July 2, 2013

Looking Back

Readings at Mass: Tuesday of the 13th Week of Ordinary Time

Genesis 19:15-29

Note to reader: Don't forget to check out the new homily series called "Follow Me." You can listen to the homilies online. Look to the right and click on the link "Follow Me Homily Series."

"Do not look back or stop anywhere on the Plain." (Genesis 19:17)

Today's first reading at Mass raises lots of questions about God, His mercy, and His justice. The famed story of the destruction of Sodom can elicit within us questions such as: "How can a God who is all good and 'loving' act with such swift destruction?" God's up to a lot in Genesis 19 ... but so is Abraham. While God is readying to destroy Abraham's brother Lot's city of Sodom, Abraham is urged by God: "Do not look back or stop anywhere on the Plain." (Genesis 19:17) Hmmmmmm ... what should you and I unpack today, God's destroying Sodom or His urging Abraham "Do not look back"?

"The next step" of discernment in our spiritual lives is often between discerning two apparent goods. The key is to choose the best in the face of the good. Therefore, if you're asking "How can a God who is all good and 'loving' act with such swift destruction?", I'd encourage you to listen to the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI. You can find his commentary here.

As for us this morning, I sense the Lord is leading us to heed to the words He gave to Abraham: "Do not look back or stop anywhere on the Plain." (Genesis 19:17)

Do not look back. What's God saying there?

We're never stagnant in the spiritual life: either we're moving toward God or away from God. God always calls us to Him. We're called to move forward. To move forward toward Christ often requires that we let go of the diversions in our life that pull us away from Him. The words of Saint Paul in 1st Corinthians are helpful here: "When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things."

There is a daily temptation to look back at the things we've left behind. First, as God calls us to look only at Him we may be tempted to look back to old temptations. Perhaps there are sins we've left behind. As we move forward toward Christ we will indeed be tempted by our previous sins. They will call to us. They will lure us into remembering "how much we enjoyed them." They will whisper to us "if you really go all the way with Jesus you'll 'never' be able to enjoy us agin." If we look back at our old sins the temptation will grow. Knowing our vulnerability when we look back, Jesus asks us always to look at Him. Stay focused on where you're going ... now.

Secondly, we may be lured to look back on times when it was easier in our spiritual life. Perhaps you're growing toward Christ, but things have gotten harder. God's voice is more silent. His presence is a bit more faint. Perhaps you find yourself remembering intimacy with God "back then" rather than enjoying intimacy with God now. If so, don't look back in the sense of trying to grasp at the previous consolation. The same God who blessed you then is active and alive now. God allows spiritual desolation for many reasons. If you don't hear God speaking now, simply ask God to show what He wants to talk about or what He's trying to show you.

Thirdly, we may be tempted to look back at those who aren't moving forward with us. Wives know the grief of growing in their relationship with Christ, only to ache when their husbands do not join them in spiritual growth. Or, of course, vice versa ... husbands may grieve when they grow in their relationship with Christ, only to ache when their wives do not join them in spiritual growth. Or, maybe it's your kids, or your siblings, or your parents, or friends, etc. The point is this: when we are growing and our loved ones aren't we are tempted to feel as if we're moving forward without them. Thus, we may look back hoping that we're not leaving them behind. Now this one's tricky. On one hand it's important for you to keep your eyes on Christ. Don't look back thinking that you're doing something wrong or that you can save your spouse "all by yourself." On the other hand, don't look at Christ and pretend that the grief isn't there. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2727 says: "Christian prayer is neither an escape from reality nor a divorce from life." The key is to be honest with what's in your heart. The grief is important, but so is your gaze. Honor the grief, but keep relating it to Jesus. He's got His eyes on you and your spouse. Remember, it's about the process. God won't abandon you or your spouse. With your heart connected to your spouse, keep your eyes on the Lord and ask for wisdom, patience, and eyes to see what God is doing in their heart.

When do you look back? What are you looking at when you look back? What are you looking for when you look back? Most importantly, why do you look back? Trust the Lord who is always looking at you ... do not look back.

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2013

To Learn More about IPF:

Today at IPF:

The 169 seminarians in the Seminarians Summer Program are in the home stretch with their morning class, "Celibacy and Sexuality." Today the men will learn more about the essential role of healthy boundaries and its impact on celibacy.

The 22 priests and seminarians here for the Spiritual Exercises are on day 4 of the 30-day retreat.

Today's Quote from Pope Benedict XVI:

"All of us, in our different ways, are personally engaged in a journey that grants an answer to the most important question of all – the question concerning the ultimate meaning of our human existence. The quest for the sacred is the search for the one thing necessary, which alone satisfies the longings of the human heart. In the fifth century, Saint Augustine described that search in these terms: 'Lord, you have created us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.' As we embark on this adventure we come to realize more and more that the initiative lies not with us, but with the Lord: it is not so much we who are seeking him, but rather he who is seeking us, indeed it was he who placed that longing for him deep within our hearts."
― Address, Saint Mary's University, Twickenham, England, September 17, 2010