The lessons of the Alpine bellsBy: Bishop James V. Johnston
“Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.”–from the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass
Over the summer, I had the chance to go hiking with several of my priest friends in the Alps of northeastern Italy, just south of the Austrian border. Often referred to as the Dolomites, these are the dramatic mountains that Pope John Paul II would retreat to over several summers during his pontificate for hiking and renewal.
Among the many memorable experiences of the days we spent hiking was a spontaneous event that made an impression on me. The four of us were standing on the top of a dramatic mountain, looking out over a small town in the distant valley below us. In the stillness and silence, we could faintly hear a church bell tolling. It was noon—the Angelus bell! Instinctively, the four of us began together the Angelus, “The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary …”
The experience was memorable for several reasons. First, it was one of many indicators that the Catholic faith is not totally extinguished in Europe. During the trip, we experienced several other beautiful pockets of vibrant love for Christ and the faith, especially in the rural areas.
In our travels, we were reminded of how helpful it is to have a shared “culture” of faith in which to support one another. Granted, the four of us were Catholic priests, but I took delight that each of us knew what to do when we heard the distant noon bell. One cannot underestimate the power and importance of having a common bond and the solidarity that comes from a faith-imbued culture. Having good friends who share the faith is of inestimable value. It’s terribly difficult to follow God by oneself, which is why we must cultivate and be a part of a community of Christians, beginning with our families.
The trip experience also highlighted the importance of the act of “remembering.” We need reminders for everything we consider important. We keep calendars and write notes to ourselves. The same is crucial for the journey of faith. In the practice of Catholicism, we put a great emphasis on remembering. For example, the Church remembers and sets aside specific opportunities to pray each day, especially with the daily offering of the greatest prayer, the Mass, but also with the Liturgy of the Hours.
Also centered on specific hours throughout the day are various devotions, such as the Angelus at noon and six o’clock. Additionally, we often pray before and after meals, before retiring to bed, and when we wake. Families, too, may have their own customs surrounding the opportunity to pray.
All of this has a scriptural basis, of course. For example, we recall that when Jesus gave the Mass to the apostles at the Last Supper, he commanded them to offer it as a “remembrance.” This remembering was no ordinary remembering, however. In the Jewish sense, and in the special sense that Jesus was commanding, we are not just recalling something important that happened 2,000 years ago. Instead, when we celebrate the Mass, our remembrance actually makes present for us the event that transcends all time and space: the Paschal Mystery of the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
As disciples of Jesus, we must set aside time each day in order to “remember,” otherwise we forget even the most important things in life.