A Memory that Empowers

by Raphael Amrhein, C.P.

Fr Raphael Amrhein, CPThere are two kinds of "memory." There is memory that is static and memory that is dynamic.

Static memory is the recall of the past, precisely as "past." It is the memory that sits sadly beside the treasure chest of the past and finds only 'a broken heart among my souvenirs.'

Dynamic memory is the recall of the past as it is the springboard to the present and the future. It is the memory that, in those times of troubled aloneness, brings us home -- the memory that, in those experiences of loss and confusion, sees us through.

The German theologian, Johannes B. Metz, calls this latter memory `dangerous.' He means this in the sense that this kind of memory can be ignored only `at peril.' Whatever is `perilous' is `dangerous.'

`Dangerous memory' includes `dynamic memory.' This memory has `power' (the Greek: `dynamis'). This memory does something -- something incredibly powerful. This memory is dynamite! It is the memory that makes us who we are and empowers us to accomplish the `doing' which flows from that `being.' It is the memory of which political philosopher Milan Kundera speaks when he observes that the first step in the subjugation of a people is the destruction of their memory.

People of Memory

The revered Jewish philosopher-theologian, Martin Buber, has said of his Hebrew compatriots: "We are a people of memory..." Indeed, since Eden, Israel, whether as a biblical tribe or a modern political entity, has been a people of dynamic memory.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the celebration of Passover. When, at the Seder, the youngest male asks: "Why is this night different from all other nights?" the answer involves, not `a stroll down memory lane,' but a solemn march down the avenue of dynamic memory. In the remembering, the contemporary Jew becomes anew as free as her/his ancestors became when they passed over from the bondage of Egypt into the freedom of being a pilgrim people with a divinely guaranteed heritage.

Christians are also a people of dynamic memory. We Catholic Christians especially. Indeed, we are so much a people of dynamic memory (and this separates from many of our Christian sisters and brothers) that we consider the dynamic memory we call 'Tradition' as one of the touchstones of our faith -- together with the Scriptures.

For 'Tradition' is just that: dynamic memory. It is the faithfully transmitted story of the consistent way the people of Jesus have understood their God as dealing with them. Indeed, it is from this dynamic memory that the Scriptures emerged. As Metz has pointed out, any and every interpretation of the Scriptures is already an exercise of the dynamic memory of `Tradition.'

Heart of Catholic Tradition

At the heart of Catholic Tradition is that personalized `dynamic memory,' -- Jesus in the Eucharist. When we "spiritual Semites" (as Pope Pius XI called us) celebrate Eucharist -- our Passover -- we become again (perhaps, more accurately, we reinforce our awareness that we already are!) a free people -- `free' not only from the bondage of human enslavement, but from the bondage of cosmic Evil.

We are, in the here and now, an anamnestic people, constantly becoming-by-remembering ever more thoroughly the `people of God,' in response to the mandate echoing down the centuries: "Do this in memory of me."

If that last sentence sounds esoteric, let me put it more comprehensibly:

"We remember how you loved us in your death,
And still we celebrate, for you are with us here;
And we believe that we will see you
When you come in your glory, Lord.
We remember, we celebrate, we believe."

The dynamic memory which is the Eucharist includes, as one of its components, our cherished, charismatic family treasure, "Memoria Passionis" -- the memory of the Passion -- the Passion of Jesus in history -- and the passion of all God's people throughout history.

"Memoria Passionis" is a dynamic memory. It makes all Christians, but especially us who have been charism-ed by it, who and what we are. It is a 'dangerous memory.' forgetfulness of it would result in the annihilation of our very being!

Thus, "Memoria Passionis" is not simply the pious recollection of Jesus' experience of late Holy Thursday night and Good Friday until 3:00 pm. It is not merely a 'devotion' (one among many) which may or may not facilitate and support our life with God, either individually or corporately. It is not merely the characteristic devotion of our Congregation or the identifying mark of its spirituality.

"Memoria Passionis" not only plucks the strings of our hearts with the soulful sounds of "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" "Memoria Passionis" confronts our consciences with the conversion-causing challenge: "Are you there when/where they are crucifying my people?"

"Memoria Passionis" explodes in our consciousness the realization that it is not enough simply to recall the sufferings and death of Jesus. Because, there can be ways of remembering the Passion which paralyze the dynamism of "Memoria Passionis." In such instances, "Memoria Passionis" is not dynamic, but deluding.

At the September, 1996 gathering of itinerant preachers of the Province, Msgr. Philip Murmion reminded us that "we are a memory Church." As an "ecclesiola," a little church within the universal Church, our Congregation is also the "Memoria Passionis." We are also sustained by the dynamic of significant, singular events in our history -- as a Congregation, as a Province, as individuals. The memory of these events coalesces with "Memoria Passionis" to continually craft the identity we are becoming.

One such event was the 44th Provincial Chapter of St. Paul of the Cross Province -- that of 1994, held at Mont Marie in Holyoke, MA. It was a singular event. Singular, because it was the first "Open Chapter" in the history of our Province. Singular, because it brought together an assemblage of the brethren exceeded (I think) only by the 1980 Province Convocation at Marymont, in Tarrytown, NY.

Thus, the Provincial Administration, together with the planning committee, decided that the Fall Regional Days of 1996 would be a sojourn between the Provincial Chapters of 1994 and 1998 to remember that it is always good to be together and to re-claim, re-affirm, re-commit ourselves to the values which generated the vision of the `94 Chapter, and to connect those values with "Memoria Passionis."

I made a sojourn of my own recently, focusing on the values underlying the vision statements of the `94 Chapter. It soon became evident that four values appeared in some way, shape or form in all five vision statements. Those values are: "collaboration," "apostolic way of life," mutuality" and "optimism."


"Memoria Passionis" interconnects with collaboration because the mystery of redemption is a work of Trinitarian collaboration. We are all aware that all divine activity "ad extra" is the work of the Trinity. The Paschal Mystery, which is the Church''s more common way of expressing "Memoria Passionis" is forever and always the interaction of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That Trinitarian collaboration is providentially paralleled in our time by the cooperation and interaction of many people who join with us in proclaiming the Gospel of the Passion in an impressive variety of ways.

Apostolic Way of Life

Another consistent value of the vision statements is "apostolic way of life." "Memoria Passionis" interconnects with "apostolic way of life" because it expresses the core activity for which Jesus was `sent' and for which Jesus `sent' his own. The proclamation of Peter and Paul in the Acts and in the Pauline writings always arises from and focuses upon the crucified Jesus who is perennially proclaimed as `risen.' That the "Memoria Passionis" occupied the attention of the apostles during their reflective moments is evident from Paul's professing to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.


The third consistent value of the vision statements is "mutuality." "Memoria Passionis" interconnects with "mutuality" because the saving love which is the dynamic of both realities always embraces simultaneously the individual and the group.

The self-emptying love of Jesus, the exalting love of Him who bestows on Jesus the name above every other name, is the love of those who lay down their lives for their friends. It is the love of the one who can never get over the awe of "He loved me and gave himself up for me." It is the love of Paul who would rather be `dissolved' and be with Christ but who chooses to remain in the service of the community because God's love would rather that he do that.


The fourth consistent value of the vision statements is "optimism." "Memoria Passionis interconnects with "optimism" because without a future to hope in, there is no reason to remember anything! It makes sense to remember Him who died and was raised up, only if we are convinced that with Him "we shall overcome someday."

Moreover, we are not `cock-eyed optimists.' We are all aware that Jesus triumphed over death only after dying, not before. We know full well that the evidence of that victory was a tomb! With Lacordaire, we acknowledge: "All I know about tomorrow is that God's providence will rise before the sun."

Come to think of it, we know one more thing: that every tomorrow on which God's providence and the sun both rise is always Easter!

Undoubtedly you have reflected on the fact that all the vision-values are `people' values. They all, directly or indirectly, touch human lives. They exhibit a "passion for people!" As such, they are worthy expressions of "Memoria Passionis," also a "Passion for people."

If the vision-values of the 1994 Provincial Chapter are worthy expressions of "Memoria Passionis," what worthy passion does their re-visiting generate? A reflection by spiritual writer Robert Wicks may help us focus that question:

"I think, sometimes without knowing it, we fear emotional and spiritual passion more than we seem to fear our rigidity and lack of courage. We fear unconditional love more than rejection. We fear the newness of the Gospel, the good news, more than we fear being mired in attitudes and beliefs that have frozen us in the present way we view everything. As I mentioned previously, the paradox is that we complain the most about the lack of our spiritual passion when we are willing to risk the least." (Robert J. Wicks, "Touching the Holy" pp 87-88)

What are we willing to risk in order to become spiritually passionate about "Memoria Passionis"?

If, indeed, it is "good and delightful for brothers to dwell as one" (Ps.133), then it is good for us to be here. The Provincial Chapter of 1994 was an especial event of "it is good for us to be here." That event concretized our dreams and sharpened our vision.

During these Regional Days we tap into the goodness of our dreams and visions by owning again the values on which those dreams and visions are founded.

As we re-claim and re-appropriate our vision-values in the light of "Memoria Passionis," we will become more fully what our memorable heritage constantly challenges us to be.

These reflections concerning "The Memory of the Passion" were excerpted from a presentation given by Fr. Raphael Amrhein, C.P. (1935-2004) at the Fall,1996 Regional Days of the St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Province.

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