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All Good Things
February 26, 2024

Lent and Memory Work

One of the things I have noticed about getting older is that not only are there more memories in our minds and hearts, but they also come back to us in a different way and for a different motive. When I was young, I don’t remember spending a lot of time dwelling on memories or thinking about the past. There was just too much living to do in the present, in the moment. Life seemed to be all about getting prepared for the future. The memories that did surface were either simply pleasant or just a bit aggravating. These kinds of memories came and went quickly and without drama.

But now, lots of memories come back. And they come back with more regret than I ever remembered. In the past few months, I have thought of people with whom I went to high school and grammar school. I have thought of aunts and uncles who are no longer with us and teachers I had along the long road from diplomas in high school to degrees in graduate school. My memories circle not around being cruel or nasty to any one of them. I don’t remember being that kind of a kid. My memories haunt me in a much different way. My regret now is that I could have loved them more. I could have been kinder, more compassionate, more understanding and more focused on what made them happier, stronger and more fulfilled. I remember them in a special way and with some remorse because they were good people and, in hindsight, I took their goodness for granted rather than cherishing them as a gift.

This memory work points in one direction. It is the need to be forgiven not just for our acts of commission (for the wrong we have done however big or small), but also for our acts of omission. Those are the things we should or could have done. They are the various good things we might have done and would have done if we were not so focused on ourselves and our own needs and feelings.

You might be hesitant that this memory work could lead to obsessive forms of guilt or the unnecessary flagellation of the ego. Surprisingly, I have found that it goes in the opposite direction. It has led me into further thoughts of gratitude for the goodness of those I have encountered, because I realize that they never demanded more of me. Rarely were there conditions set on their love of me. They never withheld their care of me until I came up with more attention to them. They loved me even with my weaknesses and this is to me another sign of their goodness and the work of grace.

Jesus once said, “if someone asks you to go one mile, go two. If someone asks for your shirt, give them your cloak as well.” What he is talking about is generosity and an abundant spirit, the measure with which we measure our love and goodness out for others. We think that we are afraid of what we don’t have. What Jesus reveals is that we are most afraid of what we do have – the gifts we do have, the talents we could use, the love that we can offer right in front of us but that we are so hesitant about.

We have in our hearts one great power, Jesus reminds us. And it is the power of forgiveness. Imagine if we used it generously. What if Putin chose to forgive Ukraine for the desire to be a free and proud independent nation? What if King Charles III chose to forgive Prince Harry for never having gotten over the death of his mother, the woman the King had scorned? What if we forgave all the people in our lives who ever harmed us, hurt us, rejected or abandoned us (once and for all)? We would be left with a world to love. We would be left with those who need and deserve our care and compassion. We would be left with the feeling of what it must be like to be our Father in heaven who, as Jesus says, makes the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous and makes his rain fall on the good and the bad.

This is what Lent is all about – not primarily about regrets but about so much more - refreshing, renewing and abundant love. Let’s continue our Lent along these holy and wholesome tracks. Amen.

David B. Couturier, OFM. Cap.
Executive Director, Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University


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