Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Remembering to remember is as important to good relations among friends, family and faith communities as any actions that may follow. Just to take the time to bring to mind the importance of remembering, that is one thing we do on days like Memorial Day, just passed.

It is one thing to celebrate “Memorial Day,” as many of us may have done this year, no doubt more so than last year, with a family cookout or “cook-in,” if rain forced a retreat from the grill into the garage or kitchen. In this way we may well have “attended” Memorial Day, observing one of its national rituals. Just being together — if we were able to be together — was doubtless a wonderful reminder in itself what we have been missing, one another’s personal presence, during this long pandemic.

The gatherings of our church families are often of a similar nature. We want to come together just to be together, to see and talk with one another, share stories, sad and happy, old and new. This imperative “to proceed in haste” to the presence of those with whom we want to share good news was doubtless one reason for Mary’s spontaneous impulse to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, immediately after the Annunciation. Serendipitously, many of us found ourselves doing a “visitation” on Memorial Day, which happens this year to have coincided with the Solemnity of the Visitation. Our celebration was a visitation.

Did we also remember to remember? There is a reason why Memorial Day exists, a cause for celebration beyond the celebrating itself, the eating, drinking and socializing. The reason is the brothers and sisters of ours, parents and friends, fellow citizens, who sacrificed their lives so that we might enjoy the eating, drinking and socializing — and freedom — that we have now in our place in America.

Not many of our compatriots, who died for our country, would have seen themselves as heroes or saints. In performing their service, they only did their duty. It is they who served the cause, not the cause that served them. In remembering them, we re-member ourselves! That is to say, we affirm that they are a part of who we are, that they are not lost, and we have not lost them. We are members of something greater than any one of us alone can remember, part of a family of citizens who share in the fruits of one another’s labors and sacrifices, blessed by our common vision and heritage.

In a similar way, when we come together as a family of faith, in our liturgical celebrations, especially at Mass, we not only enjoy the company of friends and family, from whom we have been separated over weeks or months — and after the pandemic, many months — but we are re-assembling, re-constituting, re-membering ourselves as the members of the Body of Christ that we are. We remember, that is, that we ARE connected in Christ. Even when we may be physically and sometimes mentally and emotionally apart, we are and remain the Body of Christ, the Corpus Christi.

We are making here a certain comparison between our national and spiritual citizenship. We all know the benefits and duties, the rights and the responsibilities, of being an American citizen. If we are mindful and honest, we recognize that though some privileges might be earned, many if not most are not. We have been beneficiaries of the vision, work, service and sacrifices of many who have come before us to secure the blessings of liberty and to keep us out of harm’s way.  Similarly, by virtue of our Baptism, we become citizens of heaven, beneficiaries and inheritors of the supreme sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on the Cross, and the fruits of the lives of the saints and martyrs, known and unknown, through whom God’s grace enriches and makes present the saving power of Christ crucified.

Remembering why we celebrate Mass evokes from us an attitude, a response of thanksgiving — which is what “Eucharist” means, literally. Not only is it, like national citizenship, something that brings us certain unearned entitlements, it also defines who we are, as members of Christ and one another. When we are apart, not assembled, we remain connected, nonetheless. When we come together, we are more fully who we always are.

We are in a better position perhaps, after the pandemic, to recognize both the connections that we have, which sustained us through the lockdowns and separations, but we can appreciate so much more the meaning of our physical presence in the sacramental celebrations that not only symbolize but embody that reality. The real presence of Jesus in us and among us is joyfully proclaimed and assimilated into our souls so that we can live this union powerfully as we go into the world to make more disciples.

I have sometimes been asked by inquirers into our faith when we “come away having learned something,” when we go to Mass. While I would not deny that there are always new teachings and insights to be learned from the proclamation of the Gospel and its reception in our hearts and souls through the faith of fellow worshippers and the preaching of the Word, the Mass is more about transformation than information. It is more about becoming more who we are, an identity thing rather than a mere consumer thing.

If all we can say about our national celebration days is that we ate and had our fill, we are describing a trough or a barn more than a banquet, where songs and dances and toasts and testimonials are shared and celebrated. If on Memorial Day, and similar occasions, we take the time to reflect, pray and remember, we actually grow in our own sense of who we are and why we are.

At Mass, we remember and re-member, recalling who we are and why we are, to become more ourselves, fed by the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in whom we live, and move and have our being. That is why we are called “church” — in Greek, ecclesia (?κκλησ?α) — which means “called out of” the world into the assembly of the Kingdom of God, to be God’s people. It is more than just a gathering, a party, a social, a meal, a nice time, even a rally. It is a declaration, a statement, a testimony of who we are and why we are — a proclamation of our faith in the presence of one another and the God whose life gives us life, a real communion that brands us in the Sign of the Cross, together forever as the Corpus Christi.