We all have memories of things we’d rather forget. Some things are embarrassing. Some are painful. Some are traumatic. Dawn Eden is no stranger to the latter, as she revealed in her previous books about chaste love (The Thrill of the Chaste and its recent Catholic edition) and about healing sexual wounds with the help of the saints. Many times, we are tempted to avoid even thinking about terrible things we have experienced. For those who experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), just not thinking about it is not an option. Rather than try to avoid these memories, Eden encourages readers to redeem their pain. The One who redeemed our fallen human race can take our painful memories and turn them into opportunities for purification. With some help from St. Ignatius of Loyola, Pope Francis, and a few other heavenly witnesses, Eden offers Remembering God’s Mercy, a rich guide to healing memories and opening ourselves up to the grace of God.
Eden’s last completely new title, My Peace I Give You, was organized around the witness of various saints who are known to have suffered some form of sexual abuse. Remembering God’s Mercy is organized by the phrases of a prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola called the Suscipe (“sushi-pay”), from its first word in Latin. I am more drawn to Augustinian spirituality, but I do like the Suscipe. I memorized it several years ago. I add it to the end of the Liturgy of the Hours when I pray Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer (which, sadly, doesn’t happen very often).
For me, the Suscipe is one of those prayers that I say with most of my heart, but perhaps not all. It reminds me of the debates among catechists that do sacramental prep. Are some of the people who receive sacraments really ready for them? Do they really understand? No. Probably not. Sacraments are mysterious; by definition they can’t be understood, so no one really understands them. We do know, however, that they impart grace beyond all imagining. Withholding that grace because of limitations in our human understanding is spiritually abusive. Similarly, I might not exactly be giving all of my will, intellect, and memory to God right now despite praying for that exact thing, but at least I want to. I have to start somewhere. By breaking down elements of the Suscipe, Eden encourages her readers to offer every part of themselves to Christ, even the bruised and broken parts, and to receive grace in return.
In addition to books with a strong framework, I also love prayer that has an objective framework. (I lose focus pretty easily.) Tucked deep in Eden’s book is one of the most valuable resources I’ve seen Eden offer: a meditation on the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary that is connected to the seven deadly sins. I won’t reveal it here, but I will highly recommend it as a excellent way to reach purity of heart by engaging painful memories. Maybe unpacking your own painful memories is too much to bear. Borrow Mary’s. She’ll share. You already know she lived through her painful memories and reached the glory of heaven. She will help you through yours.
Rarely do I finish one of Dawn Eden’s books without finding some spiritual gems buried in the pages. Thanks be to God, I have different skeletons in my closet than she does. That doesn’t mean I don’t still find ways to apply her advice to my life. I do! For example, for someone who loves to live by the liturgical calendar as much as I do, I clearly did not know enough about St. Peter Faber. Embarrassingly, I didn’t even know he had been canonized, let alone by a fast-track process that wasn’t even used for St. John Paul II. JPII had a widespread popular appeal and huge numbers of people devoted to him that Faber did not, though. It makes more sense to fast-track someone who might otherwise be stuck on the slow track (where some popes have been for centuries). I’m very glad to have been introduced to St. Peter Faber by way of Pope Francis and Dawn Eden. Anyone who can turn a moment of rude thinking and a lousy Advent into moments of profound grace ought to be a spiritual friend of mine.
I struggled with two aspects of this book. The first was that, curiously, the chapter titles are phrases from the Suscipe, but they’re not the same translation that Eden uses in the text. That was a little disconcerting. The second was that this book seemed to use quotations much more liberally than previous books. I found myself growing a little weary of how many paragraphs began with Eden’s insights and ended with a citation from the writing of Pope Francis, St. Ignatius, or St. Peter Faber. I wanted to read more of Eden’s stories and her own thoughts. She shared many wonderful stories: her childlike joy during temple services, the mysterious healing brought about by a late-night rock solo, and the prescient way some Spanish lyrics touched her soul. I like reading theology and learning from the wisdom of others, but I like stories more.
Overall, I find myself very pleased to have picked up that first copy of The Thrill of the Chaste, because it was an excellent gateway to Dawn Eden’s writing. She recently defended her doctoral dissertation successfully, so I’m excited about what she’ll be up to next. In the meantime, I encourage you to read Remembering God’s Mercy. When I worked in campus ministry, a wise catechumen asked me if we would have our memories in heaven. I replied that I didn’t know, but I thought we would, because our memories make up part of who we are. Pain, however, is not who we are. Offer your memories and your pain to Christ. He will redeem them and you.
Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty,
my memory, my understanding and my whole will.
All that I am and all that I possess You have given me:
I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will.
Give me only Your love and Your grace;
with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.
I received a free copy of Remembering God’s Mercy: Redeem the Past and Free Yourself from Painful Memories from Ave Maria Press in exchange for my honest review. Many thanks for their generosity!