That said, as terrible as the loss of memory can be, the inability to forget can also be a terrible burden. When the mind remembers every disappointment, hurt, and pain of life, family, and friendship, it is a poison to the heart and a fog that prevents the joys of life from being enjoyed. Nothing contributes to the burden of such memories more than an inability or an unwillingness to forgive. We tend to think that forgiveness is for the person whose words or deeds have wounded us but it is less for the one who needs to be forgiven than it is for the one who forgives.
Our hearts and lives live in the prison of such memories. When we cannot look on those whom we love without recalling how their words or actions have hurt us at one time or another or often, we live the shadow of a life and not in its fullness. When we find ourselves embittered by those memories, we are held captive to them. Sometimes there is the desire to forget but no ability and sometimes it is either more convenient or more comfortable to us to live in the misery of that remembrance than to let go of the hurts through the healing power of forgiveness.
Though feelings and emotion enters in, forgiveness is not based on such feelings or emotions. It is an act of the will -- a choice to forgive. We make the decision to forgive. That choice may be influenced and guided by our feelings and emotion but it is ultimately not emotional at all. It is reasoned and deliberate. When we make the decision to let go of the past, our thoughts, feelings, and emotions enter into this but it is a decision and choice of the will. In this our feelings and emotions can help but they can also hinder this choice.
When St. Paul teaches us to “Bless those who persecute you” (Rom. 12:14), he is not being a Polly Anna and diminishing our hurts or suggesting that we cover up those hurts with a paper face. No, indeed. St. Paul is calling on us to heal ourselves by blessing those who have hurt us. Forgiveness does not let the sinner off the hook but counters the power of sin with a greater power. Just as Jesus does not diminish the depth or wound of our sin but acknowledges it and then pays for that sin with something worth even more than our hurtful desires, words, and deeds -- His own blood!
When we pray "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" we are connecting the healing power of His own blood to our own lives. It becomes either the force to move us to the choice to forgive others or it will become the barrier that prevents us from the clear conscience that is His gift of forgiveness.
It is said that St. Therese of Avila wrote that “The only thing we will thank God for when we get to Heaven will be our crosses.” Imagine that. The things we curse and the burdens we bear today will become the occasions for our gratitude. Why? Because through them God worked in us by His grace to kill the old man already dead in trespasses and sin and to bring forth the new person created in Christ Jesus for righteousness, peace, and joy. In the same way St. Rose of Lima remarked that “Apart from the cross, there is no other ladder by which we may get to Heaven.” In this she not means not only the cross of Christ by which we are saved by a cross shaped life in which Christ live in us and through us His mercy and grace -- primarily through the way we meet and endure the persecutions, terrors, threats, fears, and, yes, hurts of this mortal life.
So I encourage you to consider the hurtful memories that have become your torment and your prison and to extend Christ's forgiveness to those who have hurt you. Do it not for their sake but for the sake of Christ and, ultimately, so that you will be free. Pray for those who have hurt you -- not the prayer of pride that asks them to know and feel the pain they have caused but the humble prayer of faith that pleads for God to bring them to repentance and to know the healing power of His forgiveness that they may be set free as well.
To praise God in all things, as St. Paul encourages, is not to rejoice in want or pain but to acknowledge these in the face of something far greater. God's healing grace is that pearl of great price and that treasure hidden in a field. Rejoice in this gift and in the grace in which you stand and God will see your mind and heart and will to forgive others and redeem memory from its ransom of bitterness and hate. Only then can memory again be a gift and a blessing. Cleansed by the healing power of Christ, what we remember and who we remember become rich and pleasant journeys into yesterday from which we return thankful and at peace. Think about this on the way to St. Valentine's Day.