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You Forgot! A Reflection on a Central Spiritual Struggle

May 30, 2017

Don't ForgetOne of the more basic human problems in our relationship with God is that we forget. Over and over again in the Scriptures comes an almost exasperated accusation from God: “You forgot!” Consider just a few of hundreds of such texts:

  1. You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth (Deuteronomy 32:8).
  2. When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me (Hosea 13:6).
  3. and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Deuteronomy 8:13-14).
  4. They forgot His deeds and His miracles that He had shown them (Psalm 78:11).
  5. But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel. … They forgot God their Savior, Who had done great things in Egypt (Psalm 106:13, 21).
  6. But they forgot the LORD their God; so he sold them into the hand of Sisera, the commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hands of the Philistines and the king of Moab, who fought against them. They cried out to the LORD and said, “We have sinned; we have forsaken the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths. But now deliver us from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve you”‘ (1 Sam 12:9-10).

Another form of this comes in the refrain of God as the Law is announced in Leviticus and Deuteronomy: “I am the Lord.” For example,

You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him …. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God. You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:31-32).

The ancient rabbis explained this expression in a humorous way. They taught that when God says “I am the Lord,” he means, “Look, I am the one who fished you out of the mud. Now come over here and listen to me.” In other words, “Don’t forget that who it is that is talking to you. I am the one who loves you and has rescued you, the one who provides for you and sustains you. Pay attention. Never forget that I speak to you for your good, not to burden you.”

But as it is, we so easily forget. God’s lament is as true as ever: “You forgot!” We discount the vast and almost unimaginable blessings of each day from the hand of God and grumble at the smallest problem, setback, or slight.

What God is most concerned with is not that we forget small details of the law, but that we so easily forget the wonderful things He has done for us. For indeed, He rescued them from slavery, parted the Red Sea for them, fed them with manna, and gave them water in the desert. He led them forth and settled them in the promised land. But how easily and quickly they forgot His saving deeds!

God’s lament is not about His ego needs to be thanked or repaid for his goodness. God is not vain like man. It is essential that we remember. To remember is to have a healing knowledge.

What does it mean to remember? To remember is to have deeply present in our mind and heart what God has done for us such that we are grateful and different. Grateful people are more hopeful, confident, trusting, and serene. They are more generous, forgiving, and joyful. They are this way because they have not forgotten; they remember how good God has been to them.

One essential solution to our tendency to forget is the Liturgy itself. First, because we read every day from God’s word and remember His saving acts and the teachings of the past. Further, at every Eucharist Jesus repeats His command that we “do this in memory of [Him].” In other words, we are not to live unreflective lives. We are to remember what He has done for us. We are to have present in our mind and heart what He has done for us so that we are grateful and different.

The word amnesia (rooted in Greek) means forgetfulness. A key element in the Eucharistic prayer takes place after Jesus’ command that we do this in memory of Him. It is called the anamnesis, which means remembering, the opposite of forgetting. In the Roman Canon the anamnesis begins after the consecration with the words, “Unde et memores (Wherefore and remembering). The second Eucharistic prayer says, Memores igitur mortis et resurrectionis (therefore in memory of the death and resurrection of Christ).

Yes, remembering is at heart of the Eucharistic Liturgy. And we need it! We so easily forget all the good things God does to sustain and prosper us. Every fiber of our being is created and sustained by God. Everything on which we depend is also created, sustained, and given by God. Every single day, trillions of things go right and trillions of gifts are ours. Yet if one thing goes wrong, we are easily downcast, angry, and despondent. What a disproportionate response! It is primarily because we forget and discount His blessings.

Don’t forget! At best, forgetting makes us grouchy. At worst, it makes us anxious and fretful, even mentally ill.

Remember! Remember the innumerable things God has done for you. If you do, you’ll be more grateful and different.

Filed in: Liturgy, spirituality

Comments (6)

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  1. RAY - PORTSMOUTH - UK says:

    This is SO important!
    Some who may have read a few of my poor contributions to the comments section of this place in the past, may remember that I have partially told the story before of how, a long time ago, I went through a very dark and difficult time in my life, which spread over a number of years.
    God dealt with me in a manner I could never have believed possible – true justice, true forgiveness, and true love! His blessings were so many in number, and constant – even though it was bleak and almost totally desperate at the time.
    When I eventually came, by His grace, through the other side, I felt I had to do something to ‘remember’ – and I never want to forget what He has done for me.
    As a result, I decided to always keep on my computer desktop the following three scriptures, all of which had featured big time during my time of trial and tribulation.

    1. “LORD JESUS CHRIST, SON OF THE LIVING GOD, HAVE MERCY ON ME – A SINNER” LUKE 18:38

    DAILY I always try to remember that I am forever a ‘sinner’ and that I constantly need God’s mercy and forgiveness, DAILY. And I also remember that He gives it – freely!

    2. “I AM YOUR GOD AND I HAVE RESCUED YOU – JUST AS I PROMISED I WOULD. I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO COULD RESCUE YOU – PEOPLE HAVE SEEN IT AND WILL PRAISE ME” ISAIAH 43:11-12

    God spoke to me through all my problems and despair of these years and constantly reminded me in His word that there was light at the end of the tunnel – and at the end, the light I was given directly from scripture was this above from Isaiah 43.
    It is true that a great many people were indeed astonished but so grateful that God had acted in such a merciful way towards me. There were though, as you can imagine, sadly, many also who saw what God had done for me, but were most disturbed that God should have been so good to me – I, who in their eyes, did not deserve it!! Many of these, (God forgive them), good solid Catholics in good standing with the church . . . . . . !!
    Thank God ‘He’ does not think and act as ‘we’ do!

    3. “YOU ARE MY GOD AND I WILL GIVE YOU THANKS FOR HEARING ME”
    PSALM 118:28

    As I commented above, I realised I always ‘needed’ to remember what He had done for me. And these words from Psalm 118 came to me – and are still with me to this day.
    Msgr Charles is dead right – find something (if not ‘dozens’ of things!) to remember to be grateful for to our great God – and never forget it!!
    I hope this is helpful to someone who is maybe going through a difficult time as I was, or who is finding it hard to think of anything to praise God for at all.
    Prayers and blessings to all.

  2. Michael says:

    Thank you — a very good reminder and comes at a time when I needed it most.

    • Alle says:

      Interesting that the command to “Do This In Memory Of Me…” was not followed with details so common in scripture. Could it be that God uses our reverence and frequency for the Eucharist as a measure of gratitude?

      We consume physical food at least three times a day, shouldn’t the Eucharist be our first and most fulfilling meal each day?? EWTN is everywhere:)

  3. Fr. Cahill says:

    Deo gracias!!! And, as always, thanks to you, Monsignor, for helping us to lift up our minds and heart to the Lord. You’ve said it before, and I love it, that in a day, a trillion things work in our favor – and this is no exaggeration. His love for us is expressed in so, so many fine, fine details, and of course, in His mercy above all. My mother, who is 92 years young, says that her “mantra” is thank you, thank you, thank you, Lord, throughout the whole day.

  4. RAY - PORTSMOUTH - UK says:

    Hi Msgr Charles. Forgive me for having to leave this message here – but there is no other way to contact you as far as I can see.
    It’s just that I am a bit confused, as I submitted a comment to your great piece above at 01:59 on the 31st May – about 12 hours before Michael’s comment which you have posted above!!
    Also – I see that the comment I submitted to your reply concerning ‘Love Lifted Me’ and David’s comment, is timed at 01:06 on the 30th May – more than 15 hours before Vicki’s kind further comment!
    So – for obvious reasons, I am wondering what might have happened to my comments. I hope I am not doing something wrong – or perhaps ‘saying’ something wrong!!
    Is there no other way to contact in these matters – I don’t like to clog up the works here . . . . . ?? Do please let me know.
    Best wishes and God bless

  5. RAY - PORTSMOUTH - UK says:

    OK! I’ll try again then . . . . . . . .

    This is SO important!
    Some who may have read a few of my poor contributions to the comments section of this place in the past, may remember that I have partially told the story before of how, a long time ago, I went through a very dark and difficult time in my life, which spread over a number of years.
    God dealt with me in a manner I could never have believed possible – true justice, true forgiveness, and true love! His blessings were so many in number, and constant – even though it was bleak and almost totally desperate at the time.
    When I eventually came, by His grace, through the other side, I felt I had to do something to ‘remember’ – and I never want to forget what He has done for me.
    As a result, I decided to always keep on my computer desktop the following three scriptures, all of which had featured big time during my time of trial and tribulation.

    1. “LORD JESUS CHRIST, SON OF THE LIVING GOD, HAVE MERCY ON ME – A SINNER” LUKE 18:38

    DAILY I always try to remember that I am forever a ‘sinner’ and that I constantly need God’s mercy and forgiveness, DAILY. And I also remember that He gives it – freely!

    2. “I AM YOUR GOD AND I HAVE RESCUED YOU – JUST AS I PROMISED I WOULD. I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO COULD RESCUE YOU – PEOPLE HAVE SEEN IT AND WILL PRAISE ME” ISAIAH 43:11-12

    God spoke to me through all my problems and despair of these years and constantly reminded me in His word that there was light at the end of the tunnel – and at the end, the light I was given directly from scripture was this above from Isaiah 43.
    It is true that a great many people were indeed astonished but so grateful that God had acted in such a merciful way towards me. There were though, as you can imagine, sadly, many also who saw what God had done for me, but were most disturbed that God should have been so good to me – I, who in their eyes, did not deserve it!! Many of these, (God forgive them), good solid Catholics in good standing with the church . . . . . . !!
    Thank God ‘He’ does not think and act as ‘we’ do!

    3. “YOU ARE MY GOD AND I WILL GIVE YOU THANKS FOR HEARING ME”
    PSALM 118:28

    As I commented above, I realised I always ‘needed’ to remember what He had done for me. And these words from Psalm 118 came to me – and are still with me to this day.
    Msgr Charles is dead right – find something (if not ‘dozens’ of things!) to remember to be grateful for to our great God – and never forget it!!
    I hope this is helpful to someone who is maybe going through a difficult time as I was, or who is finding it hard to think of anything to praise God for at all.
    Prayers and blessings to all.