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Betsy Kneepkens: Lenten practices preserve memories of church truths

When I can’t sleep at night, I sometimes recall images of my children the way I want to remember them as toddlers. It is possible that those angelic memories are bit distorted to help sooth my restlessness. Memory is a treasure, a masterful gift from our Creator.

My children have asked, from time to time, how do we know that the Catholic faith is true? In some ways they are asking: “How do we know that the Catholic Church accurately remembers Christ’s life and message?”

Betsy Kneepkens

Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

My guess is that children may be questioning this since there has been lots of discussion in the media regarding a prominent news anchor’s “misremembering” of events in a newsworthy situation. Although not describing events as they actually happened is always troublesome, inaccuracy poses particular problems for journalists. One can only guess whether an admitted error of “misremembering” like that of the NBC news reporter was an unintentional embellishment or motivated by desires for power, likeability or heroism.

Although the earthly stakes are not nearly as high for us as for this journalist, almost all people in our fallen state exaggerate from time to time. To recall important memories accurately, I think having others and institutions involved is the best means humanly possible to keep memories dependable.

Our heavenly Creator, in his fatherhood, is well aware of our tendency to misrepresent truth due to our deep inner desire to glorify ourselves instead of him. Although much “misremembering” has to do with earthly experiences, our heavenly Father was careful to make his truths historically enshrined through supernatural means using human methods and sealing them with the Holy Spirit.

With generation after generation seeking salvation, God, I believe, did not want to subject his story to the fallenness of our nature. Rather, as Christ remains always with us in the Eucharist, he was masterful in providing certainty that his truth would be kept alive and preserved over time in intentional ways, as well.

Christ invoked memory throughout his public ministry: “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). He wanted to make sure there was an accurate account of his Father’s message. Perhaps this is one main purpose for providing us with the gift of memory.

Lots of witnesses

I can name several ways in which Christ protected the truthfulness of his Good News.

As Christ shared the Gospel, he frequently surround himself with one or more of his 12 apostles. Having more than one person witnessing events certainly helps with accountability. We have the benefit of that eyewitness testimony found throughout the books of the New Testament. This is just one way the Apostles served Christ and his truth.

Christ gave alternative significance to common matter like water, bread and wine so that these items would inspire our memories, ultimately drawing our thoughts back to the truth of his Gospel. The dual meaning of this common matter and the consistent understanding throughout all of salvation history of these items assures us of the truth of their eternally directed purpose.

Over and over again throughout Christ’s life, he reinforced the meaning of these earthly things and ultimately redirected their meaning toward heavenly ends, always making the connection make sense for us.

Additionally, establishing the Catholic Church grounded in apostolic succession, protected by the Holy Spirit, was intended to provide future disciples with the confidence that the truth we hold traces right back to Christ. Christ promised, “I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18).

This promise Christ made and infused with the Holy Spirit over 2,000 years ago has sustained the church through good times and bad times. The church manages to remember correctly and consistently, even during the most persecuted times in history.

Assuring our children that the Catholic Church is blessed and in a certain sense burdened with preserving the truths of our heavenly Father is really important during the Lenten season.

Although the Catholic Church will always be bound to the truth, if we as individuals refuse to keep alive the memory of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, we will be subjected to misremembering and be led away from him. Worse yet, we could interpret the life of Jesus in a way that glorifies and satisfies our own inner desires and not his.

Much of what the church asks us to do during this season serves to help us remember, like receiving ashes, the Stations of the Cross, venerating the cross, and the washing of feet. All intend to hold Christ’s works close to our hearts and fortified in our memories. We have an obligation and hopefully a desire to participate in these experiences of memory during this Lenten season, making the celebration of Easter the glorious event that it ought to be.

As people, we fall to misremembering, which is often tied to self-glorification. Having ourselves and our children participating and submitting to the plentiful traditions of this season will help us use our memory rightly, as intended by our Creator. Hopefully, engaging in these practices during Lent will help us avoid misremembering everyday accounts as well.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.