Chains of Memory

The past couple of days I’ve been plagued by memories: guilty recollections of past sins, glimpses of images I never should have seen, bits of off-color or debauched “humor,” lyrics to songs that should not be sung.

Beginning in college, this was my rebellion. I looked at, listened to, and watched whatever I wanted. And in short order, I proved the adage, “Garbage in, garbage out.” During much of my college years, I swore like a sailor; I told dirty jokes to old friends and new acquaintances, and I made excuses for my behavior—to others and to myself.

“It could be worse,” I said, and I knew I was right. I had a vivid imagination, and worse played out in my mind if I lingered too long on any impure thing.

Thanks be to God, over the first ten year of my marriage to Jodi, I weeded these things out of my life. Little by little I dropped the jokes, kicked my swearing habit, left porn behind, stopped watching racy movies, and cleaned up my taste in music. And beginning with one no-nonsense confession with Fr. Siebenaler, in which he politely but firmly questioned my resolve to actually amend my life and advised me to open myself to Jodi and ask for her help, I left off making excuses, and began instead to apologize.

So here we are, more than a decade later, and the Enemy is at work again: I find myself mindlessly mouthing the music in my head, only to realize it’s some obscene gangster rap fantasy or metal mayhem I laughed at as a younger man. In my mind’s eye I see images I haven’t looked upon in years, like a sin scrapbook I can’t help but leaf through, gazing at memories best forgotten.

That’s the first point of this ramble: you can’t forget. What your brain takes in is filed away for later reference. Every image, every word, is there, tying you to past experience. And those things you subject yourself to again and again, out of desire or habit? Your mind naturally assumes they are important, forging shorter, stronger connections so they can be easily accessed.

I can’t recall yesterday’s discussion with my bride, but I remember every detail of my past sins, with a clarity that repels the spirit and tempts the flesh anew. The Accuser seeks to set me against myself—but I know now I must seek every day, every moment, to purify both body and soul.

That’s the second point: The struggle against sin is noble and never-ending, to be sure, but all struggles are not created equal. The struggle of the rabbit in the snare speeds its demise; it kicks and thrashes against the noose, which only tightens against its efforts.

That was me, in the confessional all those years ago—declaring sorrow for my sins but unwilling to even attempt to remove my head from the strangling wire. The death brought about by sin cannot be escaped by panic, emotionalism, or bodily struggle. It is a spiritual struggle, requiring prayer, persistence, and genuine love of neighbor and of self. At some point, all the plans, safeguards, and accountability measures boil down to a decision: Am I going to stop doing these things or not?

How does one become a saint? Will it.

Finally, the third point: We don’t have to remain bound in these chains of memory, because God’s love is mercy.

This is not the first time I’ve struggled with recalling past sins and feeling old remorse and new temptation. The last time I remember it as strongly as this, our pastor, Fr. Richards, advised that I repeat the prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

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At the time he told me this, it didn’t click with me that these are the words of the inscription at the bottom of St. Faustina’s image of Divine Mercy. (“Jezu ufam tobie” in the original Polish, above.)

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust in your mercy. I trust that you have forgiven these past, confessed sins. I trust that you continue to forgive me. I trust that you love me.

We are washed clean in the blood and water that flow from His Sacred Heart. We need not linger in darkness or doubt. He loves us. He forgives us. He saves.

Healed

But he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed. — Isaiah 53:5

Almost two weeks ago I shared an image of Jesus I see in my mind, most often in Adoration, in which the scars from His scourging are revealed to me. And as you may have seen, last Thursday I left to make a silent retreat. The weekend was peaceful, profound, and, I believe, fruitful; I will be sharing bits and pieces of it over the next many days, I’m sure.

One particularly impactful reflection began as we prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, and came to a beautiful conclusion early this morning. As we prayed, I meditated on scourging and crucifixion, and as usual, wondered what must happen to people to harden them enough to inflict such suffering on another human being. I can almost imagine it in the abstract—that people could be cruel enough to flay someone ragged and nail him to a cross to die. But when the scene becomes specific—how could this person put his hand to the whip or the hammer and make that person weep and bleed—I struggle to comprehend the inhumanity.

Could I do it? Never…

And then I thought about those around me, whom I profess to love and then lash with my tongue and pierce with my glance. The suffering I inflict out of comfort and convenience by looking away, tuning out, remaining ignorant and silent and comfortable. Continue reading

Memento Mori, Revisited

Back in April I shared a post entitled “Memento Mori, or Don’t Get Comfortable.” It was inspired by the sense of urgency I saw in the saints highlighted in Fr. Gaitley’s guide to Marian consecration, 33 Days to Morning Glory. In my reading this summer—particularly Praying With Padre Pio and The Little Flowers of St. Francis (which I’m reading now )—I continue to see this urgency. No sooner is a sin perceived than repentance and penance are undertaken; no sooner does an opportunity arise to serve or suffer than it is pursued to the full; no sooner is a prayer answered than praise and thanksgiving erupt.

LittleFlowersStFrancisCoverThis urgency is particularly edifying to me. Not only do I have a marked tendency to overestimate what I can achieve in the time I have, but I am also tempted more to presumption than despair. In other words, I’m inclined to coast and hope for the best—which is fine for a thing with wheels, but on two legs, usually turns into a long tumble downhill. Continue reading

Scars

Blogger’s Note: I shared a shorter version of this as a comment on a post from another blog, then realized I had never shared it on my own. Here goes…

Often in Adoration, just after I genuflect, kneel, close my eyes, and greet the Lord, an image comes to mind. The image is of the risen Jesus, dressed in white robes as He is often portrayed, standing before me in welcome. Like Thomas and the other apostles, I can still see the holes in His glorified hands and feet, though I am drawn more to His smiling face. In my mind’s eye, I rise and we embrace like brothers or old friends—and through the texture of his robe,  I can feel the riot of raised and jagged scars criss-crossing his shoulders and back from the scourging he endured for our sake.

For my sake. Continue reading

Victory Is His

For many years I struggled with a number of habitual sins common to the male of the species. I say I struggled with, rather than against, because for much of that time I was complicit. I knew these things were sinful, knew they weren’t healthy for me or my marriage, and yet I was only willing to resist up to a point.

I remember going to confession with Fr. Siebenaler in the old St. Michael church and confessing these same sins yet again. He spoke kindly but bluntly: “You remind me of St. Augustine praying, ‘Give me continence, but not yet!'” And he advised that if I truly loved my wife and wanted to leave these sins behind I should admit them to her and ask for her help in overcoming them.

I thanked him, did my penance, and returned home thinking, He’s obviously never been married—no way am I telling Jodi! Continue reading