Good Zeal

We Remember Them

Book of Remembrance in SHM chapelThe month of November is traditionally the time for the whole Catholic community to remember and pray for our deceased loved ones, those whose loss we feel most deeply. As the trees shed their autumn leaves, the days grow shorter and the air crisper, I find myself remembering my dad who died six years ago, my cousin Antionette who died only a few months ago, and each of the Sisters in our cemetery, especially those I’ve known personally over my years in the Community. As a Community tradition on All Souls’ Day, November 2, we Sisters process to the monastery cemetery, pray Vespers together and remember by name each of the Sisters and lay persons who is buried there.

There is a power in remembering. To remember is not only to bring loved ones to mind, it is a call to act in their memory and embody the impact they have had upon us. To remember is to embrace both the strengths and the limitations of those who have died by nurturing our own strengths and addressing our own shortcomings. “Memory,” says Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate, “not only honors those we’ve lost but also gives us strength. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history. No commandment figures so frequently, so insistently, in the Bible. After all, God is God because God remembers.”

Wiesel would have us understand that biblical remembering is not only an activity of the mind or a dwelling on the past, but involves taking the actions inspired by that memory. To forget is not a mental lapse but a failure to act. When the Psalmist complains, “Has God forgotten to be gracious?” (Ps. 77:9), he isn’t asking if God has been distracted lately. He is asking why God has not acted graciously to save them. When God remembers, God acts.

Our faith is rooted in remembering. From earliest times Jews have remembered Passover and Christians have gathered to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection. When Christians gather to break bread and share the cup of wine in Jesus’ memory, it is more than a memorial of a past event. The very act of remembrance makes Jesus real and present, and requires a response on our part, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19).

To remember Jesus is a call to action, a call to live his dying and rising in our own lives in a real way. Recalling his memory means to participate in his Paschal Mystery as an ever-present reality, and to act day by day in accord with that memory. Remembering helps us make meaning with our lives and sustains us with hope that one day we and all our loved ones will be re-united around the banquet table in the Heavenly Jerusalem.

In these November days, I frequently use a beautiful Jewish prayer found in the Gates of Prayer: The New Union Prayer Book, written by Rabbi Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer. I offer it to anyone who is grieving:

A Litany of Remembrance
In the rising of the sun and in its going down, We remember them.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, We remember them.
In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring, We remember them.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, We remember them.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn, We remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends, We remember them.
For long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength, We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart, We remember them.
When we have joys we yearn to share, We remember them.
When we have achievements that are based upon theirs, We remember them.
For long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.

By Sister Madeline Contorno, OSB

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