Which is Better? Memory or Hope?

Which is Better? Memory or Hope?

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Memory looks to the past/hope to the future. Which is more important: past or future?

If one had to make a choice in the matter, what would one prefer: a good memory, or a lively hope?

Is it better for our peace and happiness to remember what has gone before—the persons, the events, the triumphs, the tragedies? Or is it preferable to have a promising future before oneself—successes, advancement, possibilities, recognition?

Is it preferable to leave behind memories better forgotten, and focus on opportunities beckoning one forward?   Or is it better that one can bask in the warmth of past accomplishments that have gained me recognition and prestige, rather than anticipate a pot of gold at the base of the rainbow that colors the clouds overhead?

Memories and hopes! To live without memories and be completely engulfed in the present seems to be like a ship on the high seas without rudder or anchor, moving along, leaving a wake, but a wake of just a moment’s endurance. On the other hand, to live without hope is like being in a room without doors or windows leading elsewhere. It is enclosure in a tightly covered box that has no opening.

Those afflicted with alzheimer’s disease live totally in the present with no past to recall. They cannot learn from their mistakes, or repeat the successes they have enjoyed. They are like the priest Melchizedek, in the Old Testament, without father or mother (Hebr 7.1-3), without background or pedigree. Sometimes persons with a criminal background, once removed from prison, try to move somewhere that is new, leaving their past behind, erasing the background of their life, and presenting themselves anew in a different setting.

Whereas those described as hopeless have no place to go. They are imprisoned for the rest of their life in the present: imprisoned for life with no parole. They have no future to lure them forward, and are burdened with a past that is riddled with failure. Just as some are disengaged from their past so they float free of any future, having only the present moment in which to live.

So memory and hope are vital to any life worth living.   Memory provides us identity, accounting for the shape that has come to describes us to others and to ourselves. It is our anchor. But hope gives us the motor to navigate beyond the past, through the present and into the future. It reshapes our identity, adding dimensions to ourselves that reconfigure who we are.

Christ Himself is a product of memory and hope. Of memory, because He comes as the fulfillment of prophecies made down through history, about the Messiah, the promised one. He makes memories come alive for His contemporaries who struggle to identify Him in terms of past images that prophets of old portrayed. But at His resurrection, He fulfills all these memories as He comes alive as the Promised One, the Hope of ages past, amalgamating in Himself all that the past promised. So those seeing the Risen Christ can identify Him both as the One foretold in the past, and as the Hope Who is to come. Memory and hope combine to present the full identity of Christ: He comes out of the past, and moves into the future.   Christ marries memory and hope to become Whom we know.

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