Mercy forgives and heals
· The preface of 'Remembering God’s Mercy' ·
I wrote this book to share the good news that Jesus Christ heals our memories.
There has been a growing recognition in recent years that those of us who suffer the effects of painful memories need more than just psychological help. Therapy can help us cope, but if we are truly to break free from the grip of past pain, we need spiritual help. Only the love of God can untangle the web of regrets and resentments that prevent us from moving forward. Only the Divine Physician can heal our heart.
And heal it he does. The good news of Jesus' power to renew us resonates throughout sacred scripture and Christian tradition — if only we know where to look.
Scripture tells us, “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him” Jn 4:9) — that we might live in Christ's light, and not in the shadows of past pain. The Catechism tells us, “The Word became flesh so that thus we might know God’s love” (CCC 458). And Church Fathers such as Gregory of Nazianzus tell us that the Word assumed a human mind so that he might heal every human mind: “That which was not assumed is not healed; but that which is united to God is saved.”
When Jesus was suffering on the Cross, he was given the opportunity to deaden his consciousness. Mark’s gospel tells us that the soldiers offered him wine drugged with myrrh. “But he did not take it” (Mk 15:23).
Why did he refuse? Bl. John Henry Newman offers an intriguing answer. Jesus, Newman says, did not wish to limit his sufferings to the pain of the present moment. In other words, Jesus made a conscious choice to experience the pain of memory.
To explain this point, Newman first observes that, in our own human experience, we can tolerate almost any amount of pain if it lasts but a brief moment and is gore. The pain becomes intolerable only when it continues. That is why patients who are undergoing a medical procedure find themselves wishing they could stop the doctor’s hard: they feel “they have borne as much as they can bear; as if the continuance and not the intenseness was what made it too much for them.”
And so it is, Newman says, that “the memory of the foregoing moments of pain acts upon and (as it were) edges the pain that succeeds.”
If the third or fourth or twentieth moment of pain could be taken by itself, if the succession of the moments that preceded it could be forgotten, it would be no more than the first moment, as bearable as the first (taking away the shock which accompanies the first); but what makes it unbearable is, that it is the twentieth; that the first, the second, the third, on to the nineteenth moment of pain, are all concentrated in the twentieth; so that every additional moment of pain has all the force, the ever-increasing force, of all that has preceded it.
Jesus, therefore, refused the drugged wine because, knowing that his sufferings would save us, he was "beat on bearing the pain in all its bitterness.
What I like about Newman's insight is that it does more than help us understand who Jesus was. It helps us understand who he is.
We already know from the witness of the Gospel that Jesus, having risen, retains the physical wounds he suffered upon the Cross (Jn 20:20 and 20:27). Newman follows this to its logical implication: Jesus must then also retain his invisible wounds—the memories of each moment of his sufferings.
But how, you may ask, can Jesus retain his memories of pain, given that there are no tears in heaven (Rev 21:4)?
The answer, I believe, is that, just as in the Resurrection Jesus' visible wounds are now transfigured, radiating Brace (see Jn 1:14), so too, his invisible wounds are now glorified. All Jesus' sufferings remain etched in his memory, but his memories of them no longer bring him feelings of pain. In his risen state, when he remembers his passion, he remembers only his passion—the overpowering love he bore that led him to shed every last drop of his precious blood for our salvation.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16)? To be able to look back at your entire life, both the joys and the sufferings, and to see only the love of God? That was my thought when I wrote My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. In that book, I sought to help my fellow victims of childhood sexual abuse heal their memories through the lives of saints who, having suffered trauma, found healing in Christ.
The response to My Peace I Give You was unlike anything I have experienced as a writer. Every author wants her book to be appreciated by its intended audience, and mine certainly was; readers who were survivors of abuse told me it helped them where other books had not. What was unusual was that, again and again, even as readers thanked me for My Peace I Give You, they asked me to give them something more. They wanted me to write a new book — one that would present the same healing spirituality, but in a way that they could share it with loved ones who had not suffered abuse.
It touched me that my readers wanted me to make the message of My Peace I Give You accessible to a wider audience, and I hoped to fulfill their desire. There was just one problem: inspiration. If I was to revisit the topic of healing of memories, I would need a fresh angle, a new source of wisdom from which to draw.
I found that source of wisdom in Pope Francis. On March 30, 2013, just seventeen days after his election, the Holy Father gave an Easter Vigil homily in which he spoke of how the risen Christ leads us to heal our memories (see chapter 3). In an interview later that year, when asked about his manner of prayer, Francis spoke of how the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola which were part of his training as a Jesuit—had helped him develop “a prayer full of memory” (see chapter 6).”
Francis’s comments about the Spiritual Exercises especially intrigued me, because he referred to an exercise that I used as the basis of the spirituality of My Peace I Give You: the Contemplation to Attain the Love of God, which includes St Ignatius’s best-known prayer, the Suscipe. His observations on that exercise confirmed my previous intuition regarding the value of Ignatius’s teachings for healing of memories, but they also did something more. Together with other insights of Francis concerning healing, they pointed the way to a fresh understanding of what it means to be renewed in the spirit of our mind (Eph 4:23).
In the same interview where he discussed the Spiritual Exercises Francis spoke about why he admired the early Jesuit Peter Faber, whom he would soon declare a saint. Since you can tell a lot about a man by his friends including his friends in heaven — I began to read Faber’s spiritual diary, the Memoriale, to see what it might tell me about Francis’s spirituality. That too was a revelation.
I found in Faber a man who had many of the same vulnerabilities as me. He battled anxiety, depression, and temptations to sin. Learning how he conquered those weaknesses helped me to better fight my own spiritual battles.
As I continued to research the wisdom of Pope Francis on healing of memories, and the Jesuit roots from which it sprang, something happened to me that was completely unexpected.
I was expecting inspiration. I was not expecting grace.
But grace is what I experienced. This book that you are now reading, although it began as an effort to answer my readers’ desire, ended up answering my own desire for greater intimacy with Christ. Pope Francis and the Jesuits who inspired him took me on a journey that has brought me to a deeper understanding of the mercy of God — the mercy that both forgives and heals.
*Excerpted from Remembering God’s Mercy, © 2016 by Dawn Eden Goldstein. Used by permission of Ave Maria Press, Inc.