Monday, July 17, 2017

Living fully in the present – we need to do this, but so of us few really do.

To be told that we cannot change the past nor anticipate a worrisome future is a given.  As a sentence in written form, it makes perfect sense.  Anyone using logic will agree with this statement.  Yet, there are millions of people who live each day with much needless anxiety and worry because of some event or events that had occurred in their past, or because they are fearful and apprehensive about something that has yet to occur. 

Some well-meaning Christians may even have the idea that carrying a burden of an injured past is what Jesus meant when he said that we should take up our crosses and follow him.  I’m afraid he didn't mean that at all.  Crosses are not our injured past, especially when they are our sins and mistakes that we had made in our unenlightened youth.  Moreover, if we had confessed these in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, seeing these sins as our crosses to be carried for the rest of our lives only shows that we may not believe that God’s mercy was effective and real. 

Perhaps what needs to be made clear is that our memories of our mistakes and transgressions do not mean that God holds these sins against us.  That we remember them are indicative of healthy memory cells and that we are not demented.  The phrase that is often tossed with hardly any thought about our injured past is that we should ‘forgive and forget’.  This is not only wrong, but also something that is truly inhuman.  

My family had a bereavement recently.  I had an unmarried aunt who passed away just last week.  She had been a dementia patient for about six years and she had been very well cared for in a nursing home until she died.  She could hardly respond to our weekly visits and words of comfort to her, and she was not (physically at least) present to us when we were there.  Dementia patients are not able to recall their past because their neurological function is impaired.  That she had forgotten her past was a sign that she was not as healthy as she ought to be.  Wouldn’t it then be a sign of great health, when we say over and over again that we forgive, but are struggling to forget?  It means that our memory cells are working, as they should.  To want to forget, I’m afraid, is to also want some form of dementia.  That cannot be what God wants.  Besides, if we forget the event and because of that, we say that we have forgiven, it doesn’t raise the bar of forgiveness high at all.  But when we remember the event vividly, and at that instant make the conscious decision to forgive, the bar of forgiveness is set very high.  Its value as a virtue is intensified tremendously.  This is why God’s mercy is so amazing.  He looks at us, knows what we have done, but still loves and forgives us. 

True forgiveness must not include memory loss.  Rather, true forgiveness is when we can recall the entire incident that was painful when it occurred, but now, whenever the memory is played out in our minds, the pain and the need for revenge and hankering for our own brand of justice is no longer harboured in our hearts.  We can truly let go of the need to punish (others or even ourselves) and learn from our past.  The memory is not accompanied with a need to hurt anybody, including ourselves.

There is a theological problem with God forgetting anything.  If God is perfect, he has no fault.   Forgetting is a fault, and it is a flaw, and as such, it is also a shortcoming.  God has no shortcomings, as he is perfect.  God is perfect - in beauty, in truth and in love.  God doesn’t so much as erase our past as he forgives it.  After we confess our sins, God doesn’t forget that we had made those errors, no matter how heinous and stupid they were.  Instead, he sees them, but because he also sees how sincere we were in repenting for having committed them, overlooks them with his love.  That is the true part of loving that most of us cannot understand because we do not allow ourselves to practice it in our lives.  We hold with some degree of ransom in our hearts the wrongs that others have done to us in our lives as an edge that we have over them when we forgive them.  It even becomes a ‘bargaining chip’ that we keep stashed away in our hearts ‘just in case’ we need to wield it in the face of those whom we had shown mercy and forgiveness, like some Joker card up our sleeve.  We just find it so hard to see their wrongdoing while at the same time, love them and forgive them for what they have done.  It’s either/or for us.  Either we forget that they have hurt us and we forgive them, or we remember that they have hurt us, and therefore do not forgive them.

But God’s love has the amazing ability to be not either/or, but both/and.  So does his divine mercy.  He sees that we have made mistakes, AND he decides to forgive us at the same time. 

I have encountered myriad instances of people coming to me, telling me that they have been so burdened by their past sins or the wounds of having been sinned against by their nearest and dearest before.  Some have been guilty of having had abortions, some have been betrayed by their spouses, some have betrayed their spouses, some have been dishonest and because of their dishonesty have left a trail of destruction and become destructive themselves. 

Many of them are pained and struggle with peace now because they are still living in the past.  Peace, as far as they are concerned, is predicated on the removal of such struggles and afflictions.  Holding grudges and hurts of the past is living in the past.  Fearing the unrealized outcomes of what has yet to happen is living in the future.  Some cancer patients (as well as those looking after them) project so much into their unrealized future and because they see their future as nothing but a slate of grey, are already living anxiety-filled lives now. 

That is why Jesus tells us not to worry, as tomorrow has enough troubles of its own.  There is so much wisdom there, but so few of us are ready to live it out. 

If you are truly pragmatic, living fully in the present should be the only way to live.  Unfortunately, most of us are only nominal pragmatists.  A great number of us are more like time travellers – living in the past or in the future, and as a result, never happy living this way.


  1. This is an interesting read on a Monday morning. I agree with you that …………"God is perfect, he has no fault.……". Not constrained by time & space…He is in the Now - so our sins are all before Him - but He chooses to overlook our sins...coz He believes in giving second, third………………multiple chances to Man whom He creates out of love?

    Unlike Him, we forget quite readily - we choose to ignore or forget Him (albeit however momentarily) when we choose Sin. When we awake to the ugliness of sin, we are appalled, we repent & are contrite - He forgives, welcomes us back. In this process, I'm often struck not only by his mercy & love , but by the humility of our God. How can He continue to let us do this to Him again & again? Perhaps it's because He wants us to trust in his limitless love.

    Each fall makes one realise that one cannot rely on oneself at all - it puts one in one's place -at the bottom. But with this mistrust of self , arises a greater confidence & understanding of God's love.

    So on our part when we are asked for forgiveness, our hearts should be humbled & yet full of an unspoken joy that the perpetuator of the fault has awakened to his wrong-doing, is grieving & needs our affirmation & encouragement to stand tall & try again to be what the Lord meant Man to be when he created him - to stand upright & take ownership of self & stewardship of His creation. We are in a way - privileged-to help to forget? It makes for vulnerability ..

    God bless u, Father.


  2. Thanks Father Luke for taking the time to pen your thoughts. It really fills in the gaps of guidance in between weekly sermons. Please continue writing, your flock is listening.

    1. Thank you for your encouragement, Kevin. It would help me tremendously if my readers like you would, from time to time, write and give me suggestions as to what would benefit them in terms of subject matter, issues and struggles. Otherwise, I am often 'shooting in the dark'.

  3. Dear Fr Luke,
    What a coincidence! I was having this struggle in my workplace with some colleagues who are not practising integrity beacuse of power struggle. The newcomers came in the organisation with passion and vision always left with humiliation. The reason was he or she does not suit the organisation culture.
    I want to leave this organisation but my inner voice tells me that my clients will suffer. The words, always capture in my heart that I am thirst and forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. I am still praying things will change in my organisation and i could leave the organisation.
    Do you believe me? 2 mths ago, i dreamt of St John Marie Vianney. He dressed like a lay man and in blue checkered shirt. His eyes are deep, hazel color with sunken cheeks. He told: "It is potential time and it is the peak to learn time. Grab the opportunity. Everyone has the opportunity and do not waste the opportunity." I believe, those who are given a 2nd life by the Lord will know what he means. Believing and living with and in Him Amen!

    God's Love