My grandmother used to tell us, “I will always forgive, but I will never forget!” Perhaps, we aren’t built that way to forget…
John the Baptist tells us that he wants to change our mind and our behaviour so that we are ready for the kingdom of Heaven. John the Baptist is promising us that Repentance is not an end in itself…He is saying that it is a first step in our journey of fulfilment. Today, the people come to John the Baptist…maybe they are sick of grandmother’s memory…maybe they are sick of their lives…they want more and John promises something more than being blocked from God and neighbor.
Perhaps, they cannot forget the hurts that keep them separated from family members, former friends and God. The outer voice says, “I forgive you because that is what God wants.” The inner voice begs the question, “Why must I forget and be hurt all over again?” The Pharisees cling to their lofty religious ideals, but John attacks their lack of inner repentance. The baptism of John is one of Repentance, to begin the journey from outside to the inner heart. John is predicting that God will bring a new baptism of fire of the Holy Spirit that will gather us into the great barn of the Kingdom of God. The cost is high…we must take a new look at ourselves…can forgiveness free us from feeling that God loves us less because of our lives?
God offers unconditional forgiveness that includes forgetting because He wants us to have that unconditional love without strings. We are fed by a Creator who runs the Kingdom on the fuel of Mercy. On Monday Night Prayer, the whole Church prays, “O lord, our God, unwearied is you your love for us.” My teacher used to ask me, “What does ‘unwearied’ mean?” We were faced with answer that God’s love will never stop even if we try to stop it and stop Him. God will not quit trying to love us as if He has ‘forgotten’ our offences against Him and others…If God is acting like He has amnesia, can we at least appreciate this moment…this act of mercy?
We do not presume that this mercy allows us to act irresponsibly, but we may accept this mercy to aloe God to transform us…to free us from the anger that obsesses our mind each time we go back to remember the past hurt.
We are not asked to forgive prematurely because time is needed to allow our heart to catch up with our racing mind when the brain “wants to do the right thing quickly” and the heart has no feeling yet to cooperate. When we forgive under this expectation, we are inauthentic; we are the Pharisee watching John the Baptist.
But John the Baptist wants more for us. He wants us to let go of the past hurts and stop obsessing about them. He wants us to heal so that one day, we might even understand why we were hurt and why someone hurt us. This will take time. God has all of eternity; He only wants us to make the step by being willing to forgive and desiring to stop being the victim.
Is forgiving also the ability to forget? Milan Kundera survived the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. He said, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” The dark forces of our humanness can become a power feeding our unhappiness and a power of unforgiveness and unforgetting. Life may be a journey to learn how to laugh at and forget this power of a temporal existence so that we are prepared for an external existence with God.
Forgiving unconditionally is not forgetting as if we have amnesia. We will remember our boundaries and how we will live not be a victim, but we can forget what holds us hostage to a memory of pain. Forgiveness can help us pull the splinter from our side and cast it away forever, but we need time to care for and close our inner wound. May our forgetting be our band-aid to heaven as we wait for our Saviour in this Advent season.
Fr. Arthur Mackay is the Associate Pastor of The Faith Community at St.
Charles Borromeo, Woburn, Massachusetts, 01801, USA.