial chores inside, outside and around the monastery–in remembrance of Christ who came to serve and not to be served (RB 35). As Jesus washed the feet of his disciples (Jn 13:1-20), so we are to wash one another’s feet in various symbolic ways. Guests are received as Christ, especially the poor and pilgrims (RB 53). This kind of remembering is connected to the universal monastic practice of mindfulness that is found in other religious traditions. We remember our deceased community members annually on the date of each one’s death at Vespers. And, we often tell stories at meals, meetings and other gatherings to exercise our memories of a good life lived together for the glory of God.
On November 1st, the Church celebrates the feast of All Saints, which is followed by the Commemoration of All Souls on November 2nd. ‘Tis the season for remembering! In many churches and chapels the names of the faithful departed are remembered throughout the month of November. In some places cemeteries are decorated and blessed. And, as we reach the end of the calendar year, begin a new liturgical year, and are being thrust toward the “holiday season” as it is known in the United States, we have a unique opportunity this year to do our collective remembering a little bit differently. The coronavirus pandemic will not take a break so that we can celebrate the holidays in our usual way–“the way it ALWAYS has been done” some would argue. In our monastery, we are already making plans for an altered reality throughout the months ahead, which includes masks, social distancing, the absence of guests etc. However, we will remember what is essential through it all. We are grateful for the life and opportunities that have been given to us in this country. We will remember the first European pilgrims to this land and how the hospitality of the native peoples was crucial to the beginnings of this nation. We will remember throughout the Advent journey that God beckons us each day to live vigilantly–to be ready and awake for the Lord who comes in unexpected ways. We will remember that God-is-with-us in Emmanuel, the Light of the World who is the Light that no darkness can overcome. Decorations may be simpler, gift-giving may happen in alternative ways, travel to see relatives and friends may not happen at all, but the spirit of love, faith, and gratitude can celebrate in abundance when we remember what and why we are celebrating in the first place!
An unforgettable scene from the movie The Lion King is when the adolescent Simba looks at his own reflection in a pool of water and remembers his deceased father’s face. He hears the words inside himself in his father’s voice, “Remember who you are.” When remember who we are–who we truly are deep down in our souls–the inconveniences of the pandemic need not dull the brilliance of the light, the hope, and the love that we possess as gifts from a loving God, a God who holds us tenderly in the palm of his hand and promises never to forget us (Is 49).
By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB