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Spiritual Athleticism

No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.  (I Corinthians 9:27)

St. Paul frequently turns to an athletic metaphor to explain his thoughts about teaching and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  For CUSANS, especially those of us who are crippled up by arthritis or neuro-muscular diseases, such metaphors have a way of slipping by without much thought.  That is certainly my case.  Running races has never been a big part of my life.  In truth, most athletic endeavors fall outside of my experience.  This is not to say that I don’t enjoy watching athletic competitions.  However, I am part of what we used to call the “Never Has Been and Never Will Be” basketball (baseball, football, etc.) team.  One of the memories I and some of my classmates cherish is the time we sponsored a basketball game of two such teams and charged admission hoping to raise money to feed the hungry.  Apparently, the neighborhood needed a good laugh because we packed them in and raised a significant amount of money for our hungry neighbors.

However, I digress.  How do those of us who are physically limited come to appreciate St. Paul’s athletic metaphors.  Of course, we look to our spiritual life.  Here again, I find myself wondering whether the notion of “competition” is really an apt way to speak of our spiritual development.  Then I remember my days as an English teacher.  I used to constantly remind my students that each student was competing against himself and himself only.  (I was never a fan of grading curves.)

There is some evidence in the writings of St. Paul that there were those who considered him less than the other apostles or, as he calls them, the super-apostles.  There were those who would remind St. Paul that he had not been an eye witness, that he had come to know Jesus only after the fact.  Of course, he would refute their claims, and rightly so. 

As believers and as members of the Body of Christ, we have all encountered Jesus in some way or another.  We are not competing with other Christians.  The Body of Christ, of which we are a part, is, like my high school students, competing against itself.  With each step we take, each act of love we perform, each sermon by example that we give, we further the work of making the Gospel better known in our world.  We are the Church.  We are the presence of Jesus in our world.  We are the Body of Christ.  It is that body which is running the race.  Because we are all members of that Body, we are all running the race.  We strive to reach higher, make our witness stronger, and serve others faster even if we are stuck in a wheelchair or can only move with the aid of a walker or cane.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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