However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children. (Deut 4:9)
Recalling why you do things helps you do things better. We do things for a reason. Recollecting what that reason is affords us a metaphorical target to shoot at. This is why organizations write mission statements and put them everywhere imaginable. Mission statements define why an organization exists. By recalling that mission statement, an organization’s members can corral their decisions to further this common end and avoid myopic decisions that undermine the very reason that organization exists.
An individual does this with photos and other reminders of those whom he loves. They are a way to make his loved ones present to him when he is not with them. They are a source of comfort, because they remind him of who he is and why he does what he does. He is the same person away from them as he is with them. These reminders can also help him to avoid myopic decisions that harm his relationships by keeping those relationships ever present in his mind. In difficulties and trials, the reminders afford him energy to persevere. They keep him from chasing excessively after excitements and successes that would distance himself from those loved ones.
It is in this vein that, in the first reading of today’s Mass, God commands the Israelites—and us—not to forget anything they had seen him do for them. Do not “let them slip from your memory” (Deut 4:9). By remembering all God had done for them, the Israelites would remember their covenant with God and God’s love for them. They would remember that they were God’s chosen people and therefore unlike any other nation. It is in this way that they could maintain their covenant with him. By deliberately reminding themselves what God had done for them, they would be keen not to sever their relationship with him.
So it is with us. Throughout our daily lives, we can and ought always to keep God present with us. Through prayer and devotions, we recall who God is to us and what he’s done for us. We recall his work through salvation history, especially in Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. We recall moments of grace in our individual lives where God has shown us his love.
Prior to the events in today’s reading, God had commanded the Israelites to celebrate Passover as a “day of remembrance.” References to this active memory are widespread throughout scripture. The book of Exodus recounts that before calling Moses, God himself “remembered his covenant” (Exod 2:24; 3:15). In instituting the Eucharist, Christ commanded his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19). God avails himself to those who bring him to mind. He is truly present in that supreme memorial of his Passion, the Eucharist.
Lent is a particularly opportune time in which to practice this “remembering.” It is a time where we can use the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to recall our sins and remember God’s great mercy. It is a time to avail ourselves of the sacraments that apply Christ’s Passion to each of us. It is a time to grow closer to Christ particularly in the Eucharist, the true presence of Christ and spiritual nourishment during our sojourn on earth.
Image: Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, King Josiah