The Christian faith and life are about remembering. In Holy Week and Easter the command to ‘remember’ is repeated before and after the Lord’s crucifixion. On the way into Jerusalem Jesus is frustrated with the disciples because they could not remember what he taught them about the destiny of the Son of Man: ‘Do you not remember’ is an oft-repeated phrase. On Maundy Thursday he opens a way for the past and the present to unite in the Eucharist, and after the resurrection the women and the Apostles are prompted ‘to remember what he said while he was still with you’.
In our life we go ‘forward in faith’, because we cannot see how God will act in the future. But we can see how he has acted in the past. That is why remembering and reflection on memory is such an important part of Christian prayer. In his famous prayer of dedication ‘ Take Lord and receive’, Ignatius of Loyola prays that God will first ‘take my memory’. This month the Church, through the liturgical year, remembers the great events of salvation history and in the Triduum ignites the memory in action, words and music. In this corporate remembering we find renewal of faith and purpose to move forward into the future.
The same can be true on an individual level. We all have our own ‘faith history’: it is a very good spiritual exercise to recall how we have responded to God’s call in our life. Remembering enables each of us to renew the thankfulness for all the gifts of his grace. We may see with fresh understanding how ‘ God works for good in all things for those who love him.’ In remembering we can live in the present and look to the future with renewed hope. Remembering teaches us that ‘the one who calls you is faithful.’ Remembering returns us to a point of balance in our relationship with God: we come to know that God is indeed at work in and through us, not because of what we do, but despite our dullness of understanding and coolness of faith. This was true for the Apostles and is surely true for us.
Remembering can be a valuable part of our daily prayer. The exercise which is widely called the ‘examen’ or the ‘examination of consciousness’ is a simple exercise of memory. It is based on the simple assumption that God is at work in our lives, calling us in every moment. The experience of daily life is our chief resource in knowing God. The examen is a careful and prayerful recollection of the past day or part of a day. It is a simple asking of the Lord to reveal where and how in that time I have responded to his call to love him and my neighbour, and where I have not; to remember where I have not been thankful or where I have not turned my heart to prayer for another; to discern where I need grace in the future and to be penitent about where I have fallen short. By these little steps of remembering God can lead us forward to be more faithful in the future.
Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House