Now that I am no longer capable of the kind of manual labor I used to do for a living, I have fallen back on translating and proofreading work as an excuse to justify my existence. A while back I was translating some French newsletters from the Little Brothers of Jesus and came across one that hit very close to home. It was from an elderly brother in Africa who had done hard physical work all of his life. Now, in his old age, he was unable to do that kind of work. He took this to be a call to focus more on prayer and, above all, to intercede for all the people he had known and loved. But there, too, he had problems. There were so many whose names he had forgotten; his memories of past events and interactions had become muddled and confused. He felt ungrateful and even guilty for relations he had not fostered.
I recognized myself all too well in what he wrote. I have lost contact with so many people who meant a lot to me at different stages of my life, people I loved dearly and really cared for and who had given me so much and made me what I am. But this brother in Africa went on, adding a reflection that was, he said, the source of his peace and that opened a door to mine. We might forget these people from our past, but God does not. He does not forget that we once loved them and prayed for them, and his memory of that is eternal, as is the reality of our prayer.
I think it was Raïssa Maritain who, in her book We Have Been Friends Together, looks back at all the projects she and her friends had that never came to anything. She does so with gratitude, for, as she notes, the Holy Spirit is at work not only in the works that last for centuries but also in all our little failures, which appear to have no tomorrow. These too, in whatever they had of purity and love, will live forever, discreetly, and will, in their own way, shape the church.