Monday, October 3, 2011

Forgetfulness – the reason why many fall into sin and error

What sets us apart from the other animals and sentient beings are the gift of our intellect and our wills. This is an undeniable fact. This combination sets us head and shoulders above the animals.

What is our greatest gift is really also a double-edged sword. Whilst our intellect can grasp and comprehend in ways that are deep and profound, it is when we forget our giftedness that we sometimes end up living beneath our dignity as well. Forgetfulness can often be one of the root causes of sin.

What makes a saint is not that one has been sinless. What makes a saint is the realization that one is a sinner who needs to be standing under the brilliance of God’s mercy, and one has never allowed the self to forget that. The unrepentant sinner, however, is one who has forgotten how to be grateful for life, and harbours grudges and ill-will to many around oneself, being callous with words and unthinking in actions that end up hurting and wounding. Sometimes, the innocent parties in one’s life suffer the most from such actions. The saint is one who sees and realizes that nothing is possible without the tender mercy of God, and is constantly reminding oneself of how much grace awaits one if one only asks for it.

The forgiven sinner constantly remembers. The unrepentant sinner easily forgets. The former needs no particular reason to be thankful. The other only waits till a ‘good enough’ occasion comes about to do so.

It is a fact that the Internet has made our world a much smaller place, and my experience of being half a world away from home has made me appreciate this in a concrete way daily. Each evening at 6pm here in Washington DC, I get to download a copy of the Straits Times onto my iPad, and I am able to receive the day’s news at the very same time that Singaporeans get theirs in print form. I am not sure if it was coincidental, but I did notice that in both Saturday’s and Sunday’s edition, that there were two articles that featured the element of death and love.

While Saturday’s edition spoke of Rose Parties, Sunday’s edition featured an article written by Lee Wei Ling reminiscing about her mother. Cutting across both Rose Parties and Ms Lee’s stories are the elements of mortality, emotion and love – three things that feature richly in our human living experiences, three things which are often the fundament of what constitutes a deep and meaningful life, and three things which many do not really know how to deal with adequately and appropriately either.

I do not intend to critique these two articles in any way. I am sure that many have been touched by them, and want to do something about their relationships with their loved ones after reading them. If so, that would be something good that has come out of such articles. But there is something else that lies much deeper that causes most of us to need something like death to remind us the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of our lives and our loves. It is this – our shared sense of forgetfulness and how easy it is for us to be ungrateful in life.

The Catholic faith has always been helping her members to cultivate an ongoing sense of gratitude for above all things, God himself. It is called the Eucharist. Its etymology is from the Greek Eucharistia, which means ‘thanksgiving’. But I wonder how many Catholics enter a Church for the celebration of Mass with that purpose in mind – to be thankful. Many do go with petitions of some sort on their minds and in their hearts. And with the approaching of the school exams in Singapore, it’s a safe wager to make that good examination results are a common unsaid petition.

But one doesn’t need to have had one’s prayers answered in order to be thankful. Could our ‘business’ or ‘quid-pro-quo’ attitude in life cause us to see that only if God does something extraordinary for us that causes him to ‘deserve’ our thanks after that? It would be sad if we need constant reminder after constant reminder to be people of gratitude. I suppose, articles like the two mentioned can jolt our selective memory. Some are reminded to be grateful after attending retreats, reading spiritual books, having good ‘soul’ friends, reading meaningful articles or even getting a doctor’s prognosis that doesn’t seem terrible positive. But if these remind us to be grateful people for the kindness shown to us in life, they will go a long way to help us to be saints, or at least, be saints in the making.

So, why should we be thankful at Mass? Not just for what God has done, certainly. For who he is, and for who we are. We forget that too easily, and that is the cause of most of our sinfulness. We share a certain spiritual dementia that causes us forget we are made in the image and likeness of the one who gave us life in the first place. If going for daily Mass doesn’t inculcate in us a spirit of gratitude for everything (and everyone) in life, we would have been missing the forest for the proverbial trees.


  1. Dear Fr Luke

    When I was a student at UC Berkeley, I would often cut class and use my student pass to take the bus to San Francisco for more happening pursuits. The bus would travel along the Bay Bridge from which I would have a magnificent view of the Golden Gate Bridge. To me, this was always an awe inspiring moment, and I would unfailingly say a small prayer of thanks to God for the opportunity of just being there against all the odds. I went to mass regularly then and I think that was a point ironically that while I most had an ongoing sense of gratitude to God for who he was, even if simultaneously I began to forget who I was.

    Ten years on, the stark realization through several 'life border' situations is that I have wavered badly and made so many wrong choices. I have been ungrateful and forgetful for the blessings that God has given me. Perhaps it is time to find a faith which was lost, and that starts with going back to the basic attitude of gratitude that all things come from God and that we are first spiritual beings learning to be human. I think true humility comes from the knowledge that God works in mysterious ways and sometimes it is through chaos, confusion and conflict that truth and grace emerge.

    Ex Cal Bear.

  2. When I read your post on Monday, especially these lines……” the unrepentant sinner is one who has forgotten how to be grateful for life, and harbours grudges and ill-will to many around oneself, being callous with words and unthinking in actions that end up hurting and wounding. Sometimes, the innocent parties in one’s life suffer the most from such actions. ’’ – it brings to mind Sunday’s reading- the poignancy of the vineyard owner’s lament, “ What could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done? I expected it to yield grapes. Why did it yield sour grapes instead? ” ( Isa 5: 1-7) – yes……for we are like the sour grapes –sour …in our ingratitude, our forgetfulness, our apathy to all that has been gifted to us…….

    And in the Gospel reading where Jesus enlarged on this theme of the vineyard …..the ‘sourness’ of sin - of greed, of pride can be so over-powering that it can degenerate into killing without compunction all that is good and beautiful or rightful. So, I think it’s quite true that we humans forget very easily especially ……… be grateful.

    Even in the time of Jesus, out of ten lepers, only one, and that a Samaritan, came back to Jesus to thank Him after he was cured ( Lk 17:11-19) Even Jesus asked ( in consternation or astonishment at their ingratitude ) – “ were not all made clean? The other nine where are they” ?

    Yes- were they so forgetful about their terrible illness that they cannot remember to praise and thank God who made their healing possible ? Perhaps this is an ingrained defect or fault in us humans – we have a ‘forgetful gene’ ? More likely, it could be because we are such superficial people that all happenings are just ‘events’ ( however personal) in our lives and we have never allowed them to become ‘’experiences’’ – these happenings have never been truly experienced and lived through ( or internalised ) and so they do not touch us enough for us to feel and appreciate them deeply , seeing the guiding and compassionate hand of God. If we cannot even see this in the special ‘grace- experiences’ , is it ever likely that we can be aware and grateful for the more taken- for- granted splendour of creation ?
    Thank you Fr for your sharing. God bless you.

  3. Dear Fr. Luke,

    Your post touched something deep inside of me.

    Just like the woman in chapter 7 of Luke’s gospel, whose tears fell upon the feet of Jesus, I too have been forgiven much. . When I think of the many, many times (in my past life) that I have hurt Jesus by my sins; and the fact in all of that time, HE NEVER STOPPED LOVING ME, it’s almost too much to bear. Or to put it in a more tuneful way, “I scarce can take it in.”

    Yes, I am the one who owed five hundred day’s wages. I suppose that having been forgiven so much makes one all the more grateful. As Jesus said of that woman, “So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love.

    From the article, “Gratitude is the Heart’s memory” by Fr. Thomas Rosica CSB:
    “Remembrance is the most precious feature of the virtue of gratitude. One of the most important qualities is the ability to say "thank you" to others and to take no one and nothing for granted. Those who possess the virtue of gratitude are truly rich. They not only know they have been blessed, but they continuously remember that all good things come from God”.
    “Gratitude is creative. People bound together by gratitude are always discovering and awakening abundant sources of strength. The more thankful a person is, the richer he or she is within. Thankful people store up in their grateful memory all the good experiences of the past, just as the French proverb states: "Gratitude is the heart's memory."

    I’m still a lo..oong way off from learning to love more bravely, but the memory and awareness of Gods unrelenting love is the motivation to want to try all the more.

    God bless You,

  4. There's more (as always) to the aspects of forgetfulness, no? There are those who choose daily to forget, perhaps of a bad experience or someone who has hurt them.

    There's also forgetfulness when the world's moments or experiences draw us in and we live just then. Which is in a way God's intention, no? To show us a sliver of the joys of heaven that is here on earth. It could not be that a good God creates us, puts us on earth just to suffer madly in order to either go heaven or hell.

    In animation which I used to do, there was the suspension of disbelief. We all know early animation is just pieces of drawings and the eye is tricked into seeing them 'move' and 'come alive'. Does this mean the world suspends our disbelief and when we think of our mortality, like when Steve Jobs passed away, our reel screeches to a halt and the colours of the world dim?

    Then there's the bit where we have to forget in order to remember...

    God bless you and thanks for sharing.

  5. When too many arrows are launched at me from all directions I tend to forget who God is and my human weakness takes control of me to sin.Realising,what I did was to crucify God's only Son,makes me tremble.Fortunately,God our Father in His abundant Mercy and Compassion has given us the Gift of priests through Jesus's saving grace to recocile with God.Thank you Fr Luke.God Bless.