I heard a story recently from a speaker about a young boy who would always be so busy playing outside that he would forget to come inside on time for dinner. His mother finally told her son, “Son if you are late again, you will only be allowed to eat bread and drink water for dinner.” The boy agreed and then went out again to play. He was having such a good time outside that he completely forgot about dinner! He ran back home only to find his mother and father with his favourite dinner before them! What was at his place? There at his place was the slice of bread and the glass of water. The boy, head bent low, sat down at his place. His father immediately grabbed the boy’s plate and replaced it with his own saying, “Son, I love you and I will take the punishment for you.”
This story explains to us the mercy and love of a father…even though the boy was guilty through his forgetfulness, the father looked upon him with mercy. How many times in the Old Testament did the Israelites forget about the goodness and faithfulness of God…and how many times did God show mercy and forgiveness for that? The Lord did not forget the Israelites when they were slaves in Egypt! He delivered them! God speaks to His people “If I shall forget you Jerusalem let my right hand wither” (Psalm 137:5). As the Israelites were engaging in idolatry (worship of idols) such as the golden calf, God did not abandon them! As the Jews were waiting for the coming of Messiah, God did not abandon them…he sent Jesus!
How often we forget things! How many times have we said to ourselves: “I forget where I left those keys!” “I forgot to turn over my grilled cheese sandwich and now it is burnt!” “I forgot to take out the trash and now there is a huge raccoon living in it!” In this Lenten season, we should strive not to forget the most important things in life. We should not forget the great love that God has for us in sending His Son, Jesus for us. When Jesus was going through His Passion, He thought of you…He remembered you and He remembered me. The good thief on the cross, which tradition names St. Dismas, only asked Jesus: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42 RSV). Jesus did more then just remember him, he said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43 RSV). Dismas only asked to be remembered and then Jesus canonized him! That is pretty awesome!
Our memory is meant to help us remember God and His goodness to us. In remembering His love and goodness, it initiates a response in us to want to spend more time with Him in prayer, and receive the Sacraments more often and more devoutly. St. Mary Euphrasia, a woman who lived in a time of great political unrest and persecution once said, “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” When we are truly grateful for what someone did for us, or the very fact that the person was in our life…even for a short time, it fills our heart with gratitude and we never forget them; rather, we lift up our eyes to heaven and say, “thank you God, for bringing this person into my life…they are a gift to me.”
Are we grateful to God? Are we grateful to others?
In this Lenten season we are beginning to make a good examination of conscience…meaning we are looking back on our life and seeing all the areas where we have grown spiritually, but also the ways in which we have fallen into sin. Our memory is a very useful tool because it can help us to respond in a healthy way to experiences that we have had in the past. Perhaps memories of past hurts initiate a response of sorrow and forgiveness in us. Perhaps memories of past joys initiate a response of friendship and acceptance. God is present in all the events and experiences of our lives. We must strive to remember God in times when there was great joy, that he was the source of that joy, but also to remember the times of sorrow, that God did not abandon us, but was right there supporting us in our trial.
Our childhood experiences are extremely influential when it comes to forming our character. If children come from a good home with a mother and father who love them, or if a child comes from a home that was abusive or demanding, this will affect their whole outlook on life: how they respond to God and people in authority. Our memory of the past affects our interior life. If we are at peace with the past and are able to see God’s mercy in it, then our interior life will be peaceful. However, if trials of the past seem to haunt us in a sense, then our interior life will suffer. We must pray for the gift of peace and acceptance of the past…then God’s Spirit can really work!
There can be three defects to our memory. Remembering past sins, especially remembering sins that have already been brought to the Sacrament of Confession, can cause a renewed temptation to despair. I once heard that every time the rooster would crow, St. Peter would weep remembering how he denied the Lord three times. This did not make him fall into despair, but made him humble. These memories need to be purified with good spiritual direction, spiritual reading, and prayer. One good book is St. Augustine’s Confessions where he remembers and writes about his life of sin, not out of despair but out of glory to God who delivered him from that life of sin. Remembering past injuries to the point of unforgiveness can cause anger and resentment to build up. Lent is a good time to pray for peace in these difficult times and to come to the Sacrament of Confession so that we can receive grace to carry those memories with peace and grace. Remembering past sins can also make us forget the loving mercy of God. As stated above we must recall often how merciful God has been to us. Participating in the Holy Mass is a beautiful way to encounter the mercy of God. The Eucharist is a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the Cross, for the Eucharist and the Cross are one single sacrifice. The offering is the same and the one being offered is the same, only the manner of offering is different (C.f. CCC 1366-1367).
What is the remedy for purifying our memory? The remedy is hope. Hope purifies the memory, because it makes us mindful of God and orders our memories to God. We learn through this virtue how to see everything in the light of God and His Providential care. Through hope, our past memories of sin can transform into memories of God’s Divine Merciful Love. Memories of the past through the eyes of hope can help us to have more self-knowledge, place us in a spirit of humility, and bring sorrow to our soul for having offended God. Healing through past injuries can cause the Holy Spirit to empower us with the grace to forgive others…the way that Christ has forgiven us. Healing that happens from the past brings joy to the angels and saints in heaven…with them we can forever sing of the Mercy of God.