During his last supper with his disciples, Jesus is concerned about what will happen to them when he leaves. As one theologian put it, “Jesus had the unmitigated gall to leave his friends, not once, but twice – first on Calvary and then when he ascended to his Father.” Jesus wants to form a community who will spread his message, but how can this happen when he is no longer around to support them? The answer is the Holy Spirit.
The main role of the Spirit will be as teacher, the teacher of truth, reminding the apostles of what the Lord said and did, so that they in turn can pass this on to the world. A key issue here is the role of memory in preaching the gospel, so we can say that the Holy Spirit is the keeper of the Church’s memory down through the ages. Why is memory so important?
Firstly, when we consider memory in the life of any individual, we recognise how central it is to who we are, our identity as human beings. We need only think of sad cases of people suffering from amnesia or dementia to understand how memory of past events combines to tell us who we are. To forget our past is to lose our identity. This is why we feel that dementia is a real tragedy for our loved ones, though (interestingly) it is the short-term memory that tends to go first, while the longer-term recollections remain relatively strong.
Secondly, memory is equally important for collective identity, the identity of groups such as families, nations, churches, even clubs. Groups, too, need to be able to remember past events that created their identity. Just think of walking into a golf club and seeing ornate boards on the walls with the names of past captains. This is the history of the club. Another word for this is its tradition. A country celebrates anniversaries of events which contributed to the identity of its people, though this can be controversial! What memories are important to recall and what ones should be let go?
Thirdly, since memory can be fragile and prone to error, it is vital that it be deliberately recalled and corroborated by the shared memories of others. This is especially important for religious groups whose history goes back thousands of years. The faith of today’s Christian depends on the faithful passing down of foundational memories going all the way back to the apostles. That truth is suggested in the second reading today, where the jewelled city sits on twelve foundation stones, representing the twelve apostles. Our faith is an apostolic one; we trust the memories of those who witnessed to the point of giving their lives.
One of the main ways in which Christians stimulate their memory is in the Eucharist, especially our Sunday Mass, which reminds us of the death and resurrection of our Lord. We come in response to the invitation of Jesus to “do this in memory of me.” We listen to those old memories of the early Christians in the readings hoping that they will come alive for us and inspire us as we go out into the world, nourished by God’s word and his body. Again, it is the Spirit who is deeply involved in this great act of memory. The priest invokes the Spirit over the gifts of bread and wine to change them into the body and blood of Christ and that same Spirit is prayed to for unity among the followers of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is constantly speaking to our hearts reminding us of what is truly important, God’s love for us and our love in return for God and neighbour.
One of the desert fathers, who went into the desert of Egypt to find God in solitude, took the words of St Paul about the love of money being the root of all evil and adapted it, saying “Forgetfulness is the root of all evil.” How true that is when we forget our loving God, our creator and redeemer and when we forget our responsibilities towards others and creation? We need to gather as a community to conscientiously remember – otherwise we are in danger of losing our identity as Christians. If forgetfulness is the root of all evil, then it makes sense to add that remembering is the root of all good.
Praise to the Spirit, the holy spirit of loving memory. Amen.