Each of us can quite easily remember the worst things we have ever done. In doing so, feelings of embarrassment or shame can arise in us even after many years. “I can’t believe I ever did that!” “How could I have been so stupid!” “I hope nobody else remembers my doing those things!” These are actually quite healthy interior responses to our shame scattered pasts.
The healing of memories is not the same as erasing pictures of our more uncomfortable histories.
This week we are invited to recall both our sinful actions and God’s graceful responses. If shame and embarrassment are provoked, then how much more is our recalling of God’s mercy invoked. “Where sin abounds, there does grace the more abound” (Romans 5:20).
In the Exercises Ignatius asks us to pray for “shame and confusion.” He calls us to the grace of being both honest about our sins and confused about our status in God’s eye. But there is another grace he asks us to request. We are to be not only embarrassed by our bad choices in the past but also confused by God’s rather unjust response. Mercy is an unjust grace, and we are to stand at the foot of the cross in grateful confusion at such an inhuman response. Considering what I have done in the past and am likely to do again, here is the crucified Christ, offering me a future of his faithfulness to both my past and my days to come.
Mercy is both a forgiving and a foretelling. Each of us will return to the foot of his cross so as to live again from and with our pasts — into our futures and his. “We have here not a high priest who is unfamiliar with us” (Hebrews 4:15).
We can dwell in the shame and embarrassment of our pasts or dwell in the ongoing condition of the forgiven, who can live peacefully with our pasts as embraced by the ever-present merciful God.