Everyone of us, you and me, have powerful memories of events that have shaped us. We can never forget them. For me, I can remember events associated with my conversion to becoming Catholic. I can remember events associated with my best friend, and my marriage to my wife and the births of our children. I can remember events associated with my formation and ordination as a priest. These memories are so strong, that I could never return to the way things were before. Memories can set us on a new course of life.
If I ever got off course with my marriage or my Catholic faith or my friendships, my memories would tell me, “How can you forget so easily? Get back on track.” These memories are alive in me.
There are also group memories, like family memories that shape us. In my family reunions, it is very rewarding to hear my children or other relatives, say something like, “Oh wow! That was so ‘Hamlet’!” It is very important to tell and relive our family memories.
Communities also have group memories. A nation has shared memories and we relive them constantly, like wars or battles or national experiences help shape us as Americans, like the Civil War, World War I and WWI, the Kennedy assassination or 9-11. We can never go back and be the same as if it never happened. It is critical to tell and relive our national stories. We have a name for this living memory. We call it “History”. We must teach our children their history, because it is their story, too.
Our Church is a living memory of God’s revelations and actions in our collective consciousness, of our salvation. We share the History of Salvation and our values. It is so important to read to our children Bible stories or lives of Saints in our Church. It is critical that we read our Scriptures every time we come together to worship God. Through these shared memories we continue to deepen and strengthen our faith. In the case of our Faith, God continues revealing Himself to us every time we share our memories. The Eucharist is the most powerful memory in human history, when Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me.”
In today’s readings, we hear Peter tell the Church his memories of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
Beloved: … we made known to you
the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.
St. Matthew was not on the mountain when Jesus revealed himself to Peter, James and John. However, Matthew carefully recounts the story as if he had witnessed it. No doubt Matthew and his disciples had heard many times St. Peter retell the story about Jesus’ Transfiguration,
For he received honor and glory from God the Father
when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory,
“This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.
Peter was there. Matthew was not there. This was Peter’s personal memory. But the story was not just for Peter. Peter’s experience on the mountain of the Transfiguration was so powerful that it also changed Matthew and the entire Church. That shared memory is recounted in three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, even though none of them were present. And, again in Peter’s letter, written years later, Peter confirms the story. This living memory continues to shape the Church today, 2,000 years later. It is now our story. Jesus was transformed before us.
Peter could never be the same after that experience with the Glorified Jesus. Because of Peter’s experience of Jesus and the Transfiguration, Peter had no other choice but to give his life to sharing his experience. The Church that Jesus Christ founded cannot exist as if the Transfiguration never happened.
Each of you have memories of God working in your lives. These are so powerful that you cannot live your life without witnessing to these truths and personal experiences, either in your words, or in your actions. Mothers and fathers cannot go back and live their lives after the birth of their children as if it never happened. Instead, they immediately begin to shape their lives around the birth and their married lives. Now the collective memory of the Church lives in them, also, and they recognize the need to baptize their children, and to tell them about Jesus and Mary.
Together we all remember the words of God the Father at Jesus’ baptism,
“This is my beloved Son,* with whom I am well pleased.”
And then, at the Transfiguration of Jesus, God says again,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
God spoke to us at these moments through Peter, the Apostles, the Evangelists and the Church. We can never forget. We can never be the same.
We make choices about which memories will affect our lives and how much. Each of you has memories of “God moments” which changed your lives, if you permitted it. Perhaps you went to a retreat and were moved. Never forget that experience. Perhaps one of your sacraments was particularly meaningful. Perhaps your prayer has affected you. Never forget that moment. Share the moment and the memory over and over.
Then, consider what the memories allowed you to do. Those memories helped carry you through some difficult times in your lives. After Jesus’ Baptism, he went into the desert to be tempted by the Devil. After his Transfiguration, Jesus went to Jerusalem one last time for his Passion and Death. Allow these memories to carry you, also, through your own life challenges.
Whatever you do, do not permit yourself to live as if it never happened. Allow those moments to blossom in your heart. You will have more moments like this, if you allow these faith moments to transform you.