Monday, November 25, 2013

Leaving Bad Memories Behind

I confess to Almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do.

Through my fault, through my fault,
Through my most grievous fault;
Therefore I ask Blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me
to the Lord our God.
                                                            -- the Penitential Act said at mass

We say the words at mass.  We don’t think about what we are saying nearly often enough.
We recall Mary’s fiat: “Be it done unto me according to Thy Word.”  And Jesus was born in her body.  We focus on Mary’s “yes” to God’s will as being like the “yes” we all must say to His will, but our saying we will accept His will is only part of our commitment, for most often in saying yes to His will being done, we are also agreeing to DO His will.  Mary’s “yes” wasn’t just to being pregnant, but also to being a mother, and all the commitments lived out associated with that title, and even more than most, for she accepted being the Mother of God.
Whether we pray “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace” --- as I do, or “Lord, give me this thing I ask for,” rarely is our prayer answered with a miracle.  Most often, an opportunity is given to us to participate in God’s will, participate by living our lives, by doing something for our brothers and sisters here on earth, the people God brings into our lives.  And in doing for Him, we are often able to see the answer to our prayers.
The words of the confession at the start of this meditation are to God, but also to “my brothers and sisters” there with us in the church.  I confess to them sins, what I have done and what I have failed to do, in my obligations to them.  I make no excuses for my failings, but humbly repeat: “through my fault.”
I admit at mass, in front of my brothers and sisters in Christ, that I have failed to live my life as God has created me to do --- and they are the ones I have sinned against.  I have failed by not living my life loving them enough, for to do God’s will is to love God, and my neighbor.
I’ve meditated and written in the past comparing my experience of living as being like driving the car of my life.  With my free will, I steer; I am in sole control of my life.  I’ve written that if we are wise, we will recognize Jesus in the passenger seat of our life-car, giving us directions to the place He knows so well, our destined eternal home.  And perhaps for long stretches of our lives we also notice friends or relatives in the back seat, along for the journey.  We’re all heading in the same direction; and we bring each other comfort along the way.  But while we do good things for each other, along the way we can --- deliberately or not --- also do bad.  “Back seat drivers” can distract us as we steer and despite the expertise of our front seat passenger, they may tell us: “I know a better way.”  And we listen.  And then they and we can become lost, and that is an example of OUR sin against them, for with OUR life WE are the drivers.  If we lead them astray, even if they asked us to, it is our fault for not listening to God’s will, His direction for our life.
In recent days and weeks friends have spoken to me about the situation of their life, the route they have driven their car of life.  For them, I am a backseat passenger.  They talk to me, not to ignore Jesus sitting next to them, but perhaps in some fear that they may be confusing His instructions, and maybe considering that I may have already traveled the road we were on, this part of their life’s journey.  And certainly in some cases that is true (while in other cases, I guess we somehow take comfort that we are lost together).  Most often, it seems of late, that the concerns they are speaking to me about are not their life’s progress or which direction they should take next, but rather that their life’s car seems to have stopped, and they can’t get it started again.
There are many events on your life’s journey which may cause you stop, often suddenly:  an oncoming car veers into your lane, a deer crosses into your path, a deep pothole suddenly appears in front of you, and then the “smooth sailing” ride turns into anything but, and you slam the brakes on.  Sometimes the obstacle moves out of the way by itself and we can continue on; sometimes there is a delay while the problem in our path is fixed, and sometimes our car stalls out, and we wonder: “How can I get started again?”  And I notice something in what my friends are saying about their situation: they describe again (and again) the thing which blocked the road, while ignoring the real problem: their car is stalled.
Most often it is a tragedy which causes us to slam on the brakes of our life:  an injury or death to a loved one, a loss of a job, or some other major unusual, unplanned event.  And we stop, in fear and in shock, and after a moment we start breathing again, but we can still feel our heart racing.  “Calm down,” we whisper to ourselves; “It could have been worse.”  And sometimes that’s all it takes, and we turn to Jesus in the passenger seat and say: “Thank You for being with us.”  And we move on.
But there are other times, perhaps they occur in most people’s lives, when we can’t let go of our death-grip on the steering wheel, and we stare ahead at the tragedy in front of us, stopped, and unable to turn our eyes away, acting like a deer frozen in the headlights --- only we are supposed to be in the driver’s seat of our car, and not out front feeling as if we are getting run down by it.  And we are stopped, perhaps not even noticing that the road is now clear and we can move again.
I think that sometimes we need to step back and look at life, and our life in particular, as God sees it.  Our life is on a highway, from our birth place to our death and heavenly home.  We are born, we learn many new and wonderful things, as throughout our lives we grow from the experiences of our lives, in two primary areas:  we grow in love, and we grow in wisdom.  We travel with our brothers and sisters on the journey, and meditate on our navigator and the direction He gives us.  And with His help, we grow wise, and learn to love, and don’t get lost --- along the way.
I think if we can see life like this, we can get a better perspective on the sudden blocks we hit --- certainly, stepping back, we can see that death is not some sudden wall in our way, but rather a foreseeable event along our journey.  And then fears won’t paralyze us.  And we won’t get angry at the guy behind us honking his horn: “Move it!”  Nor will we get angry and scream back: “You don’t understand.  I CAN’T move.”  We’ll see a tragedy for what it is, an event along our way, and the people around us, as brothers and sisters and not irritating fellow-travelers on OUR road. 
It is a rare tragedy in our life which doesn’t get cleared out of our way.  Only our memories of the tragedy keep us frozen, remembering moments of the past as if they were the present, recalling events leading up to a tragedy thinking: “What if I had done something different, or pursued a different route.”  And we forget the irrationality of our musings:  we didn’t choose a different route, and it is too late now.  The tragedy did happen, but it has passed, and now is the time to continue our journey.
And when we seem to get stuck on our journey, I think we sometimes forget another very important point:  we are not alone on life’s journey.  Our brothers and sisters are with us, in some manner traveling in our back seat, and our stopping is delaying them also.  And there may be other people, perhaps only remotely related to us, stopped behind us, in the traffic jam that we have created. 
Whether we like it or not, our lives do affect others.
A plaque hangs in my hallway: “Remember your brothers are here, too …” – Albert Schweitzer.  We are not on this highway of life alone; others depend on us, as we depend on them.
And others love us, including God, our navigator.  And others await us at our journey’s end, the loved ones who have gone before us.  Life is not without purpose; there is a destination.
Good memories are yet to be had, ahead of us.  He promised it will be so; He died so it will be so.  Don’t let the bad memories of the journey delay you or spoil the many pleasant, good surprises planned for you along your life’s journey.
Surprises ahead, you say --- planned?  Yes, never forget, my friends, the God who put you in this car, and who knows the most scenic route to His most beautiful home.
Leave the bad memories in the past; they are just a part of life, just part of the journey.

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