Lately I’ve been a bit jaded about sports, even as someone who grew up playing all kinds, and enjoying them as both a participant and a spectator.  I’ve found myself thinking that all sports are on steroids these days (literally and figuratively speaking), and that we’ve somehow managed to spoil even the simplest and universal pleasures of play, skill, and the wonder of the human body, striving.

But then, amid the blaring noise and glamour of our sports-frenzied culture, we get a reminder of the sheer joy and adventure of sport, and – even better – of the meaning behind it.  We remember that it’s only a cliché because it’s actually true! – that

We remember that it’s only a cliché because it’s actually true! – that sports are a metaphor for lifeKayla Montgomery’s story might not be explicitly Christian, but it is rich in the virtues of diligence, hope, and love.

Apostolic Questions:

1. What is YOUR race?

Throughout his New Testament epistles, St. Paul draws on sports metaphors to exhort young Christian communities to persevere in faith, discipline, hope and charity.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air… 1 Cor. 9:24-27

We are all running a race (whether we know it or not).  Whatever its particulars happen to be, we’re already in the heat of a race we can’t say no to.  We don’t get to choose whether to participate or not, but we DO get to choose how we run.

As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist … I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day… 2 Tim. 4:5-8

Run your race to win.

The destination of our race is Heaven.  Our own route is anything but generic; it’s as unique as a fingerprint or the retina of our eye… our life story.  Holiness is a lifelong pursuit and what’s amazing, encouraging, and reassuring is that we have an army of saints showing us it’s possible.  Not only that, but they’re praying for us and cheering for us from above.

2. Is there meaning in suffering?

This is one of the most vexing questions of the human experience.  While discipleship and faith are hardly an antidote to suffering, we must trust that if the God of the universe was willing to suffer and die in order to redeem us, to teach us about Himself and about what it means to be human, then we can bear suffering, fear, and sorrow to an almost superhuman degree.  We know He knows our pain – palpably and viscerally.  Gaze upon Jesus on the Cross.  He aches with us.  And if we ask Him, God can help us to make our sufferings, themselves, acts of prayer.

3. What’s our response to disappointment or unexpected bad news?

“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” – Heb. 12:1. 

Desiring to win the race is the first step (see #1 above).  But what do we do if we stumble?  Are we so fragile that our mistakes or misfortunes overwhelm us?  The response to disappointment must be to get up and keep going. Kayla Montgomery got up, and in the end, she emerged victorious!

Always get up.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Phil. 3:12-14

We must ask for and be receptive to help (community, fellowship, recourse to the sacraments – the Holy Eucharist and Confession).  In the cases of our own faults, God is infinitely willing to forgive us, if only we continue to GET UP.

4. Do you have a “Coach Cromwell?” Are you somebody’s “Coach Cromwell”?

There is so much emphasis in our present day on radical autonomy… on being self-sufficient. This attitude runs us two risks: of pride over our accomplishments when we succeed, and – on the flip side – of loneliness & despair if and when we stumble.  Then, we’re not only wounded, but also isolated. “Epic fail. I must just be a loser. Why bother?” – No! If our default setting is 100% self-sufficiency, how depressing it can be, how self-defeating, when our own abilities fall short – be it from giving in to temptation, or merely suffering exhaustion or discouragement from being out in the world.  But – rejoice! – Man was not designed to be radically autonomous! “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Genesis 2:18

We are born into utter helplessness as infants, and – despite the deceptions of the world – we are still in need of love, companionship and help as adults.  This is a particular wound borne by men and women today – the misconception of autonomy. Our hearts are made to give love, receive love and delight in love in encountering others, not to refuse help, but seek out community.  Can we allow God to heal our hearts enough to be receptive?  Can we re-cultivate our hearts… softened hearts that are able to trust we’ll be caught at the finish line?  And can we train ourselves – retrain ourselves – to become the loving, generous hearts that our family and friends need us to be… needing us to support them, to catch them in their own slips and vulnerabilities?

Additional Resources: 

2005 Stations of the Cross (as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger)Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s 2012 Stations of the CrossSpe Salvi, 2007 Papal Encyclical On Christian Hope: “…the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.”