“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit. . .
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
We all need help remembering. The forgotten appointment, deadline, or birthday brings some embarrassment, if not professional or personal disaster. So we invent all sorts of techniques and devices to help us remember. Uncle Billy’s finger strings, the ubiquitous Post-it notes, the latest app to buzz you at the right moment – they all speak of our need for reminders.
If memory loss is bad in ordinary life, it is deadly in the spiritual life. We learn from the Israelites just how deadly. They were forever forgetting what the Lord had done for them – how He delivered them from slavery, fed them miraculously, uprooted nations before them, and gave them the Promised Land. The psalms lament their forgetfulness and the prophets rebuked them for it. Destruction and exile were the wages of that failure to remember.
But this spiritual defect goes back further than the Israelites. We can understand the sin of our first parents through this lens of forgetfulness. Their rebellion began, not with a distorted act of the will or even with intellectual pride, but with a forgetfulness of God. They forgot God’s commands and promises. Most of all, they forgot His goodness. That was the opening for the serpent’s wedge of doubt and suspicion: “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’”? (Gen 3:1).
Our fallen human nature suffers that wound of forgetfulness; our sins follow the same pattern. Typically it is not that we have God firmly in mind but choose against Him nonetheless. It is, rather, that we fail to keep Him in mind at all. We live as if He does not exist – praying at certain times (perhaps), but forgetting Him all the others. Or, more likely, we forget that He is good.
Confidence in His past goodness slips our minds (because we have failed to remember it in thanksgiving), and the ability to trust Him goes with it. That forgetfulness makes us susceptible to temptations from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Which is why that unholy trio is so intent on keeping us from remembering.
Naturally, such memory loss leads also to anxiety. In the natural order, we grow anxious when we forget something. So much more so in the supernatural, when we forget our divine origin and end. Indeed, nothing robs us of peace quite like forgetting God, being fated to look at ourselves and our world without Him.
Without the Creator the creature vanishes. (CCC 49) We sense this truth. If we have no memory of Him, then we grow anxious about ourselves. Thus Scripture’s oft-repeated command: Remember.
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (Jn 14:26) Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit precisely to help us remember. The Spirit will call to mind (or “bring to your remembrance”) what Christ taught.
Now, it might seem too small a task for the Holy Spirit simply to remind us of things, to be the Divine Reminder. But His role suits our weakness perfectly. His dwelling within us brings us an abiding awareness of God’s presence. To live according to the Spirit means to be ever mindful of – to remember always – God’s words, works, and goodness.
Every memory attempts to make present something past. We hang pictures, tell stories, sing songs and erect monuments, all with a view to making the event or the person somehow present to us here and now. And in so doing, to bring ourselves some measure of peace. The Lord bestows the Holy Spirit to accomplish just this remembrance – but of extraordinary things, not ordinary (it won’t help you find your car keys). The Holy Spirit makes Christ Himself present and effective. He recalls within us the words of our Lord and enables us to think, speak, and act according to them in every instance.
This is what makes for peace: the Spirit’s bringing the Lord to our remembrance. Which is why our Lord immediately goes on to speak of peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (Jn 14:27) The memory of Him brings us the assurance of His presence and power to save. His peaceful words are present and effective: I have called you friends. . . .In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. . . .I am with you always…
The Holy Spirit’s greatest work – His greatest “reminder” – is the Mass, the memorial sacrifice. At this moment more powerfully than any other He brings something to our memory – He makes the past present. For the Mass is not a mere reminiscence but the making present of Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity under the form of bread and wine. The Holy Spirit makes the Sacrifice of Christ present and real to us. What human memory feebly tries to accomplish – making the past present – the Holy Spirit powerfully effects at every Mass.
And that brings peace. Which is why Mother Church places the Lord’s words of peace after the Consecration, after the Eucharistic Prayer, with the living Victim upon the altar. It is the memorial sacrifice – the making present of that past, saving event – that alone brings peace.
Image: The First Eucharist by Juan de Juanes, c. 1562 [Museo del Prado, Madrid]