Did you ever hear someone say, “I’m sorry, I forgot myself.” It’s a strange statement but we all know what it means, we’ve acted in a way that contradicted who we think we are. If we say that we are Christians who have a personal relationship with Jesus, people who put God at the center of our lives, do our actions, the way we live our lives and the choices we make, express that? Or should we be saying to the people in our lives and to the world, “I’m sorry, I forgot myself!” Are we suffering from “spiritual Alzheimers?” Pope Francis used this term when He gave a talk to the Curia at the Vatican during Advent.* It was one of the fifteen “diseases” he listed as plaguing them, but not only them, all of us in the Church and in society. Pope Francis said “There is also the sickness of spiritual Alzheimer’s disease: namely the forgetfulness of the “history of Salvation,” of one’s personal history with the Lord, of one’s “first love” (Revelation 2:4).”
Each of us lives at two levels, the human level, where we interact with others and the world, and the spiritual level, where we live an interior life with God. There is a point in our being where God’s Spirit touches ours and sustains us in life. Some people are very conscious of this inner life nourishing it through prayer and reflection, aware that they are in a relationship with God. Some may be cognizant of it but don’t pay much attention to it. They practice their religion and think that the spiritual activities they engage in will take care of it. Others “don’t have a clue” that they have an inner life. They live on the surface, and the noise of modern life doesn’t allow them the silence to realize there is “something more.” Perhaps one day they’ll ask the question “Is that all there is?” and grace will help them to discover the “more.” Still others deny the very existence of a personal God and the possibility of a relationship.
But even those who have “tasted the sweetness of the Lord” can forget. We allow the surface life to inundate our inner life with activity, worry, fears or incessant entertainment. Pope Francis goes on to say:” It (spiritual Alzheimers) is a progressive decline of the spiritual faculty... living in a state of absolute dependence of his often imaginary views.” We lose sight of the fact that our life depends upon God and without Him we can do nothing. We imagine that we are in charge of our life and the fear of that can overwhelm us as we see our weakness and inability to control it.
He goes on: “ We see it in those who have lost the memory of their encounter with the Lord…” Once on retreat, we were given a paper with a road drawn on it and told to reflect on our spiritual journey from birth until now, jotting down events, encounters, words, etc that helped us grow into the person we were that day. Then we shared it with another person - we told our story. That was one of the most fruitful experiences I ever had. Each of us has a spiritual history. We need to remember the moments when God touched our life through events and other people. It gives us a greater vision. In God everything is now and the grace of those moments can renew us today. If we don’t, Pope Francis goes on to say, we will be “those that depend completely on their ‘present,’ on their passions, whims and fixations; those who build walls and habits around themselves, becoming ever more slaves of idols that they have sculpted with their own hands.” What a frightening place that would be, totally forgetting who we really are as God’s beloved. Our prayer everyday should be “O God, let the radiant light that flows from Your Heart penetrate my heart that I may know You and know myself.”
* Pope’s Address to the Roman Curia, www.vatican.va He gave this talk suggesting they use it as an examination of conscience before going to confession. He went way beyond the Ten Commandments to hit at the root of so many evils that haunt the human heart. I hope to write a summary article of his whole list.