November dawns and all of a sudden it would seem that the weather is crisper, the trees are certainly barer, their autumn colours looking sparse. It is a time for nesting and also a time for remembering. For St Augustine, memory is an important activity. From the vantage point of the present, with all the awareness we have of where we are at, we remember the past and we digest it, we process. We do this so that we can anticipate the future with all the possibilities of what it might bring.
We remember the faithful departed in November, particularly those dear to us who have shaped us, who have left us an inheritance of experiences, of wisdom and of love — all gifts we can pass on without losing them. We remember the war dead, those brave men and women who gave so much so that we might have our freedom today. But at this wistful time of year we might also remember the times and experiences of our own life, what has shaped us, what is important to us, and what we might want to change.
We are on the cusp of yet another ‘lock-down’ where our many of freedoms are curtailed for the common good and yet others are curtailed, it would seem, unfairly, chief among them the ability to worship and attend the sacraments. When St Augustine writes about memory in his Confessions, the implication is that remembering presents us with an opportunity. It gives us the ground on which to take a new stand. The same is true now for us.
We can do nothing about the lock-down, but we can face the future in a new light. Rather than be oppressed by this, if we can, we must dig deep, we must mine for that rich seam of supernatural motivation that brought us to faith in the first place and rediscover it. We must try again to appreciate in our hearts the beautiful riches of the sacraments, particularly the Mass, so that when we come together again to worship together at God’s altar, we might be able to open our hearts a little further to let his transforming love in. And we must pray hard for the virtue of hope. Hope doesn’t come on a whim, and it is not something we can take or leave, rather it is essential and gives energy to our spiritual life. So if the remembering time of this November is about anything, it must be about finding again those reasons to be hopeful for our life after this time, to consecrate that hope to the Lord and ask him to increase it. We must dig deep and not give up.
The French philosopher, Gustave Thibon, knew that digging deep, digging in the narrow place in which we find ourselves, even if it is very narrow indeed, is the means to finding true freedom in Christ and his Holy Spirit dwelling in us:
You feel you are hedged in; you dream of escape; but beware of mirages. Do not run or fly away in order to get free: rather dig in the narrow place which has been given you; you will find God there and everything. God does not float on your horizon, he sleeps in your substance. Vanity runs, love digs. If you fly away from yourself, your prison will run with you and will close in because of the wind of your flight; if you go deep down into yourself it will disappear in paradise.
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