It's Only Your Strength I Remember

He is one of the strongest men I know - a hunter, builder, fisherman, priest. Steady, stalwart. But the serious illness of his sister whom he loved brought him low, upset him greatly for he is also strong in love and loyalty. I was comforting him and he said, “I envy you your strength!” And I replied, “you have seen me at my weakest!” He had indeed witnessed me close up at my weakest worst. But he said, “it’s only your strength I remember.”

Memory is a strange thing. When I look back at my life as it was ten to fifteen to twenty years ago I remember it in largely negative terms, think of myself as a mess and a failure but when I read my diaries from that time I am brought face to face with something a lot more positive than I realized. When I read of other things this friend and colleague said about me in those years then I know that, in fact, I was ok – more than ok. What he has said of me bears a weight beyond all others because he confronted and challenged me, demanded that I make the changes that were necessary in my life. Perhaps the strength he admires is that I hauled myself out of a very deep pit, climbed upwards, moved forward instead of falling back or going into reverse. It was strength in weakness, the strength of God at full stretch. 

So, I remember this and thank God for it in a Magnificat kind of way. It is Mary who comes to mind now; Mary who represents all of us who are lowly; she who remembers with gratitude what God has done and honours Him – “the Almighty has done great things for me…and has lifted up the lowly.” This is exactly what God has done in me. Magnificat prayer is a positive and grateful way of remembering, a prayer that was so important to the Jews from the time of Moses who called the people to remember and never forget all that God has done. It is, of course, central to the Mass, the Eucharist which is the great prayer of thanksgiving of the Church offered to the Father in the name of Jesus. So, I thank God that I sank so low in order to know what it is to be lifted up, that I am so weak that it is God who can be so strong. I thank God for the man who saw me and sees me anew, remembering the good of me rather than anything else.

This friend has revealed something of God’s own nature to me, made it real to me, something that I have mentioned not too long ago – God’s forgetfulness – and somehow, in order for us to become truly free, we need to enter into this forgetfulness of God that leaves us free of past pain, to find a way of remembering that is a blessing for this present moment.

For more than thirty years I have been saying this prayer that came to me during an Ignatian thirty-day retreat, “Teach me to see as You see, to understand as You understand, to Love as You Love, to respond with Your Heart.” The prayer initially had to do with how I see other people, specifically difficult people whom I find hard to like. But it can apply to any situation so, in the context of memory, I pray to God, “teach me to remember as You remember, to forget as You forget, to let go as You let go, to move forward as You move forward.” 

To remember as God remembers does involved facing wrongs of the past so that justice may be done and freedom gained in the present. On a personal level there is a remembering of the past that is necessary so that we can find freedom in the present and we we don't go on forever dragging the past with us, a dragging that takes us down.

In wounded relationships there comes a time when the past must literally be forgotten so that reconciliation can take place. I waited for years for another to admit fault and apologize, until I realized that I might never get that and time was running out, life is running out. I decided to let it all go and it has made such a difference. Not perfect but better. 

And for many years I’ve also been saying a line from a prayer of St. Claude de la Colombière, “teach me perfect self-forgetfulness, for this is the only way to you!” A tall order but wise words. He teaches that There can be no peace except in perfect self-forgetfulness. We must reconcile ourselves to forgetting even our spiritual interests, in order to seek only God's pure glory.

St. Paul speaks of the self-forgetfulness of Christ in 2 Corinthians 10:1 and in Philippians 2, where he calls us to put on the mind of Christ, he has the beautiful hymn of Christ’s self-emptying. Jesus goes out of Himself towards the Father, towards us, towards the world. And that is what can happen to us the more we live “in Christ”, we become part of the outward movement of His Holy Spirit, knowing that we are remembered and minded by the Father, so there’s no need for us to think too much about ourselves, past, present or future.

As an introvert it’s very difficult for me to become self-forgetful but that is the goal and the hope offered in Jesus.

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