Lament, memory, and the priesthood

Ronald D. Witherup PSS

This article is a reflection on the interconnections between lament, memory, and the priesthood. Ronald D. Witherup PSS is Superior General of the Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice.

Not long ago, a priest friend startled me with a comment. In the midst of reflecting on the disheartening and seemingly endless revelations of the sex abuse scandals and coverup that have tarnished the Church, he observed, ‘We are stuck in a rut. We have really lost the capacity to lament,’ he said, ‘and we are satisfied merely to whine and complain about how unfair life is.’ These words got me thinking.

The importance of memory
I begin with memory, since it provides the basis for what follows. Memory is not merely a human faculty, but it is a profound biblical concept. It begins already with the story of creation. God gives Adam and Eve an instruction to remember right from the beginning of their existence. They are not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But they quickly forget. They are easily seduced by a wily talking serpent who lies to them that they will be like gods if they disobey the one prohibition God gave them. As the story of God’s chosen people continues, they are instructed over and over to remember the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with whom God had made a covenant. More importantly, Israel is always asked to remember what God had done for them, how God had saved them from slavery, and how they had promised to adhere to the terms of a covenant.

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