Retelling of history liberates
In his reflection about history, Timothy Radcliffe OP says:
We study the past so as to discover the seeds of an unimaginable future. Just as a virgin or a barren woman becomes pregnant with a child, so our apparently barren world is discovered to be pregnant with possibilities that we had never dreamt of, the Kingdom of God..... History does more than any other discipline to free the mind from the tyranny of present opinion. History shows us that things not need be as they are, and that history may open us out to an unexpected future.....The retelling of history liberates us not just from the present opinion but from 'the rulers of this age', (1 Cor. 2:8).....to remember is a religious act, the primordial religious act of the Jewish and Christian traditions. When we gather to pray to God, we remember the wonderful works that he has done.'(Ps 105:5)" (Cf. His book, Sing a new song: The Christian Vocation, pp. 78-79)
The above reflection is echoed in Pope Francis' message to the priests and the religious at Lubaga Cathedral concerning the importance of 'memory'.
"There are three things I want to tell you. First of all, in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds his people: "Don't forget". And he repeats it in this book various times. To not forget. To not forget everything that God did for his people.
The first thing that I want to say to you is that you ask for the grace of memory, (of remembering). As I said to the young people: In the blood of Ugandan Catholics is mixed the blood of martyrs. Do not forget the memory of this seed. So that in this way you continue to grow.
The main enemy of memory is forgetting. But this isn't the most dangerous enemy. The most dangerous enemy of memory is becoming accustomed to inheriting the goods of those who've gone before. The Church in Uganda can never become accustomed to the distant memory of its martyrs. Martyr means witness. The Church in Uganda, to be faithful to this memory, must continue to be a witness. It can't live "piggy-backing." The glories of the past were the beginning but you have to make the glory of the future. And this is the task that the Church gives to you. Be witnesses, as the martyrs who gave their lives for the Gospel were witnesses." (Lubaga, 28th November 2015).
One of the objectives of Mapeera-Nabunnya Pilgrimage Centre which embraces the above appreciation of history is "to make known the history of the Catholic Church in Uganda as a source of inspiration for Christian witness today". This page of our website is one of the means to achieve this objective.
The Gift of a Future
Timothy Radcliffe OP
"He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his Kingdom there will be no end. And Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no husband?" (Lk 1: 32-34)
How can this be? How can a virgin give birth to a child? How can a woman of this small and unimportant colony of the Roman Empire give birth to the Saviour of the world? Who could have guessed that the history of this people had the seed of such a future? Two thousand years ago it seemed that David's line had failed, but unexpectedly he was given a son to sit upon his throne.
Much of our studies are the studies of the past. We study the story of the people of Israel, the evolution of the Bible, the history of the Church, of the Order, and even of philosophy. We learn about the past. Central to study is acquisition of a memory. Yet, this not so that we may know many facts. We study the past so as to discover the seeds of an unimaginable future. Just as a virgin or a barren woman becomes pregnant with a child, so our apparently barren world is discovered to be pregnant with possibilities that we had never dreamt of, the Kingdom of God.
History does more than any other discipline to free the mind from the tyranny of present opinion.1 History shows us that things not need be as they are, and that history may open us out to an unexpected future. We discover, in the words of Congar, that there is not only the Tradition, but a multitude of traditions which open riches of which we had never dreamt. The Second Vatican Council was a moment of new beginning because it was a retelling of the past. We are brought before the divisions of the Reformation, back before the Middle Ages, to rediscover a sense of the Church prior to the divisions of east and west. It was a memory that sets us free for new things.
History introduces us to a wider community than those who just happen to be alive today. We find that we are members of the community of saints and the community of our ancestors. They too have a right to a voice in our deliberations. We test our insights against their witness, and they invite us to a larger vision than we could find in the small confines of our own time.
The retelling of history liberates us not just from the present opinion but from 'the rulers of this age', (1 Cor 2:8). History is normally told from the point of view of the victor, of the strong, of those who build empires, and the history that they tell confirms them in their power. We must learn to tell history from another point of view, from the side of small and forgotten, and that is a story that sets us free. This is why to remember is a religious act, the primordial religious act of the Jewish and Christian traditions. When we gather to pray to God, we' remember the wonderful works that he has done.'(Ps 105:5)"
Ultimately we are brought back to the memory of a small and apparently insignificant people, the people of Israel. We tell the story from the point of view not of the great empires, of the Egyptians or the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks or the Romans, but of a tiny people whose history was barely registered in the books of the great and the powerful, yet whose history was pregnant with the birth of the Sons of the Most. And the history in which we discover ourselves is finally that of a virgin who hears the message of the angel and of a man who was nailed on a cross in a sea of crosses, a man whose story was that of failures. This the story that we remember in every Eucharist. In this story we learn how to tell the history of humanity and it is a history that does not end on the cross.
Do we dare to tell the history of the Church and even of the Order with such courage? Do we dare to tell a history of the Church which is freed from all triumphalism and arrogance, and which recognises the moments of division and sin? Surely the good news, the ground of our hope, is that God has accepted precisely such fallible, quarrelling people as his people. So often when we learn about Dominican history we are told of the glories of the past. Do we dare tell of the failures, of the conflicts? The previous archivist of the Order, Emilio Panella OP, wrote a study2 of what the chronicles do not say, what they omitted. Such a story finally gives us more hope and confidence since it shows that God always works with 'earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us' (2 Cor 4:7). He may even achieve something through us. At the General Chapter of Mexico, we dared to remember the fifth centenary of our arrivals in the Americas. We remembered not only the great deeds of our brothers, of Las Casas and Montesino, but also the silences and failures of others. But they are all our brothers. Above all we remembered those who were reduced to silence or extinction. We remembered so as to hope for a more just world.
There are memories which are hard to bear, of Dachau and Auschwitz, of Hiroshima and the bombing of Dresden. There are acts so terrible that we would rather forget. What history could be told that could bear all that suffering? And yet at Auschwitz the monument to the dead says, 'O earth, cover not their blood.' Maybe we can only dare to remember and to tell of the past truthfully, if we remember the one who embraced his death, who gave himself to his betrayers, who made of his passion a gift and communion. In that memory we dare to hope. We can know that ' history does not ultimately lie in the hands of the slaughterer. The dead can be named; the past must be known. In that naming and knowing, God is to be met, and in God lies the possibility for us of a different world, a different apprehension of power, a voice for the dumb.'3 'For the poor shall not always be forgotten: the patient abiding of the meek shall not perish for ever.' (Ps 9: 18)
St Dominic walked through the countryside singing, not just because he was courageous, and not just because he had a cheerful temperament. Year of study had given him a heart formed to hope. Let us so as to share his joy.
Jewish People - Remembrance or Anamnesis
Dt. 6: 6-9: "Let the words I enjoin on you today stay in your heart. You shall tell them to your children, and keep on telling them, when you are sitting at home, when you are out and about, when you are lying down and you are standing up; you must fasten them on your hand as a sign and on your forehead as a headband; you must write them on the doorposts of your house and your gates."
Dt. 6:20-21. "In the future your children will ask you, "What is the meaning of these stipulations, laws, and regulations that the Lord our God has given us?" we read in Deuteronomy. "Then you must tell them, 'We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with amazing power."
Jesus, in the same spirit invited his followers: "Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk. 22: 19). The Church has continued that tradition in the celebration of the Eucharist. Forgetting important events such as these would lead the Jews and Christians to feel reduced to 'nothing', they would lose their identity.
Today, as Christians celebrate the Eucharist, it is for the purpose of remembering or making actually present the life of Jesus in its entirety, his preaching, death, and resurrection. This was his intention in establishing the Eucharist literally as the "New Covenant." The New Testament makes this clear (Lk. 22:18-20, 1 Cor. 11:23-25).
As St. Paul narrates it to the Corinthians: "The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me."