Memorial of the Eucharist

Our memory of Jesus strengthens our personal identity

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What a difference it would make if we continually remembered that Eucharist is rooted in memory. Reflecting on the familiar words of the institution one day, I kept hearing Jesus say, “Do this in memory of me.” It reminded me of a movie I once saw. The mom was diagnosed with a terminal illness. What sustained her through that journey was creating a tangible object for each of her children that would invoke memories of their relationship. She wanted so desperately for them to remember her love.

I thought, God does not need anything. He is all in all. So, if remembering is not something God needs, it must be something we need. Jesus was telling us that remembering was not for his benefit. We need to remember him.

Often, we connect memory with its functional attributes. It seems that it becomes more valuable when we are losing it. Where did I leave my car keys, my glasses, my car? Oh, shoot, what is the name of that person I was just introduced to? If you are not asking these questions just yet, wait! I learned my most profound lessons about memory from journeying with a friend whose father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

In the beginning, she began to notice her father’s forgetfulness. He became confused about days and times. She once received a call from the pastor at 11 p.m. telling her that he had just now found her father waiting in his car for morning Mass. At some point, he could not be left alone, so her family welcomed him into their home. We all got a close-up look at how that disease began to diminish him. I realized the dreadfulness of what was happening. He no longer recognized his grandchildren. Eventually, he no longer recognized his daughter who was caring for him. That meant that in his mind he was no longer a grandfather, no longer a father.

The day came when I learned the most valuable lesson. Leo walked by as we were playing cards. He went into the bathroom. After a short time, I heard him talking. As time went by, his voice became increasingly agitated. In the end, he was yelling, and my friend got up to intervene. She explained that her father had come to the point of not recognizing himself in the mirror. When he spoke to the person in the mirror, he became gradually angrier that this person would not speak to him.

Here is the profound truth I learned — our identity resides in our memory/memories. What a revelation that was to me. If I cannot remember you, my friend, then knowing myself as a friend is erased from what I call myself. If I cannot remember my mom, the daughter part of my identity dies. Maybe that is why, when someone we love dies, the more time passes, the more we cling to our memories — the more stories we tell when we are with others who loved that person. If we forget them, we lose part of our identity.

Because God is so good, Jesus, like the mom in the movie, gives us a tangible gift. His gift is his body, blood, soul and divinity. The gift he offers to help us remember who we are is his very life. Recall the words of Augustine in an Easter Sermon, “If we receive the Eucharist worthily, we become what we receive.”

During Mass, Jesus says to us, “Do this in memory of me.” We need to remember. In fact, if we do not remember, we live in danger of forsaking our true identity. Our memory of Jesus and the Last Supper is life-giving because it strengthens our personal identity as a disciple and our communal identity as the Body of Christ. He is the center of our life. From our relationship with him flows the life we live. That is why coming to Mass is indispensable to our life of faith.

The catechetical questions become: Do we unfold this truth in all of our sacrament preparation sessions? Would Mass attendance increase if we focused on this essential and vital teaching of Jesus to remember him? Are our youth-ministry programs designed to search for a true self? How do we help young people internalize that the Eucharist will strengthen them in their search for an authentic identity?

The Eucharist is, in fact, our mirror. Jesus gives himself over and over so that when we look into the mirror of his body and blood, we will remember who we are.

DR. JO ANN PARADISE is a national speaker, writer and thought leader in the field of faith formation.

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