When we take a walk down memory lane with any honesty, we're bound to remember at least a few choices we wish we had made differently. Sometimes, it's just that we didn't have enough information at the time. But often, it's that we freely chose something we knew was wrong. In other words, we sinned.
Sin is a reality of the human heart, and there is only one thing that can truly separate any of us from it--salvation. Sin, after all, is what separates us from God. It is a one word summation of how we all fall short of his glory, and of his plan and ideal for each one of us. That is why God hates sin almost as much as he loves us sinners. God's intention is to so definitively disconnect us from sin, that he promised, "I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:34). God even goes so far as to describe himself as "he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more" (Isaiah 43:25).
To most of us, the thought that God would forget our sins is profoundly comforting. We ourselves can find that kind of amnesia more than a little challenging, especially when it comes to other people's infractions. But while we want God and our neighbors to forgive and forget the wrong we've done, I think many of us actually look at past sins with nostalgia, even attachment.
At the beginning of his "Introduction to the Devout Life," St. Francis De Sales, gives his reader Philothea, "a soul who loves God," a series of 10 meditations. These focus on various aspects of our relationship to God: creation, sin, heaven, hell, and the like. The meditations are provided as a prayerful means to detach the soul from sin, as well as from any affection it may have for sin. Francis was an astute observer of the human soul. He knew that even when people functionally stopped sinning, they still tended to look on their "youthful indiscretions" with fondness.
I can't begin to tell how many times I have heard the parents of our children's teen peers make excuses and accommodations for their kids' bad behavior. Sadly, they do this on the basis of the sins of their own pasts.
Of course Tom is going to get drunk. Remember what we did when we were 15? Sure Meghan is likely to lose her virginity in high school. Remember what it was like to have all those raging hormones?
The saddest thing of all is that these now middle aged parents say this with a wink and a smile. Somehow, they romanticize sinfulness. They are still falling for what led them down those self-destructive paths away from God when they were "kids."
But being a kid necessitates neither a seditious spirit nor sinful behavior. On the contrary, children and young people have often exhibited an amazing capacity for holiness and heroic virtue. Think of Pier Giorgio Frassati, Maria Goretti, Stanislas Kostka, Agnes, Joan of Arc, Domenic Savio. Those who have been canonized or beatified are numerous, but there are far more children who have lived according to the will of God who are known to him alone.
Thankfully, once we have confessed our sins, God does not remember them. But when we do, we ought to do so with regret. That is what separated Patrick and Augustine from their less holy contemporaries. That is what motivated people like Dorothy Day to spend their lives in the service of others.
Recollections of our "sowing wild oats" aren't anything to relish. And those of us who didn't do much "sowing" ought to be especially grateful that God has a little less to forget about us. As we approach the cross of Christ -- the centerpiece of our salvation -- may we turn like the Good Thief to the God who forgets our sins, but remembers us when he comes into his kingdom.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.