Forgetting what lies behind

posted in: Prayer and Virtue | 3
Guerrierri Crucifixion
The Crucifixion of Christ by Giovanni Francesco Guerrieri (Wikimedia Commons). Saints and sinners–cling only to His Cross.

A couple weeks ago at Mass (the 5th Sunday of Lent) we heard two Scripture passages about leaving the past behind. The first reading included this:

“Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is 43:18-19)

And from the second reading:

“Brothers and sisters, I for my part
do not consider myself to have taken possession.
Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind
but straining forward to what lies ahead,
I continue my pursuit toward the goal,
the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12-14)

Leave behind the good

Did you notice that both these readings talk about leaving behind the good things in one’s past? Yes, in Moses’ time, God led His people through the Red Sea. But now He is doing something new. St. Paul had natural gifts and was one of God’s chosen people. But he chose to forget them.

Why would we want to forget the good things God did in the Old Testament or the gifts He has given us?

Because they can’t open Heaven’s gates to us.

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, but their behavior in the desert showed they were still slaves to sin. (In John 8, the Gospel from last Wednesday, Jesus says the Jews who reject His teaching are also still slaves to sin.)

St. Paul followed the Law to a “T.” And then he arrested Christians and had them put to death.

The Israelites died in the desert. The unbelieving Jews had Jesus crucified. The Law, great as it was, could not save them.

Only Jesus could. St. Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus. He had to be born again, start life over. He knew now that he could not save himself and that his obedience to the Law was rubbish. However good it might have seemed before, it could not save him.

And so, he cast it aside. He forgot it.

Forgetting the bad

If you have read Trusting God with St. Therese, or my many posts on trust, you are familiar with my struggles. I am still tempted almost daily by despair. I fall so short! I sin so often! I do so little for God!

Then the Enemy’s voice whispers in my ear, taunting me.

What can a sinful person like me do? How can I make it to Heaven? How can I be at peace?

I can forget.

I can repent and move on, not agonizing over my mistakes, but entrusting them to God. I can cast them aside.

My salvation depends on God’s goodness, not my own. Yes, I must strive to follow Him, and I will continue to do so. But so much of my life is based on pride! I think that all is over each time I commit a fault! Can I not trust God to forgive my faults? Can I not trust Him to sanctify me in His own way and time?

Forgetting all things

I am trying to practice the active purification of the memory. I want to put aside all pondering, all reminiscing, all regret that is outside God’s will.

So when I remember an incident from my teenage years, I ask: Does the memory help me or those I am bound to serve? If not, I throw it away.

I picture myself on a hill in the wind, notebook in hand. Each page is a memory, cherished or repudiated. I tear out a leaf and let it go. It blows towards the horizon, gone forever.

“In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown, but You, my Beloved!” (St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul)

I am completely vulnerable. I have nothing but Christ to shield me. No place to hide. Nothing to win His favor. Yet, “I am confident and unafraid” (Is 12:2).

Confidence in the Cross

Jesus was naked on the Cross. But in the Garden of Eden, He clothed the repentant Adam and Eve with His own hand.

May we have no other covering but His on the Day of Judgment. No clinging to anything but Him. His sacrifice is everything. The beginning and the end. The Alpha and the Omega. Let us trust in it.

Blessed Holy Week!

Connie Rossini

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Hi, I'm a Catholic writer and homeschool mother of four boys. I practice Carmelite spirituality. Check out my Books page for publications to help your whole family grow in holiness.

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3 Responses

  1. Alyosha

    In Buddhism there is a concept that enlightenment is realized but not created. At the same time, there is a notion of path — of working through what obscures realization. So, for example, you have the four powers as a method for working with your own negative actions. The first power is reliance on enlightened mind and dharma teachings. The second is cultivating regret for the negative action (as distinguished from guilt). The third is confession of the negative action — to bring it into the light. The fourth is resolution not to act in the negative way again.

    So, there is a tension — I don’t think it is a conflict — between understanding that enlightenment is not created, but that there is a lot of work to do to eliminate what obscures it. An analogy is that the sun is always shining — and has never stopped shining — but in this world there are clouds. Another traditional analogy is the analogy of the three pots. The student has to be able to hear the dharma. Being full of preconceived ideas is like a pot that is upside down or that is full and can’t receive anything. Not paying attention is like a pot that is leaking and can’t retain anything. Being filled with negative emotions or hearing with bad motivation is like a pot that has poison in the bottom — so that whatever is put in is corrupted. The path is becoming a suitable vessel — receptive to realization.

    It seems to me that Christianity, in a somewhat similar way, has an understanding that salvation is through grace and not through good works. This is similar to the topic of your essay above. Yet there is still a lot of work to do. There is a path that is necessary to be receptive to grace. And for that path, it can be helpful to recall negative actions and to have regret.

    Thanks for this essay. Have a joyful holy week!

    • Connie Rossini

      Thanks, Alyosha. As always, your comment is very interesting–I won’t say “enlightening.” 😉

      Protestantism in general says we are saved “by faith alone”–a phrase coined by Martin Luther. He actually added the word “alone” in his version of Paul’s letter to the Romans, and the theology stuck. For Catholics, it’s more complicated. Some Protestants accuse us of believing in works-based salvation. We actually believe we are saved “by grace alone,” but grace manifests itself in both faith and works. Even our works, as St. Paul says, were prepared in advance by God. So we can’t boast about them. Works are necessary–no works = no faith–but they don’t save on their own. We believe God infuses virtue into the baptized soul, enabling her to do His will. She still has to choose to act. And if she never chooses to act, or acts gravely in defiance of God’s will/laws, she is in trouble, even though she is a Christian. We cannot just say, “Oh, I prayed a sinner’s prayer, I believe in God, so I’m saved no matter what I do.” Jesus did not come to save us in spite of our disobedience, He came to enable us to be obedient, so that we could be saved. Grace allows obedience, which we must then walk in.

      So, was St. Therese an Evangelical? A Protestant author called me and told me his friend had written a book proposing this thesis. On the surface, it looks like it. But Therese’s teaching was different from Evangelicalism in two ways I can think of. First, she is talking about someone who is already on the path to Heaven. She was primarily concerned in her discussion of faith vs works about going straight to Heaven or spending time in Purgatory, not about being saved vs condemned. The other difference is she is talking about doing great things for God, like being a foreign missionary, which was her dream but her health prevented her from realizing it; overcoming the most ingrained sins and habits of one’s temperament, which usually comes with the graces of infused contemplation; making sacrifices for oneself and others; etc. In other words, she was not saying that deliberate sin has no effect on our relationship with God, as some Evangelicals do. But if we are striving to do God’s will, we can trust Him with our weaknesses, whatever they may be. I hope to write in more detail about this in the future (i.e., in another book).

      • Alyosha

        Thank you. I am interested and appreciate your taking the time to share this.

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