These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
John 14: 25-6
“And bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” As I age and have more and more difficulty remembering perfectly common words as well as names of people and places that I know well, there is another kind of memory that seems to be sharpening. Certain things said to me by parents, friends and mentors over the years seem to resonate more and more resoundingly in both mind and heart. The wisdom embedded in the significant words spoken to me at various moments many years ago becomes increasing the dwelling in which what is deepest in me abides. It is an experience of the humorous insight attributed to Mark Twain: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
This is an experience, perhaps, of the “spiritual memory” of which Jesus speaks in today’s gospel. It is not memory as a retrieval of data but rather memory as a growing appreciation and understanding of meaning. The Holy Spirit, as understood by the author of the Gospel of John, manifests as both the impulse to “go out to the world and spread the good news” and the life and light within that continues to teach, guide, and quicken our inner life of the spirit. The “remembrance” of which Jesus speaks is not only recall of what he said when alive but rather an ever-increasing understanding of the recognition of its truth and the fullness of its meaning.
Shortly after the death of my Father decades ago, I was describing to a teacher and mentor my recognition of how often and continually my Father expressed his love by doing simple and ordinary things for those around him. My teacher said to me in reply: “What a wonderful inheritance.” The truth and significance of those words deepens and magnifies by the year for me. All of what is most important to us we have been given as an inheritance, and what constitutes the significance of our own life in and for the world is the inheritance which we, in turn, leave behind.
As individuals and as a race, we have received the word of Jesus, but it is only through living ever more fully in the Spirit that we can come to “remember” its significance and the truth it reveals. It is of the nature of day to day life that we live in forgetfulness. “If I forget you Jerusalem, may my right hand wither.” (Ps. 137: 5) We live, as the Hebrews in Babylon, in a state of diaspora from the life that is deepest in us. Thus, Jesus promises that the Spirit will bring us to a state or remembrance and recollection from our dispersed ways. The common, ordinary, unspectacular flow of everyday life has the formative power to foster this deeper remembrance, if we can attend to and await upon it.
Why is the tradition of the Church called “living” if not because the Holy Spirit lives and works? Why is it likened to a vessel not only containing the precious liquor of revelation but even “renewing its youth,” unless, once again, because in it the Holy Spirit is at work? The Holy Spirit is the soul of the tradition. If it is removed or forgotten, what remains of the tradition is only the dead “letter.” If the very life of Jesus and the Eucharist itself are “of no avail” (John 6:63) without the Spirit that gives life, what must be said of the tradition?
This allows us to understand the true cause of the painful crisis experienced by the Catholic Church in the wake of Vatican II and that led to the schism of Lefebvre. The tradition that was defended—and in the name of which some separated from the Church—was a tradition no longer with the Holy Spirit, no longer with an actual and vital relation to it. A tradition reduced, in fact, to “flesh that is good for nothing” and to the “letter [that] brings death” (2 Cor 3:6). The true problem and the true weak point, often passed unobserved in all this affair, was the complete forgetting of the Holy Spirit. The experience demonstrates that you can cultivate a great devotion to the Holy Spirit, even ask everyday for his “seven gifts,” and nevertheless, eviscerate their significance, holding the Holy Spirit carefully outside of the true and actual life of the Church, demanding that he adapt to our truth, instead of we to his.
The Mystery of Pentecost, Raniero Cantalamessa, trans. Glen S. Davis