Johann Metz, Louis-Marie Chauvet, memory

Chauvet on Memory

The memory of the past thus makes the present move; it puts back on their feet, in view of a new beginning, those who are prostrate in the silence and oppression of exile.

Of course, there is memory and memory. There is the memory that is nothing but the simple act of the memorization of static events one pulls out from the past the way one takes some yellowed photos out from the back of a drawer. Such a memory, imaginatively idealizing the past as “the good old days when things were so much better,” is counter-productive; instead of mobilizing energies to take on present tasks it plunges one into the lethargy of a dream-past. Shrunk to the size of an anecdote, this past, from which one has washed away whatever there was of suffering, struggle, promise of a future, has no more history: it is a simple memory, as J.-B. Metz has said, that has been robbed of its future.

But there is also the memory that is a living act of commemoration. It is in this act of communal memory a people or a group regenerates itself. The past of its origins is snatched out of its “pastness” to become the living genesis of today. This today is thus received as “present,” as a “gift of grace.” It is thus a process of revivification, where the memory of sufferings experienced, of oppression undergone, and of the fight undertaken to liberate oneself play an essential role: tomorrow will better than yesterday; and the present is full of this living hope. Every project concerning the future seems rooted in the awakening of such a tradition: humanity has a future only because it has a memory. Totalitarian governments know this well; their strongest weapon is rubbing out the collective memories of the groups they oppress, beginning, where this is strategically possible with their language. For a group sees its identity being erased insofar as it loses its collective memory or insofar as this memory is no longer the anticipatory carrier of a possible new future. “Revolutions” show this: whenever it is declared that the future is realized, whenever it is declared that eschatology is fully present, it is urgent to invent a new utopia under pain of dying.

Louis-Marie Chauvet, Symbol and Sacrament: A Sacramental Reinterpretation of Christian Existence, Translated by Patrick Madigan, S.J., and Madeleine Beaumont, pg. 233-234.

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