I believed the distressed man’s story about being broke and needing some money from me to secure his driving license so that he could get a job as a bus driver. However, there was just one detail that kept me from giving him the money that he was begging for—he was an ex-convict and had just been released from the city jail a few days earlier. How could I trust someone who had been in prison for many years? I reluctantly gave him the money that he needed.
He returned a few months later with his commercial vehicle. He showed me the receipts for the payment of his driving license. He returned just to thank me and to tell me that he now had a steady income and had also reunited with his family. He and his family had also experienced a renewal in their Catholic faith and in their relationship with each other.
I felt ashamed of myself for being a slave of the past, focusing on his past life as a prisoner and almost refusing to show him any generosity because I did not feel he was trustworthy. Don’t we too tend to be prisoners of our past when we only focus on the past in our lives in the lives of others? We just cannot seem to break from those nagging thoughts of regrets, judgments, self-pity, and condemnation from our pasts and the past of others.
We tend to focus exclusively on the past because we fail to realize that God is always doing something new in our lives and in the lives of others. Because God is always doing something new in our lives, we all can repent of our past sins, grow, change for the better, and choose to do something new for God in the present moment irrespective of our past failures.
God has two words for the Israelites in Babylonian captivity. They had lost their land, independence, and temple because of their sins. He first asked them to forget the past, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not.” In the light of what God was planning to do, they are not to focus on their time in bondage in Egypt, their rebellious attitude towards God, their constant grumbling and idolatry, or even the miraculous ways in which God rescued them in the Exodus.
Secondly, they are to pay attention to the present moment, “See, I am doing something new (now)! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is 43) They are to focus on the new things that God is doing in their lives, a new and more wonderful Exodus. Instead of wallowing in regrets about their past, they are to pay attention to how God is even now doing more wonderful things to bring them back home, even if it means making ways in the desert and rivers in the wastelands.
The Pharisees and scribes focus on and magnify the past sins and failures of the adulterous woman and even use her past moral failures as means to entrap Jesus, “Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So, what do you say?”
Jesus, who knows all her sins, hidden and manifest, does not focus on her past sins or their consequences. He acts at that moment to give her the forgiveness that no one else would offer to her then, “Neither do I condemn you.” He also knows perfectly the new things that this woman can be and do for God with her newfound freedom. Thus, He also commands her to go and now do something new and better for God with her life, “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” (Jn 8:1-11)
In Jesus Christ, God is always present with us and doing something new in our lives, no matter how sinful and broken our pasts have been. In every moment of our lives, He is offering us a merciful love that forgives and heals us of our sins. He also gives us graces and specific commands so that we too can live a new and better way of life for Him. This is the reason why we are no longer slaves of our past sins and failures. We all can hope to do something new and better for God all the time.
This Lent, we must let Jesus Christ free us from slavery to the past in ourselves and in the lives of others. The first step to doing this is to know Jesus Christ. The more that we know Christ, the more that we can allow His grace to set us free from the past. We are hopeless slaves of the past without this ever-deepening knowledge of Jesus Christ.
St. Paul focused all his attention on knowing Christ more and more, “I consider everything a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” By knowing Christ, he can let go of everything in the past, good and bad, “I have accepted the loss of all things and consider them as so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” He is not self-righteous and he does not pretend to be holy like the Pharisees and scribes but he receives holiness from Christ, “Having no righteousness of my own but that which comes through faith in Christ.” He does not become self-reliant and complacent, “I myself do not consider myself to have taken possession of it (i.e., ‘perfect maturity’).” Lastly, he does not focus on the past but presses on to the better future, “Forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling in Christ Jesus.” This saint is no slave to his past at all!
In addition to knowing Christ Jesus more, we become free from the past by examining our consciences daily in the light of God’s love for us. Instead of exclusively and primarily focusing on our past sins and failures, we begin our self-examination by thanking God for all the new things that He has done for us that day. Next, we consider how we have failed to respond by doing something new for God that day too. We then implore His mercy that forgives us and grace that moves and sustains us in living for Him alone. We break the hold of the past only when, irrespective of our pasts, we experience divine mercy for our past sins, receive grace for a new beginning, and are ready to constantly ask ourselves, “What new thing is divine love asking of me today?”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we all have our pasts. They are not beautiful or perfect and that is okay. The only reason why we should look back to the past is to learn from our mistakes and to thank God for all His blessings and graces. When we are fixated on the past, we fail to see the new things that God is doing in our lives and in the lives of others. We then miss His graces and mercies of the present moment. Lastly, life becomes boring, dreary and hopeless because we are not fully responding to our own “upward calling in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus did not die and rise from the dead so that we can wallow in self-pity and regrets about the past or treat others based on their past sins and failures alone. He is always doing something new in all our lives and so can we all do the same, no matter our pasts.
He is doing something new for us in each Eucharist. No matter what our past has been and what condemnations we have received or meted out to others, He knows the new things that we can do for Him today by His grace. He knows the saints that we can be tomorrow, beginning today. But we must also ask ourselves, “What is the new and better thing that I can do for God today with the grace of this Eucharist?” Once we are bent on doing this thing for Him, we begin to experience Him slowly setting us free from all slavery to the past.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!