Yesterday, my family went to a park, and we took many photos. The photo above stood out, however, as particularly beautiful in how it captured the expression of pure joy as my daughter, Miriam, experienced swinging for the first time.
Later in the day, my wife and I sorted through all our shots and kept the few that we really liked. This particular shot stood out as beautiful. I recalled how during my childhood years my family would occasionally look back through photos and I would see pictures of myself as I grew. I started to look forward to giving my daughter this opportunity to look back at some beautiful pictures of her childhood.
Through all this, a simple thought struck my mind that really made me think: We only keep the photographs we like. Out of all the photos my wife and I took, we only kept the ones that were beautiful–that moved us in some way. The ones that were blurry or had awkward poses or strange faces were moved to the trash. I thought back to the first time I purged my collection of photographs from boxes and albums. At that time, these were actual, tangible photographs, taken with film and printed on paper. Now, it is simply a matter of deleting an electronic file. I realized then that I didn’t have to cling on to every single snapshot of my past. I have taken thousands and thousands of photos throughout my life, but I only have certain ones that I have retained–only the best ones, the most beautiful and/or the most important.
Just as we only keep the photographs we like, God desires to keep only the good memories of us. He wants only pictures that He likes, and He offers us the opportunity to get rid of those less-than-stellar shots through Confession. In this act of repentance, we choose to accept His opportunity to turn away from whatever evil we have committed in thought, word, action, or omission. He said to His Apostles (the first Catholic priests): “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:22) God continues to give us Catholic priests today, who are given this power to act as His instruments of forgiveness. God wants to get rid of those blurry, awkward shots from our lives. He wants to only see a life of beauty in each of us, but we have to take Him up on His offer. We have to admit we have done wrong and try to not sin again.
Our Photos of Others
We also have to do the same for others. God said that in order to be forgiven, we must forgive others.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us . . . For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mt 6:12, 14-15, emphasis mine)
So, God wants to get rid of the bad pictures of us, but we first need to get rid of the bad pictures we have of each other. He wants us to look at the good in others.
Rather than focussing on the crazy times when Miriam’s teething drives her to bouts of crying that seem unconsolable or focussing on how many hours of sleep we have lost (Amanda more so than me), my wife and I are called to focus on the good in Miriam (like re-viewing this picture of her) . . . and those aren’t even sins! We have to be willing to get rid of those bad photos we hold against others for their offenses. I have to recognize that I’m still holding a grudge against someone: my wife, my brother, my sister, my parents, my relatives, my friends, people at work, in the community, etc. What have they done that I still hold against them? In justice, I naturally want to see something done about this, but in mercy, I need to follow God’s lead and forgive these people. I cannot condone sinful activity, but I must love sinful people (like me).
The Final Album
Eventually, God willing, we will be with God forever in Heaven. In that state there won’t be any bad pictures, only the best. Before we can get there, however, we must go through a final touch-up, a final purging of bad pictures, a purification. St. John told us that nothing unclean can enter Heaven. (Rev. 21:27) So we cannot enter without these pictures being removed. This final purging of the stains of sin is what we call Purgatory.
In the end, those who have “feared God and done what is right” (Acts 10: 35) will be with Him forever. All in Heaven will glorify God’s mercy for forgiving their offenses. They will marvel at His mercy, for He has kept only the best photos.
Trying to keep the best photos,