It’s hard to know what to write about for this Sunday. In the Novus Ordo in most places the observance of Epiphany will take place. In the Vetus Ordo it is the Feast of the Holy Family. In the Novus Ordo last Sunday was Holy Family, while in the Vetus it was Sunday in the Octave of Christmas. I’ll take an element of Epiphany, such an important feast, and a piece from the Holy Family, because the family is so under attack today. Not just family, but even the reality of biological sexes is being twisted. It so defies the intellect that it must be, as others have mentioned in relation to “gender ideology” of diabolical origin.
The piece of our Epiphany celebration will be myrrh, one of the three gifts of the Magi. The element of observing the Feast of the Holy Family will be pain.
When the Feast of the Holy Family comes around, I have sometimes received comments from people unsettled by the day because they were badly hurt by family. The Feast itself and the ideal of the Holy Family leaves them shaken. This is a non-trivial issue for some, which causes them enduring pain. Professional and spiritual counseling can be of help. Also necessary is what some call the purification of memory.
While we don’t forget bad things that happened to us, or things we have done, we must purify the memory of those things so that the Enemy of the soul does not obtain a crowbar into our minds, to distract, to upset, to derail.
Purification of memory is crucially important for those who have been deeply wounded or for those who have deeply wounded others.
The Enemy of our souls, demons, cannot read our minds, but they have access to our memories. Memories, as a priest friend of mine says, are the “devil’s playground.” Moreover, being angels, they remember things we have forgotten and can dredge them up. The Enemy seeks to exploit our memories of past accidents, injuries, and our sins, throwing them like obstacles in our path of spiritual growth, to keep us distracted from God and focused on ourselves. We have to purify our memories, or rather allow God to purify them, and learn not to hold onto things that can hinder. That doesn’t mean “forget.” It means putting them in the right context. Seeing them in a Christ-centered way, not a self-centered way.
In a sense, clinging to injuries, wallowing in past sins is a form of vanity because it is all about “me.” It shoves Christ to the side when He must be at the center of those memories. Harboring the wrongs, rubbing one’s face with the mire of sins that you have sincerely confessed and been absolved for is a kind of denial of Christ’s power to forgive. To use another image, it is like constantly picking at a wound so that it doesn’t heal and then taking a perverse joy in being hurt no matter how much the Physician of our souls extends Himself to heal us. There is a sort of person, perhaps you’ve met one, who is only happy when he is unhappy. On the contrary, the default setting for a Christian ought to be joy. Even when we are struggling, tried and suffering, knowing who we are and what Christ obtained for us should bring us peace.
Our flaws and wounds are not a problem for God insofar as He loves us. We are loved by God with all our faults and wounds and pasts. While we can reject Him, we have no power over His Love. We cannot make God love us more. We cannot make God love us less.
When we remember bad things, which can hold us back spiritually, we should recognize them for what they are and then hand them off to God, asking forgiveness for anyone involved or, in all honesty, forgiveness for ourselves for whatever fault we may have had in them. Offering them to God makes God the context of our memories and not ourselves. His acceptance of the memory then calls us to make a response, which is forgiveness. In fact, He has already accepted our memory pains. St. John Henry Newman in Discourse 16 on the “Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion” says that Christ refused to drink the wine mingled with myrrh because it would have stupefied His mind. Instead, He wanted to bear not only all the physical suffering but all the mental suffering of every single one of humanity’s sins, past, present and future, in all their bitterness. As Newman put it:
His very memory is laden with every sin which has been committed since the fall, in all regions of the earth.
On the Cross He wanted to purify memory itself.
Christ has already received our hurts. That reception continually calls for a response: abandonment to Him, love for Him. I am mindful of the parable of the Prodigal Son. The father in the parable saw his son “while he was yet at a distance” (Luke 15:20). He was waiting, watching for his son to come to him. The Risen Lord is, in His glorified humanity, still suffering our hurts with us. He bears our burdens. When you weep, He weeps with you. Everything about us is important to Him. It would be selfish, in a sense, not to hand them to Him completely.
The family, so fundamental to our lives and all of society, sanctified by the Holy Family themselves, can be a source of tremendous joy, wonderful memories. Being so very important, on the other hand, it also can be a source of pain. If healing of family and memory is in order, do not fail to ask for Christ’s already willing help. Make also a good confession of whatever you may have that’s weighing you down. If His Most Precious Blood can cleanse the guilt of sins from your soul, it can also purify the memories you will retain. When those bad and painful memories pop up…
Please, dear Savior, wash this memory, clean this wound with your Most Precious Blood. Help me to forgive myself. Help me to forgive others.