Pope Francis has a lot of countercultural recommendations and one upon which I came the other day is to remember the times that we have suffered most.
Usually, we want to forget the times we’ve suffered. Maybe we consoled ourselves in the midst of some trial saying, “This too shall pass.” And, once it has passed, we’re happy to move on from it.
But Pope Francis says, “I believe that in this time of the pandemic it is good for us to remember even of the times we have suffered the most: not to make us sad, but so as not to forget, and to guide us in our choices in the light of a very recent past.”
What difference does it make to keep the memory of our suffering before us? Is there a way to do so more or less properly?
The pope continues, “[…] we remember someone or something when it touches our heart, when it binds us to a particular affection or lack of affection. And so the Heart of Jesus heals our memory because it brings it back to the fundamental affection. It roots it on the most solid base. It reminds us that, whatever happens to us in life, we are loved.”
That is a precise approach to remembering when we have suffered most — that we allow ourselves to be brought to “the fundamental affection”, to the confidence that we are sustained by love.
This is partly why it is so important to show affection to those who are suffering. This way, the memory of their sufferings will return them to the memory of the human affection they received.
The danger, Pope Francis points out, is that “in the midst of a thousand errands and continuous worries, we are losing the capacity to be moved and to feel compassion, because we are losing this return to the heart, that is, this memory, this return to the heart. Without memory one loses one’s roots, and without roots, one does not grow. It is good for us to nurture the memory of who has loved us, cared for us, and lifted us up.”
This, of course, depends on being able to have good experiences to remember even amidst our worst sufferings.
How we care for others while they suffer may be decisive to their future ability to show heart toward others.