We are living in a world wherein there is a pathology of memory. How much we have become liable to forget the good that was done to us! No wonder that we have become so pessimistic, tragic and, to a certain degree, narcissists. Moreover, the greatest symptom for such a pathology is that we have put ourselves in a situation wherein we are forgetting God himself!
If we have a sincere look at our lives, before starting judging those of others, we shall surely come to terms with the fact that we have been neglecting God. And, such a disregard of God is made visible in the misuse of our freedom. The Fathers of the Church keep showing and opening our eyes to the reality that, as human beings, we all, somehow, pervert the use of our freedom. Hence, this tragic way of living led St. Isaac the Syrian to forcefully make the following observation: “The end of this misplaced freedom is a hard slavery.”
But where is this hard slavery, which St. Isaac the Syrian is talking about, visible in our lives? It is seen when we choose to do what we wish and not what God wants from us. As we take this course of action, we find ourselves being crushed by the evil one. The same St. Isaac affirms: “He who does not submit his own will to God submits himself to his adversary.” The precarious situation the human finds himself and herself after the fall, in other words, is that of being encircled by the chains of the hardness of life together with continual attacks by evil spirits. This reality may be found in one of the homilies of St. Macarius of Egypt.
“Since the fall and the expulsion from the earthly paradise, man is bound by a double set of chains. The first comes from life itself and its day-to-day concerns, from the love for all visible things. On the inside, the soul is enveloped, circumvented and incarcerated by the maleficent spirits that keep it in darkness”.
Hence, when you and I find ourselves torn apart because we are relentlessly assailed by life’s hardness as well as by the evil one, it is of paramount importance that we resort to what is eternally holistic and holy. Only God can satisfy both criteria! Thus, that is why it is so important that we remember God.
Memory is essential for living our Christian faith. In his homily at the morning Eucharist in Casa Santa Marta, on 7 June 2018, Pope Francis said: “Christian memory is the salt of life. Delving into your memory to relive your first meetings with the Lord is necessary in order to find strength and be able to continue walking forward. Christian memory is always an encounter with Jesus Christ. Christian memory is like the salt of life. Without memory we cannot go on. When we encounter ‘forgetful’ Christians, we can immediately see that they have lost the flavour of Christian life and have ended up being people who obey the Commandments without spirituality.”
The Pope’s reflection reminds me of the remark made, on the same lines, by St. Nicholas Cabasilas when he said: “We have received the memory so as to bear Christ in us.” What St. Nicholas Cabasilas is saying perfectly accords with two other eastern saints, namely St. Macarius of Egypt and St. Gregory Nazianzen. St Macarius writes: “The Christian must always have the remembrance of God” whereas St. Gregory Nazianzen states: “We must remember God more often than we breathe; and, if one can say this, we must do nothing other than this.”
In what way are we to remember God? All of us, in one way or another, have experienced God’s many graces in our lives. That is why St. Mark the Ascetic is outstandingly persistent, and rightly so, on this very important point:
“Behold what ought to be the point of departure for a profitable journey according to God. You must always go over in your memory, and guard in unceasing meditation, the remembrance of the goodness of God Who has ordered your life’s course according to His design, of His benefits that aim at your soul’s salvation. Do not let your memory be darkened by vice, the source of indifference; neither lose the remembrance of the multitude and extent of His graces and consequently spend the rest of time without profit in ingratitude. For this ceaseless remembrance pricks the heart like a thorn, at all times pushing it to confession, humility, thanksgiving with a crushed soul, great zeal as regards the good, so as to offer in return a way of life, profitable conduct and all virtue according to God… [He who] does not allow himself to fall into forgetfulness of such benefits … directs himself towards all the good ascesis of virtue and towards every work of justice with an ever-sustained ardor always disposed to carry out God’s will.”
God’s remembrance motivates you and me to put out into the deep and let down our nets for a catch (Luke 5:4). It instills in us the courage to sow bountifully, for the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully (2 Cor 9:6). After all, God’s remembrance greatly helps us to live St. Paul’s direction for a fruitful apostolate: And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart (Gal 6:9).