A New Year. Remembering past injuries. Clinging to past sins. The Purification of Memory

A the beginning of a new civil calendar year, quite a few people are moved (at least for a while) to assess their lives and resolve (at least for a while) to make some changes.  These changes are mostly about the usual things I don’t have to list.

Here’s an approach some might not have thought about.

Purification of memory.  

The Enemy demons cannot read our minds, but they have access to our memories.   Moreover, they remember what we have forgotten.  The Enemy can throw obstacles in our path of spiritual growth through keeping us distracted by our memories…. of past accidents, of injuries and of our own sins.

We have to purify our memories, or rather allow God to purify them, and learn not to hold onto things that can hinder us.  That doesn’t mean “forget”.  It means putting them in the right context.  Seeing them in a Christ-centered way, not a self-centered way.  In a sense, clinging to injuries, wallowing in past sins is a form of “vanity” because it is all about “me”.  It shoves Christ to the side, when He has to be at the center of those memories.   Consider than continuing to rub one’s face with the mire of sins that you have sincerely confessed and been absolved for is a kind of denial of Christ’s power to forgive.

Of course there is a balance to be achieved with the help of grace and the development of virtues which helps us to do penance for past sins and acts of reparation for others while leaving the “mess” we are or were in to the ministration of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Do yourselves a favor.

Here is a link to a talk given by a good friend of mine, Fr. Cliff Ermatinger, a gifted speaker and writer.  I’ve mentioned his books here, though not often enough.  This talk is about:

The Goal of the Spiritual Life: Memory and Virtue.

It is the third part of a series.

He provides the audio and a careful outline of the talk:


[“Wow.  Fr. Z used a really big font.  He must think this is important!”]

I am confident that this talk will be beneficial for you no matter what stage you are at in your spiritual life.

HOWEVER… if you are really troubled by past injuries or your own past sins… I implore you to listen to it.

40 minutes of your life very well spent.

And… need it be said?


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. VForr says:

    Perfect timing. I needed this post today. Thank you and God bless you.

  2. MarianneF says:

    This is fabulous – does Fr. Ermatinger have a regular podcast or a place to listen to his talks? I didn’t find one anywhere. Would love to hear the first two parts of this series.

  3. Charles E Flynn says:


    The links to parts 1 and 2 of Fr. Ermatinger’s talk series are at the bottom of the page for part 3. They may have not been there before, because the page has the date “January 5, 2023” at the bottom, which appears to be a modification date.

  4. Lurker 59 says:


    The links to the rest of the series have their hyperlinks below the outline with the Talks tag taking one to everything so tagged. Looks like the 4th part will be out next week.

  5. Gab says:

    Thank you, Fr Z. Your words and those of Fr Ermatinger are timely indeed. Good to see parts 1 & 2 are on his site as well as an upcoming part IV.

  6. Chiara says:

    I tend to hold onto grudges and brood about past disappointments. This is *splendid*, and I thank you for putting this out. Now I have a worthy New Year’s resolution! Peace to all here!

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  8. Gregg the Obscure says:

    thanks for posting this. a big piece of my most recent confession was about becoming overwhelmed with memories of past sins – sins that had already been absolved.

  9. beelady says:

    This is fantastic and such a help to me!

    Thank you, Father Z

  10. j stark says:


    I love you Go to Confession messages, I have 1 question on kind and number (sometimes of which I struggle to remember).

    Is this just a requirement in the Roman Rite? I believe the Oriental and even the Orthodox Catholics do not require kind and number but only a more generalized confession. Yet the absolution is valid. Is this the case? If so, why the difference?

  11. j stark: kind and number

    A couple points on this. Number becomes easier to deal with when you get into the discipline of making an examination of conscience every evening.

    About number.

    The old phrase is “Know thyself.” By examining your conscience and your actions you come to know yourself better. If you don’t, you might not in fact know yourself very well.

    The number of times you do something can make a difference in knowing yourself, and therefore offering yourself to God. It also informs the priest confessor where you have a problem.

    For example, if you say, “It has been a week since my last confession. I lied, I stole, I kicked my dog.” Those might be one time only or they might be 50 times.

    “I lied one time”, is one thing, and “I lied 50 times,” is another. Once can be a one off, a slip. 50 time means that you are “a liar”. Knowing the extent of, the frequency, of the sin, helps you and the confessor understand what is to be done. Also, there can be matters of justice involved, as well as health and general well-being.

    Finally, it really is a matter of the Church’s teaching that all mortal sins must be confessed in both kind and number, even if that number is a best guess or estimate. It is taught “de fide”. The Council of Trent taught it. It is in the Code of Canon Law (can. 988 §1)

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  13. The Masked Chicken says:

    “ The Enemy demons cannot read our minds, but they have access to our memories.”

    A couple of points.

    1. Demons have higher intelligence than we do, so even if they cannot read our minds, in certain situations, they might be able to infer by sensible signs, what we are thinking. They, certainly, can observe what we are doing.

    2. I do not exactly see how this works. Even if the demons cannot read our thoughts, as soon as we think the thought, it enters our memory and, so, presumably, the demons would have access to it. This is time-delayed mind reading, is it not?

    3. Just a caution, which, for the sake of my conscience I must make. The notion of healing of memories can be a dangerous concept, if misunderstood. I don’t have time to go into the various origins of this notion, but there seem to be several different streams of interpretation or uses of the term, some more orthodox than others, that have developed in theological circles over the last few centuries. I have not listened to Fr. Ermatinger’s talks, so I will have to see in what sense he uses the term.

    St. John of the Cross associates the purification (he does not use the term healing) of the memory with the virtue of hope. Just as one can say, Ave crux, spes unica (Hail the Cross, our only hope), just so, even painful memory crosses can become occasions of our deliverance if subjected to God’s authority, just as Christ submitted his cross to “the One who judges justly.”

    4. One of the uses of the term, the healing of memories, is of relatively recent Protestant origin (in the 1970’s) and it involves manipulation of memories. It is this practice that I want to sound a caution against. I assume this is not the kind that Fr. Ermatinger is referring. As I say, I will have to listen to his talks to see, but an earlier commenter in the original post on the subject seems to suggest that Fr. Ermatinger cites St. John of the Cross, who gives a sound Catholic application of the idea.

    Situating memories within the context of God’s will is a good thing to do and will purify the memories because they become a part of a larger Divine reality when they are united to God’s will, as was the Cross’s painful memories in the minds of those who loved Christ and stood at the foot of his Cross. Truth is truth, however, and the pain of an old memory, while it can be transformed into a good, should never be denied.

    The Chicken

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