I would like to share something I read today.
I find Summer Olympics fascinating. The raw strength, precision, and determination on display is awe inspiring. When I see the swimmers stretch their bodies to the breaking point, when I see the gymnasts’ power and precision (watching the floor exercises of the two Americans last night…the sheer strength and precision, the boom of their well planted landings were awesome), when I see all of this on display, knowing the half of the things they do would land me in an emergency room and/or traction, I see years of dedication that finally pays off as they take the podium.
It gets me to thinking (yeah..I know…shocker) how every person has it within them to rise to some similar greatness. Very few can rise physically to the standards we see in these Olympians. However, we can rise to greatness in other fields and disciplines of life if we are focused and perseverant. Many do not rise to such heights because they lack the discipline to do so. If you have had chance to watch the Paralympics or Special Olympics, we again see persons who do not let the disabilities they have by birth or accident inhibit them from being as great as they can be. They also show the discipline and grit necessary to move beyond the mediocrity of low expectations.
Greatness takes discipline. In Catholicism, we refer to these disciplines as the virtues. The practice of the disciplines of the virtues helps us to grow to greatness that transforms us in every aspect of our lives. God gives us His help through grace. He is like those great coaches who teach, provoke greatness, and give everything necessary for success. Like great coaches, he doesn’t do the exercise for us, we have to choose to do so. He sent His Son, to show us the ‘routine’…the exercise of virtue in perfection. Through this, we have access to what we could not get on our own.
Olympians endure pain, sacrifice, and suffering to hone their abilities. Do we? In order to grow in Christ, do we endure the pain of rejection of this world, do we make the sacrifices necessary to grow in faith, are we willing to suffer and give up everything so as to gain a crown not fashioned by human hands? Will we take unpopular stances in this world? Will we stick out? Those unwilling to do so, who move with the herd of this society hellbent on its own destruction, accept the comfort of mediocrity as the participation trophy instead of doing the hard work to get the gold.
The Olympics do not hand out medals for mediocrity or participation awards for simply showing up. Can we expect heaven by phoning it in…by accepting spiritual mediocrity? Spiritual mediocrity causes spiritual atrophy, which leads to spiritual death and eternal condemnation. While we cannot work ourselves in heaven, we do show God through our dedication, discipline, and obedience, our desire for the spiritual gold medal of eternal relationship with Him.
So, how are you going to do the thing necessary for the gold today? How will you use the discipline of the virtues to hone your skill at being the best Christian you can be by the grace of God? With what will you feed your body, soul, and mind? It matters. It matters for now and for eternity.
Fr. Bill Peckman