I am away from the parish doing an appeal for Franciscan Mission Service. I thought it good to leave you with some words from another time reflecting on our Sunday readings.
Inheritance and riches being stored up – certainly two strong images from this Sunday’s gospel. Themes not uncommon in the gospels. St. Luke also tells the story of the man who comes to Jesus and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” After learning from the man that he had followed all the commandments Jesus tells him, “There is still one thing left for you: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. (Luke 18) It is a recurring message from Jesus that wealth, riches – in themselves not bad – just have a way of getting in the way of the true inheritance. The man goes away sad – he just can’t let go of his wealth, can’t let go of the one thing that keeps him from following Jesus. He is likely a good person – both in his own mind and in the thoughts of others – yet there is a hidden, unseen greed operative in his life. A covert greed that has become, as St. Paul says, an idolatry keeping him away from true and right worship.
But that can’t be us right? We aren’t like the rich man and the bountiful harvest – are we? Any of ya’ll thinking about building new barns because your harvest is so big? You just don’t know what to do with it all? …. Not us, right? We are not building these new barns and storing away things that are a barrier to our inheritance of eternal life – are we? We are not idolaters… are we?
The thing is that all of us have storehouses whose content is a barrier to our inheritance of eternal life. It is as St. Augustine once wrote: our memories are the well of sins – sin of others we will not forgive and our own sins that we will not forget. Forgive and forget. Something Pope Francis reminded us about this week pointing out that “forgive and forget” are the very nature of God. When God forgives our sins, God forgets our sins. It is the message the Prophet Jeremiah proclaimed, “from the least to the greatest… I will forgive their iniquity and no longer remember their sins.” (Jer 31:34)
And yet we don’t forget and we store these memories away. Memories of transgressions against us – things minor and major. We store away remembrances of our own misdeeds, failings, and sins. We store them away with differing degrees of energy around the memory. It is a harvest of our lives life we store in the barns and storehouses of our memory. We don’t forget and so often we don’t really forgive.
As life goes on and the harvest of memories grow, we can be like the rich man, needing build new barns – and if we are attentive – we can give them names. Their names are “hurt,” “anger,” “tit-for-tat,” and “regret” to name a few.
I think for many people, these memories can become the bitter fruit of an unwelcomed and unwanted harvest. Think about it. We have stored these memories about others and ourselves. About events past which we thought we have forgiven, and not only do we remember them so clearly, they are stored with a good deal of energy we cannot seem to shake, cannot let go of, and they can stain and mar the true riches we have in this lifetime: friends, family, and even our own self-image and self-worth.
These memories simmer, brood, fester, take root, and send their cold tendrils into our hearts. This cold energy has a way of popping-up in the heat of another of life’s events, flooding into a conversation drowning good will, and continuing to wreak an unwanted havoc. Why in the world do we store them?
Every memory will have a different answer, but I suspect if we could clearly see them for what they are, they would be vanity of vanities: “For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart…even at night his mind is not at rest. This also is vanity.”
Just as Jesus told the rich man who wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, “There is one thing left for you…” What will it take for you to open up the doors to the storehouses of hurt, regret, anger, tit-for-tat and all the rest?
I don’t have the one-size-fits-all answer for you – as I said – every memory is different, the energy stored with it is different. But my own experience is this:
To truly forgive, you need to experience forgiveness – from the One who forgives and forgets
Participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, pull from the well of memories your own sins and know the forgiveness of God – and realize that regret is the human side of memory and it unconnected to God’s forgiveness. Experience and rejoice in the forgiveness of God. Know forgiveness.
From the well of memories, take the sins of others that you have not forgotten or forgiven, …take them into prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and insight to lead you to the root of it all – “why” I can’t set this all aside? What vanity of vanity might lay at the root of it all? And if healing is needed, pray for that healing for yourself.
Armed with this Spirit-led insight, begin to pray for the well-being of that other person – pray your way into forgiveness, giving away the gift you have freely received from God. And perhaps you will be led to initiate the reconciliation and healing needed between you.
You can know forgiveness in your life. And in experiencing forgiveness, you can learn to forgive
Will you forget? Maybe. Probably not. Memory is a human thing. But what I can tell you is that in the grace of God, while the memory remains, the energy dissipates and dissolves. And the memory now needs a new barn. Perhaps we can call it, “from here came the goodness of God.”
Now these are the riches of the kingdom of God.
This is a harvest worth storing
This is what matters to God.