The Temptation of the Rear-view Mirror
There are many students graduating now from high school. It is a time in their lives when their gaze is focused in two primary directions: past and future. A lot of time is spent “looking in the rear-view mirror,” i.e., remembering their time in school, what they have learned, the friends they have made, happy and sad moments, and so on. At the same time, they know instinctively that they cannot keep their gaze fixed on that mirror. We are accustomed to glancing occasionally at this mirror when we are in a car moving forward. Looking solely at what is behind us as we move ahead will lead to serious crashes. So, as the students look back, they know their primary focus needs to be on what lies ahead.
Yet, looking ahead might well be a source of anxiety. We cannot know what the future holds, and events unfolding in the world right now do not always leave us with a sense of confidence. In such a situation it becomes very tempting to keep our eyes only on the rear-view mirror, in the sense of remaining in the past, in what we know, in what is comfortable. But such a stance, motivated by fear, leaves us stuck where we are, paralyzed, unwilling to move ahead.
This can happen in the life of faith, too. Pope Francis, since the beginning of his pontificate, has been summoning us to live as the missionary disciples our Baptism makes us to be. He challenges us to look ahead, not back, to be bold, to go out of ourselves, to step out from within our comfort zones, to reach out to the unfamiliar, especially to our brothers and sisters living on the edge not only of society’s concern but also, perhaps, of our own notice. Here, the temptation of the rear-view mirror can come upon the followers of Christ. We know that the message of Christ is not always welcome, often ridiculed and rejected, in a culture that has in many ways grown allergic to the Gospel. The fear and anxiety this can arouse within our hearts can lead us to stay within the familiar, to remain rooted in what we feel we can control, to look backward and not forward, to be transfixed, that is to say, by the view in the rear-view mirror.
In fact, this is nothing new. Jesus Himself, in Sunday’s Gospel, summons his followers to have their view firmly fixed on what lies ahead, and not to be afraid of anyone (cf. Matthew 10:26-33). The Church has a mission; the Church is a mission. As followers of the Lord, we move forward in and through history with the life-affirming and world-transforming message of the Gospel. The Lord Himself warned that this would not be welcome. The persecution faced by the Church, in both the past and present, attests to this. Jesus knows that fear of rejection and harm is a natural reaction, so he reminds us that, in God’s eyes and heart, we are precious. God will never abandon us. We may indeed suffer emotional and, perhaps, even physical harm, yet such hurt is perpetrated by those who have no power to harm our immortal souls. Fear cannot be granted the determinative word. That which shapes our lives and impels them forward is trust in the living God.
It is good to look back from time to time, to glance occasionally in the rear-view mirror, if it helps us learn from what we have experienced or reminds us of the ways in which the Lord has been accompanying us on the journey. Indeed, his presence is often only recognized in hindsight. But if that glance becomes fixation, we need to avert our gaze and look steadfastly forward. We are people who are on mission; followers of the Lord who are sent. Let us move forward, trusting in the love and power of our God.