Friday 12 April 2024

“Always go forward; never look back.”

The Franciscan missionary, St Juniper Serra, the “man who founded California”, was known to say “Always go forward; never look back.” While it is undoubtedly a good piece of advice for those embarking on the missionary enterprise, it should suffice for us too, who are living the life of faith in Christ. We too are on a journey, and the greatest enemy to our progress is a tendency to turn back to what was, to look to our past, and most especially, our sins.

We should never look at any sin in our past life — especially since it has been confessed and forgiven — except in a way that leads us to give thanks and praise to God, “whose mercy endures forever!” St Augustine, and later St Thérèse, held that Grace is everything. We have so much for which to give thanks to God, so much for which, like our Lady, to “magnify him”. This means, to make much of him. This is what the Saints do: they give thanks to the Lord for his mercy and grace, without looking back, propelled onward by joy. If you look back at your past and are depressed by what you see, do what St Paul did. First, he acknowledged “I was a blasphemer”, but he didn’t dwell on that. He didn’t say how unworthy he was to be a follower of Christ, let alone an apostle. In fact he says: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, for he counted me faithful, appointing me to his service.” (I Tim. 1:12) When St Paul looked at his past and saw his sin he did not hide away saying, “Woe is me, I’ve done such terrible things, I’m unfit to be a Christian.” Not at all. The effect was to cause Paul to give praise to God. He gloried in Christ’s grace saying, “and the grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 1:14) This is something, an attitude, we can copy. If we look at our past and feel depressed, it means that Satan has scored a victory over us, causing us to doubt God’s mercy, and therefore his love, and to focus on ourselves, which is never a good idea. By all means be sorry but don’t be sad, since Grace was more abundant. Padre Pio once reminded a penitent that “God’s mercy is infinitely greater than your malice.”

We are still celebrating the Lord’s triumph over sin and death in his glorious Resurrection, which, because we have been called to share in that Risen Life, gives us real joy. The past then is dead, and through the grace of Baptism, we are now one with Christ, our sins having been blotted out once and forever. He walks with us, guiding and leading us on the way, which is why we should heed St Juniper’s words: “Always go forward; never look back.”