Memory and Thinking on Your Feet

A friend and I have an ongoing conversation: in the information age where everything can be stored in databases and libraries and online--what need do we have to memorize anything? Of course, I have lots of reasons and lots of gut reactions--one being that ideas and images need to tumble against each other like rocks to produce synthesis and further conclusions. You can't do that if nothing is stored in your mind.

But last week I got two more reasons.


What an apostle we have leading the Archdiocese of the Twin Cities! I got an invitation in the mail and then someone telephoned me to invite me personally to a free symposium on current ethical issues facing families. I had to call back and say, "What is this? Is it really free?" Apparently, the Bishop just wanted to teach--imagine that! Prof. Teresa Collett of the St. Thomas Law School outlined the legal history of Roe v. Wade. Two break-out sessions got people talking about practical ways to explain and communicate the Church's teaching on marriage and family life. But the two reasons.

Fr. William Baer, Rector of St. John Vianney Seminary spoke about communicating the truth and he made several fascinating points. One was that it is very destructive to perpetuate the idea that the Catholic Church is not unified in her teaching--she is, and here it is. The other was that we need to be able to think on our feet, just as if you were trying to speak in another language.

So there it was! If you want to communicate with people in other languages, with our brothers in other lands, we have to learn their languages. And one cannot rely on databases and the Internet for that--you have to have the vocabulary, etc. in your head. It also seems to me that if you never use your memory, except for languages, then your memory will be ill-prepared indeed.

And of course, there is Fr. Baer's main point. When you are having a very important conversation with someone, about something critical--about anything that matters--it seems that the only kind of person who would wait while you look up what you want to say is someone who already agrees with you. So what would you do when counseling a woman considering abortion? Or in a lawcourt? Or in a caucus meeting or city council debate? Conversation is not just a pastime or hobby where everyone has all night. Some conversations are important--and they demand thinking on your feet. And that means cultivating a strong memory.

Which reminds me--must pray for Bishops, and Bishop Neinstedt in particular. What a good idea!

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