Thursday, October 02, 2008

Wednesday in the 26th Week of Ordinary Time
Memorial of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Virgin & Doctor of the Church
Looking Ahead

Readings: Jb 9:1-12, 14-16; Ps 88:10bc-11, 12-13, 14-15; Lk 9:57-62
Pictures: CC terriseesthings

No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what is left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.

I’m neither a mountain climber nor a track athlete, but I seem to recall a piece of advice that’s applicable just as well to either of these activities. If you’re climbing a mountain, don’t look down. And if you’re running a race, don’t turn back. Seems like common sense. Looking back can be distracting, not to mention dangerous. And yet, isn’t there something about the human condition that makes this advice truly difficult to follow?

Of course, we’re not speaking of just any mountain, or race. We’re not referring to trivial matters like changing one’s mind about going shopping or watching a movie. Neither are we talking about obviously wrong or evil choices that require reversal. A drug addict does well to go to rehab, just as a thief ought to return the loot. What our readings invite us to consider is the wholehearted commitment that is required of anyone who wishes to be fit for the Kingdom of God. And this is often easier said than done.

For isn’t there something about us that makes looking back seem like such a natural thing to do? Sometimes we do it out of a sense of nostalgia. We hanker after the good ole’ days. At other times, perhaps especially in times of trial, we find ourselves wondering if we had made the right decision in the first place. Or we may wish we had done things differently. If only… And while there is a kind of remembering that strengthens our commitment – much like our celebration of the Eucharist does – there’s also a kind of retrospection that actually undermines our resolve. By yielding to the temptation of looking to what was left behind we sabotage ourselves. We become mired in a pool of self-pity and regret, and so leave the mountain unclimbed, the race un-run.

In contrast, today’s readings present us with the examples of Jesus and Job. Both have committed themselves to a climb. Both are running a race. Job is as God-fearing as Jesus is faithful to his Father’s will. And, to use the language of the marathon, both have hit the wall. Jesus is proceeding on the journey that will bring him to a cruel death on the cross. Job’s fidelity to God seems to gain him nothing but the loss of his possessions, his family, and even his health. And yet, neither one looks back. Quite to the contrary, both of them keep looking ahead.

And it is in looking ahead that both find the strength they need to press on. Jesus can keep his hand firmly on the plow, only because he has placed his life in the hands of the One who sent him. He can speak of having nowhere to rest his head only because his heart rests in the bosom of his Father’s will. Likewise, within the dark night that enshrouds him, Job continues to contemplate the face of the One he professes to serve. The whole of the first reading is a description of the awesome, even terrible, transcendence of God. How can a man be justified before God? ... He does great things past finding out, marvelous things beyond reckoning. And Job does this without repressing his own grief and pain. Here, the cry of the psalmist could not be more apt: Why, O Lord, do you reject me; why hide from me your face? Quite incredibly, even in the midst of his affliction, Job continues to look forward and upward.

Someone once said that when we are turned away from the light – when we look back – the shadows are long. But when we continue to face the light, when we insist on traveling in its direction, even when its brilliance takes on the forbidding aspect of darkness, the shadows disappear from sight.

How are we being strengthened to continue climbing and running and plowing today?


  1. Actually, I'm amazed that by Chapter 9, Job already has the answer with which God would later confront him in Chapter 38. If I'm today's teenager, I might just tell God, "How lame! Job already knew what you're going to say." But then, the book of Job is not supposed to be historical, is it? Some say it's didactic poetry designed to teach the wisdom discovered through life experiences.

    Okay, that's not the point of this reflection. From now on, whenever I'm about to say, "I remember...", I will probably ask myself first whether this memory is going to help or hinder my climb/trek/race into God's kingdom -- which is within (or among) us[3], approached through understanding[4], and entered through acceptance like a child[5], spiritual rebirth[6], and doing the will of God[7] (Wikipedia).

    I think one type of memories that I should let go (and not ruminate over) are the memories of the wrongs of others, especially those that I've chosen to forgive and to give them a second (or third or...) chance. Otherwise, we simply cannot move forward together.

  2. Many times during trekking trips in the mountains, I had to walk for 6 - 8 hours a day, often up mountain sides. Once, I had to go up a steep slope for 2 solid hours. After one hour, I stopped and looked up and couldn't see the top. I looked down and saw how far I had come. I was already tired and panting but I had no choice; I had to carry on. That day I learned that I could do almost anything if I didn't give myself a choice.

    In my current climb towards the way of Christ, I sometimes think I have no choice. There is only God. If I reject Him, what else is there? But boy! Is it tough going!

    Certainly looking back at what I have to leave behind, especially self-indulgent comforts and pleasures, won't help because it will make the progress more difficult.

    I still think about what I used to do. That's not looking back, right? That's to remind myself how much time I had wasted.

  3. We remember Lot and his wife. The price of looking back was to turn into a salt pillar, of no use to anyone and will melt with sun and rain.
    If we look towards the light, then we would not be able to see our own shadow. Shadows are creepy at times so being bathed in a glow of warm light is pretty much preferred.
    Should I look back, definitely with fond memories of my youthful days and foolish ways. They teach me something about myself. Retrospection leads me into introspection of what I've become and what I can be.
    So my philosophy is to look back in order to look forward with anticipation. God supplies the rest to lead me to His destination;
    without losing sight of my own need and the needs of others.


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