Monday, February 06, 2023

A Memory for Wonders

 I wrote about this book last year for WRM and only now I am adding it here.



Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee, 

Save Me, save only Me?

All which I took from thee I did but take,

Not for thy harms,

But that thou might’st seek it in My arms. 

All which thy child’s mistake

Fancies lost, I have stored for thee at home:

Rise, clasp my hand and come!

            --Francis Thompson, from “The Hound of Heaven”

My husband and I have a priest friend who shares our love for all things literary. When our oldest daughter left to teach English in Morocco, he recommended this unique memoir, A Memory for Wonders. I devoured it, the story came to mind when years later we visited Morocco, and I experienced the African Atlantic, the old architectural features, and the arid landscape. Since my first reading, I have also experienced a daughter entering religious life, so this time around I realized further that this book is much more than a geo-cultural and historical introduction to North Africa: it traces the story of the eventual discovery of a religious vocation. My new reading brought forth more intensely the action of God in the life of this unique family. It brought to mind Francis Thompson’s "The Hound of Heaven", a poem that characterizes God as the relentless pursuer of the soul. Similar to the poem, A Memory for Wonders traces a history of God’s love in the human heart. How did God’s gentle yet persistent love break through seemingly insurmountable family barriers to reach Lucette? The Sacrament of Baptism seems to mysteriously set in motion Lucette’s entire life-journey towards God. To me, this book is a defense of our sacramental Church. We cannot help but question ourselves, "What would have happened to Lucette had her grandparents not baptized her?" Catholics believe that the baptized child becomes "a new creature," an adopted child of God, who has become a "partaker of the divine nature," a member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit (Catechism of the Catholic Church; par. 1272). Through the act of Baptism, the child is sealed with an indelible spiritual mark, and belongs to Christ from then on. Aware of this great truth of our faith, I was thrilled when Lucette's grandparents had the courage and opportunity to baptize her. In the light of what Baptism is, her very early childhood experience of the existence and presence of God, and the further spiritual certainties granted her through her youth, make sense. If she is a child of God, and has grace alive in her soul, it makes sense that her loving Father would be constantly calling her to him through his creation, as a “hound of heaven.” 

Lucette’s experience with Baptism demonstrates the particular way the Catholic Church understands this link between our physical world and the spiritual realm. This link has been an issue of debate during the 2020 pandemic, especially during those weeks when churches were closed or when in-person attendance was severely limited. Without the Sunday obligation, many began to question the faithful’s need to even enter the church building to worship. Priests and bishops issued statements reminding the faithful of the Catholic tradition of our Lord’s physical presence in the Eucharist, and the importance of personally receiving the Sacraments.

We see in A Memory for Wonders the grace of Lucette's baptism operating wonders in her soul from beginning to end. We see how it bore fruit and multiplied—through her initial sensing of God's existence and eternal love, her child-like sense of justice and charity, her work in the Casbah in Algiers, her following God's call to monastic life, and her faithful love for her parents. Lucette's baptism brought forth countless blessings—even the salvation of the parents who opposed it.

Catholics are fortunate to enjoy the gift of the Sacraments. I believe the power and fruitfulness of these gifts will only be revealed fully to us in heaven, and that we will be thrilled and mesmerized looking back at their action throughout our lives. A Memory for Wonders is a book that gives us a glimpse of that revelatory moment. Catholics are fortunate to enjoy the Sacraments, gifts that the “hound of heaven” uses to help us in our path toward Him.

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