The mirror was an early invention of ours, with evidence of its presence among us going back over centuries past. It likely owes its invention to a previous fascination we had with our own face as we bent over a pool of still water and marveled at the image reflected there. Our inventiveness managed to recreate this image, so that we can note the blemishes on our features and do our best to remove or diminish them. But this advantage can easily be offset by an obsession with how we look and appear to others. We can easily become self-absorbed. The scriptures today present a contrasting alternative to such preoccupation with oneself.
In his wisdom, Sirach steers us away from ourselves. He shows us, not controlling a situation, but rather being acted upon by circumstances over which we have no influence. They counter the tendency to be obsessed with our face and appearance before others, and show us amid trials and adversity that diminish such self-concern. Sirach presents us as victims of misfortune, being tested like gold in a crucible. His advice, in this turn of events, is to forget ourselves and reach out to the Lord, putting aside the mirror of self-absorption, and attending to our victimization. This change in our focus of attention can position us to experience the Lord and His helping hand in our life. It moves our attention off our selves, and fastens on a compassionate and merciful God, Who becomes the centerpiece of the mirror that preoccupied us.
A similar scenario is evident in Mark’s gospel for the day. Here the Person of Jesus emerges in the mirror into which we stare, and presents Him as Someone Who is not a dominating center of attention. His image is rather that of a victim of circumstances, exhibiting passivity before the circumstances engulfing Him, which will lead to His apprehension and death. Jesus then proceeds to expand on the implications of this for His followers: to accept being last rather than being first, to put aside personal ambition to be the greatest, and to assume the guise of a child. Children usually spend little time before the mirror admiring themselves.
These biblical readings provide timely advice for us today. They remind us of our proneness at being the center of attention, overlooking what is occurring around us. They show us how quickly our life situation can change, negating the self-absorption that so often consumes our time and energy, and confronting us with some daunting challenges. These can reduce our agency and augment our passivity, away from control to that of victimhood. In looking through the mirror we must see beyond the self portrayed there, and note what lies beyond. It takes a poetic eye to see other things in life’s mirror, such as Joseph Plunkett suggests in his verses:
I see His blood upon the rose I see His face in every flower
And in the stars the glory of His eyes The thunder and the singing of the birds
His body gleams amid eternal snows Are but His voice-and carven by His power
His tears fall from the skies. Rocks are His written words.
All pathways by His feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.