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At Mass this morning, our pastor spoke about the concept of memory and its importance in Scripture, leading up to that short and powerful prayer of the Good Thief, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) Ever the impish classroom instigator, during the Prayers of the Faithful I leaned forward and whispered to a friend’s high-school daughter “If God is eternally present, why does he need a memory?” I figured I would have some time to reflect on that before a discussion emerged on the church steps after mass.
This Sunday we celebrate the ultimate mystery. After celebrating throughout the year the mysteries of what God has done for us, we kneel in awe before the mystery of who God is. This year, it falls on the weekend when we remember those in the Armed Forces who gave their lives for our country.
Facing the bright-eyed teenager after mass, she told me that “remember” must mean something different for God and for us. In a way, when we ask God to remember us, we are asking Him to help us not to forget Him. We are asking Him to keep us in mind, so that his favor remains with us until we, too, can be remembered in his kingdom, as the Good Thief prayed.
God has instantaneous recall, since all is present to Him. And yet, Scripture says that He and some naughty students use similar mnemonic tactics, since He inscribed our names on the palm of his hands. (Isaiah 49:16)
Memorial Day was once “Decoration Day”. It was born from the tradition of decorating soldiers graves during and after the Civil War. The physical act of going to the graveyard was an act of devotion for those who, in President Lincoln’s words had given “the last full measure of devotion.”
But, just like our asking God to remember us, our remembering of fallen heroes is and must be an effort and a plea to ourselves never to forget.
Lincoln said very clearly that the purpose of dedicating a cemetery to the fallen at Gettysburg was to dedicate ourselves to the cause for which they had died. There was a task lying before us, namely “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The implication is clear. If we are not a nation under God, we won’t have a new birth of freedom. And such a government will perish from the earth.
Our God, in his mysterious identity, Pope John Paul taught us, is not a solitude but a family. He is a unity in trinity. He is a community, indeed, the source and model of every human community. He is a God that loved us so much that He sent Son to die for us. He is the first to die for our freedom. But it wasn’t just any definition of freedom. Christian freedom is the pinnacle of freedom.
As the Book of Wisdom says, “For when peaceful stillness encompassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent, Your all-powerful word from heaven’s royal throne leapt into the doomed land, a fierce warrior bearing the sharp sword of your inexorable decree, And alighted, and filled every place with death, and touched heaven, while standing upon the earth.” (Wisdom 18:14-16)
There are things in this world worth dying for. The Trinity on high was willing to die for us. Let us ask for the grace never to forget Him.
Let us also honor and pray for those who gave their lives in order that we might be free. And let us defend the freedom that they died for, and not its counterfeits.