“Dear brothers and sisters, let us experience intensely the present in which we already receive the gifts of the Lord, let us live it focused on the future, a future charged with hope. In this manner Christian Advent becomes an opportunity to reawaken within ourselves the true meaning of waiting, returning to the heart of our faith which is the mystery of Christ, the Messiah who was expected for long centuries and was born in poverty, in Bethlehem.” (Pope Benedict XVI )
A reawakening of the heart…a future charged with hope…these are the desires already embedded in every human heart.
Yet as children many people suffered from parents who told them they were unwanted or treated them badly. In the US, depression skyrockets during the holidays. Anxiety over family relations and memories of the love not received contradict the message of love and peace that highlight this season. For those who have estranged themselves from family, the unhealed wounds remain, simply suppressed. It can be difficult to speak of it to others because it may trigger PTSD, and yet it must be spoken of to God for His healing grace to enter.
Parents are only capable of loving to the extent of their own brokenness. Too often having a child brings to them great fear and anxiety, memories of their own loveless upbringing and voices telling them they are worthless. They look at their child and believe the lying voice that says they are incapable of loving. Just like their own children, they want and expect a love that their own parent couldn’t give.
“As I’ve been praying through this, it’s been very hard for me to make the jump from God loves me to God longs for me. And that the incarnation is not only an act of love, but an act of longing. That God became man because He longs to be with me.” (Mallory Smyth)
That is what God is for; He fills in the gaps. But He wants to do more that be a back-up plan for bad days. He wants to heal and perfect those memories. After all, scars have no pain; it is the memory of the injury that hurts. St. John of the Cross explains that it is hope which heals our memory and the images carried with it. That is something to meditate upon: Hope only comes from God and God is love. True Hope, then, is love itself, far more than just our natural optimism or temperament. It is pure gift.
Hope—the longing for that not yet possessed–is power of the Holy Spirit infused into our soul by God at our baptism. It causes us to long for God. Hope gives us the desire to proceed through life’s journey amidst the struggles. Memories of sin are made whole immersed in its Divine Mercy. The injuries received are healed as we see God’s work in it. True self knowledge and identity are gained. We already have this Power within us; do I allow myself to take in this reality? In a world that demands we be ‘empowered’, true empowerment is helpless surrender. God’s ways contradict worldly thinking.
Eastern Catholics and Christians may call this purification of the heart. Roman Catholics call it sanctification. Regardless, healing is precisely the path to holiness.
The enemy will lead us to believe the opposite: that all is hopeless. This universal negative, as taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola, is Satan’s hallmark. Rejecting the lie and turning to God is the first step towards healing and is necessary to building virtues. But this itself is not healing. Also, remembering past injuries received from others typically brings forth bitterness and resentment. How easily we say, “Oh I’ve gotten over all of that” … honestly, if we have, then our heart would be consumed with love not emptiness or unrest.
St. John speaks of how spiritual persons fall into falsehoods of knowledge and judging others. If instead we bring God into the memory to transform it, we are bringing love itself into it and then are able to forgive. This is the key to forgiveness. While we must first desire it in our mind and profess “I forgive them”, only the Holy Spirit can move it into our heart. Forgiveness is an outcome of love. Are you willing to try?
Love will also put bad memories to rest so we cease replaying them in the mind—no more being ‘haunted’. The experiences are not suppressed or annihilated. Rather, the memory’s interpretation of it changes. Without God in the memory, it is useless and harmful. God must be brought into the experience of it. Then the memory loses its power over us and we can change our response to it.
We long for that which we love. If we love God, we will remember Him rather than things not of Him. We then experience all things recollected in Him, in the light of His love and providence.
As we enter Advent, the waiting for the birth of Jesus, let’s not forget that His incarnation took place with Mary’s ‘yes’. Every painful memory elicited by the ‘holiday season’ is permitted by God precisely so you will let Him heal and restore you. Let this season of YES be one of restoration and rebirth, so that the Christ Child can be incarnate in your heart.
“And pray without ceasing on behalf of other men. For there is in them hope of repentance that they may attain to God. See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way. Be meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting: to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error, be steadfast (Colossians 1:23) in the faith; and for their cruelty, manifest your gentleness. While we take care not to imitate their conduct, let us be found their brethren in all true kindness; and let us seek to be followers of the Lord (who ever more unjustly treated, more destitute, more condemned?), that so no plant of the devil may be found in you, but you may remain in all holiness and sobriety in Jesus Christ, both with respect to the flesh and spirit.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, 3rd bishop of Rome)
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam 😊
(Images both from Pixabay)
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