Joy and Hope
November 21, 2009
Tradition is a flood of memories
Thanksgiving always brings a flood of memories. Given the fickle nature
of our lives, these memories are always a mixture of both bitter as well
as sweet, sad along with glad.
As my family gathers around the Thanksgiving table this year, there will be the aching absence of my father that memories will have to fill. For me, this year’s Thanksgiving will be savored with the sweet sorrow of recalling my father next to me as we shared what was to be our last meal.
At this time last year, he was weakening quickly. I had already added my own voice to what his own body was making very clear: He could not come to Sacramento to see me assume the cathedra of Sacramento. There was a moment’s flash of angry frustration, a clear hint of the spirit’s willingness butting against the body’s reticence. He then sighed his acquiescence to life’s limits. It is with this peaceful resignation that my dad was brought to the family table for that Thanksgiving dinner.
The original plan was for my sister to prepare the “bird” for Thanksgiving but my father’s declining health was beginning to weigh heavily on my mother. We all came together to pitch in. Different siblings were assigned their task. As many of you know, there are seven of us, six boys and one girl. My brothers and I are typical Latin men, meaning we are oblivious to health issues and timid around folks in white coats. This left my sister with the delicate but demanding role of overseeing my father’s medical care. She was simultaneously the tender loving daughter and demanding drill sergeant.
We all appreciate the role she assumed in those critical last days as we reluctantly embraced the understanding that the best care for my father was hospice care. While all this was going on, there was in my head the nagging, never-mentioned worry: “What about the bird? Who’s going to take care of the bird?”
Into this breach stepped two of my nephews: “We’ll do the bird.” Of course, this was a lovely demonstration of teamwork but I wondered quietly, “Do they know what they’re doing?” Both my mother and sister were very confident of my two nephews’ culinary competence. I was not persuaded. After all, this was not a simple matter of chocolate chip cookies. We were talking about the time-honored daunting trial of cooking the perfect Thanksgiving turkey!
This takes me back to the “flood of memories.” Tradition is a flood of memories. Catholic tradition is a rich, living stream of memories that connects each of us with the Lord Jesus as well as all those disciples in every generation who have gathered around the Lord.
This is particularly true in our sacramental tradition. The sacramental rituals not only carry forward through time the living memory of the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The sacraments also bring to mind the living memory of all the Lord’s disciples from Peter to John Paul II, from Mary Magdalene to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, from Paul to Damien of Molokai.
Even more than this, the sacramental life of the church carries the personal memories of each of us as well as the corporate memory of the church. Whether it is the memory of the Sunday Mass with the taste of coffee and donuts afterwards, the childlike glee as we gaze on the nativity crèche on a cold Christmas eve, the timid, trembling of the sinner’s shame followed by the liberating lift of amaze grace’s sweet sound of pardon, the finger’s fumbling of rosary beads measuring the meditation of mysteries both human and divine, these religious and sacramental traditions weave our personal memories into the saving narrative of the salvation won for us by the blood of Christ Jesus.
The domestic Catholic traditions are also a rich weave of memories that bring the Lord Jesus to our family tables, the saints and angels to our bedside, the tender maternal eyes of Mary over our living rooms, and the sheltering wings of the Almighty over our homes.
Yet memories alone are not enough. There is often the impulse to run from regretful recollections and even happy ones can be tinged with a nostalgic sadness. It is faith’s eye that lets us hold our memories as the motive of our thanksgiving as well as the source of our hope.
With faith in the transcendent God, who is Lord of history and the master of time, memories give us a glimmer of the healing, reconciliation, mercy and joy to come. Our belief in the guiding provident hand of God gives us a face to whom we extend our words of gratitude as well as a hand in which to confide our trust amidst tomorrow’s uncertainty.
It is the fire of faith that can make warm the memories of this coming Thanksgiving. With the absence of my father, the religious rituals of the family meal bring his quiet manner, loving eyes, and tender touch to the table. The faith he gave us lets us savor the kingdom to come. Even when there are interesting twists to those family traditions — like my nephews’ bold initiative — faith-filled and faithful memories allow us all to the enjoy the moment and love forward to the good things to come.
By the way, my nephews’ efforts produced a moist, sumptuously delightful turkey. Now such success carries with it expectations for more. One of the daring duo will now attempt this year to prepare the turkey in his new smoker. I’m looking forward to the taste of what is to come.