by Father Mark Goldasich
Triathletes. I’m in awe of them. Can you imagine — swimming, biking and running — one event after another, all in one competition? Heck, I would consider myself virtuous (and in great shape) if I did even one of those exercises . . . ever.
A couple of months ago, I came across the following story that really struck me: A reporter was attending a local triathlon in which participants did a 1.5 kilometer swim, a 40K bike race and then ran a full 10K to the finish line. The winner was bent over, hands on his knees, panting, when the reporter caught up to him for an interview.
The reporter asked, “So, what does it take to win a triathlon?”
The winner looked up, sweat pouring from his face, and replied, “Everything!” (Adapted from the Sept. 5 issue of Prepare the Word newsletter.)
Couldn’t the same be said of our spiritual life? As Christians, we’re racing toward the kingdom of heaven, where our reward is eternal life with God.
In order to win that crown in heaven, we’re called to be “spiritual triathletes” — to train ourselves in prayer, fasting and service to our neighbor. And like the triathlete in the above story, to win this spiritual contest will take everything.
This time of year is an excellent opportunity to take stock of where we are, to assess our spiritual fitness — to lose the excess pounds of sin and laziness and to recommit ourselves to the practice of our faith. Just as we make resolutions when the civil New Year rolls around on Jan. 1, it’s wise for us as we begin a new church year on this First Sunday of Advent to make some resolutions regarding our faith.
Jesuit writer Father Richard Leonard, in “Preaching to the Converted,” lists five action steps to making our faith robust: carry; follow; lay foundations; sit and ponder; and give away possessions. These might provide a valuable framework as we look toward formulating our resolutions:
• Carry: We’re called to carry our cross each day and to do so, as much as possible, with patience and love. Our crosses vary: It could be a heavy cross like a serious illness or the death of a loved one, or simply a minor annoyance like an inconsiderate driver or an incor- rect order at the drive-thru. Those with small crosses can offer up their discom- fort to relieve the crushing sufferings of those with heavy crosses. And those bearing a great burden can seek to unite their pain to the suffering of Jesus.
• Follow: Quite simply, walk in the footsteps of Jesus and do what he did, imitate his example. We should strive to see people, especially those that we ignore or would like to ignore, as deserving of our care, respect and prayers. And then we have to act on that vision.
• Lay foundations: Our faith can only be as strong as the base on which it’s built. Sadly, people sometimes rely on the faith knowledge that they remember from their childhood, as students in Catholic schools or religious education programs. As we know, often what we remember really isn’t so! This step encourages us to develop an adult faith, by constantly learning about what we Catholics believe. Something as simple as reading more of The Leaven each week (presuming you don’t already read the whole thing now!), attending a workshop or class, or picking up a good spiritual book or magazine can move us toward this more informed faith.
• Sit and ponder: In other words, pray. Our hectic world makes quiet time a rarity and a luxury. We’re constantly on a quest to do more and often forget that the most important thing in life is to be more — more understanding, gentle, kind, and helpful. Stepping back from the rat race, even for 15 minutes a day, to spend in conversation with God — that is what prayer is all about, after all — can help us live with awareness. Pondering — by praying the rosary or writing in a journal — can show us patterns in our life and where God has guided our decisions. A natural byproduct of this sitting and pondering is a deep peace.
• Give away possessions: As the countdown of shopping days until Christmas begins, ushering in a whole new wave of possessions, now is the time to donate any “duplicates” or to pass the “old stuff” on to someone who can use and appreciate it. Keeping a steady “flow” of things out of our homes makes space for God.
In these after-Thanksgiving days, when you’re maybe not feeling quite as active as usual, sit down and outline your new “faith training” resolutions. What will becoming a saint cost you? Honestly, everything! But nothing else on earth is worth it.