Life beyond the Finish Line
Watching the Olympics is a passionate experience. It’s intense, witnessing the world’s most excellent athletes drive themselves to mind-blowing achievements. In 2012, I saw Oscar Pistorius rise to greatness, racing without lower legs. This year, I witnessed Shaun White defy gravity on his snowboard. Their talent is incredible and I’ll never understand devoting the physical exertion spent throughout one’s life in order to win the crown. I’ve maintained a pretty jack-of-all-trades approach to the activities in mine—my life is dotted with brief appearances on athletic courts, as well as stints in dance, instrument performance and theater.
Because of my short attention span for hobbies while growing up, I watch sports with an occasional twinge of regret. Seeing athletes my age and younger possess skill they honed over excruciating hours of hard work and dedication, I fall into comparing my non-athleticism with their excellence and wish I had devoted the same amount of passion to achieve greatness beyond measure.
But then I recall that I’ve been a dedicated participant in a different arena, and one of my favorite Bible passages comes to mind: Do you not know that in a stadium all the runners run the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in all things. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly, I do not fight as though I were shadowboxing; No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)
One thing I can attest to loving all my life is Catholicism. My life’s work is in pursuit of the imperishable crown. Striving for Eternal Life calls for focus, lest we “run aimlessly” as St. Paul says. Fortunately for the children of God, the Lord upholds us in our pursuits for holiness and deeply wants us to be saints. We have no end of opportunities for victory through the sacraments. Just as any athlete chooses healthy food to fuel the body, we have the Eucharist to nourish our souls. The intimacy we experience with Jesus in Holy Communion is an incredible miracle afforded to us so frequently that it seems more commonplace than extraordinary; yet this heavenly food offers grace upon grace that every one of us needs for life. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life within you” (Jn. 6:53).
Similarly, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is rejuvenating. In purging our souls of sin and receiving the Lord’s forgiveness, we can both receive and reflect Jesus more naturally. We’re healed in the Confessional from the sickness of sin because of God’s infinite mercy, which empowers us to live in His image and likeness.
Any athlete will tell you rest is as paramount as work, yet both take equal amounts of self-discipline. Careers, marriage, parenting and living in this world call for a level of devotion that feels beyond us.
A devotion I feel God calling me to carry out is adoration. Sitting in the presence of God is an experience of restorative rest that makes self-giving much easier. When I began to tap into this, I recognized two realities: that I had been running on fumes and that time spent with Jesus empowers me to do anything.
The best way for us to run so as to win is taking advantage of the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Eucharist, and to avail ourselves of a ready relationship with God. Struggle is inevitable, but what separates Olympians from spectators is grit: determination to rise, stay the course and refocus. With my heart fixed on life beyond the finish line, I hope to receive a heavenly crown for the glory of God.
This article appeared in the September 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.