Tag Archives: Virtue

Dying to Self

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
—John 12:24

IMG_7355Dying to self means letting go of all the attachments that keep us from God; it is a purging of all that is not love. This means loosening our grip on our own plans, our desire for comfort and convenience, our tendencies toward selfishness and sin.

We can try to be the boss of our own lives, or we can give Jesus permission to call the shots. If we let Jesus take control, we will face the Cross, but we will also begin to see everything in our lives through His radiant Light.

Only when we throw ourselves upon God’s providence will we find ourselves—our true selves, who God created us to be. Dying to self is not an act of self-abasement but rather an act of faith—that when we cut away all the clutter we will find goodness underneath, that in the core of our being we will find the presence of God. Indeed, this dying to self is the seed of our salvation.

By abandoning our own agenda, we open our hands to receive the truest desires of our hearts. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and He will give us gifts greater than any of the earthly attachments we cling to.

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.
Featured image: PD-US

The Laity’s Response to the Clergy Sex Scandals

After one sex scandal after another involving clergy has broken out, it has been proposed that since the hierarchy cannot be trusted to weed out corruption from their own ranks, the task of saving the Catholic Church must fall on the laity.

There have been exhortations to the laity to demand accountability – and even resignations – from their bishops, to divert their contributions to the Church from their bishops to more trustworthy channels, and to speak out against misdeeds committed by clergymen.  There have even been calls to include laypersons in committees that will investigate erring priests and bishops.

At the outset, I must clarify that I have nothing against these proposals, lest I be misunderstood because of the inherent limitations of online discourse and the intense justified outrage that the recent scandals have provoked.  However, a lot has been written about the said proposals already, and it is important to discuss other options for the laity helping the Church recover from the clergy sex scandals.

While the laity can indeed play an important role in saving the Church, this idea can be a temptation to hubris if misunderstood, which would in turn result in sterility or worse.  While the proposals mentioned in the first paragraph of this article are good, they can only do so much.

Since the problem of clergy sex scandals is inherently spiritual, the solution to it is spiritual. The clergy sex scandals are, essentially, the failure of the clergy to live consistently with their vocations.

Thus, to respond to these scandals, the laity should examine themselves if they are living unity of life, that is, whether their words, actions, and choices are consistent with their own vocations as lay Christians.  Like, choices of entertainment, for example.

The point is not that the laity’s own failures take erring clergymen off the hook.  Rather, like good soldiers of Christ, the laity should, as good battle strategy, reinforce the Church’s ranks where there are breaches.

Or rather, the laity – like all Christians – must, as Christ said, be the salt of the earth and preserve the world and the Church from corruption.  To do this, they must themselves stay salty and never become insipid.

Furthermore, any reaction of the laity to the clergy sex scandals, to be meaningful and effective, must be realistic. It must take into account the limitations of the laity, as well as the laity’s specific vocation.

While there is room for more participation of the laity in the affairs of the Church, the extent to which the laity can exercise government functions is limited. The laity can never replace the hierarchy in fulfilling the functions of the ministerial priesthood.  Nevertheless, there are things that the laity can do which capitalize on their specific strengths and opportunities.

The clergy sex scandals are merely consequences – disastrous, to be sure – of the world’s inability to understand, appreciate, and practice chastity.  A big part of solving the problem is to preach chastity through word and example.  As St. Josemaria Escriva put it, “There is need for a crusade of manliness and purity to counteract and undo the savage work of those who think that man is a beast.  And that crusade is a matter for you.” (The Way, 121).

It is true that the clergy are primarily responsible for propagating the Church’s teachings on human sexuality from the pulpit. But there are areas where the laity can do it more effectively.

For example, most, if not all, who work in the arts, in the mass media, in fashion, in advertising, and other similar fields, are laity. By raising their professional standards and challenging the dubious mantra that “sex sells”, they can create a moral environment conducive to the practice of virtue for everyone, including priests.

Some of the laity have more opportunities than others to wage the “crusade of manliness and purity” that St. Josemaria Escriva wrote of.  But all of them can wage this crusade.  By the way they speak, act, work, deal with others, and entertain themselves, they can raise the spiritual temperature around them wherever they are.  They can exert a positive influence on those who come in touch with them, and “undo the savage work of those who think that man is a beast.”

To emphasize, this is not to say that more direct actions and reactions to address the clergy sex scandals are unnecessary. Indeed, tough measures must be taken, the truth must be told, justice must be served.

But all Catholics should remember that the clergy sex scandals are also, like other crises in the Church, calls to be holy.  The Church is no stranger to difficult times, and difficult times for the Church have, in the past, raised great saints. There is no reason the current crisis cannot raise great saints, including laity living and working in the middle of the world, sanctifying temporal realities by doing so.

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Image: François Brunery, An Eminent Gathering /PD-US

The First Commandment

Mark 12:28-34

In this Gospel, Jesus reveals the first commandment,

“The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:29-31)

This command demands of Catholics to ‘Latria‘, which means ‘Supreme worship to God alone’. How do we do this? Simply put, by following the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. These three virtues in their totality is the epitome of what becoming a Christian means. I will be sharing and reflecting on each of these virtues through bite-sized points:

We are first obliged by Faith given through Grace. This involves three steps: 1) Making efforts to find out what God has revealed, 2) To believe and obey God’s revelation, 3) To profess God’s Revelation openly whenever necessary. (c.f. Mt 10:32).

We are next obliged through Hope. Hope is to trust with confident assurance that God will grant us eternal life and the means to obtain it. (c.f. Titus 1:1-2).

Lastly, Charity. Charity obliges us to love God above all things because He is infinitely good, and to love our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. (c.f. Mt 22:35-40).

If we can adhere to Faith, Hope and Charity with all our souls, hearts and strength, we can be sure that we ‘will not be far off from the Kingdom’.

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Originally posted on Instagram.

Leaves Without Fruit

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple area.
He looked around at everything and, since it was already late,
went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

The next day as they were leaving Bethany he was hungry.
Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf,
he went over to see if he could find anything on it.
When he reached it he found nothing but leaves;
it was not the time for figs.
And he said to it in reply, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again!”
And his disciples heard it.

They came to Jerusalem,
and on entering the temple area
he began to drive out those selling and buying there.
He overturned the tables of the money changers
and the seats of those who were selling doves.
He did not permit anyone to carry anything through the temple area.
Then he taught them saying, “Is it not written:
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’?
But you have made it a den of thieves.”

The chief priests and the scribes came to hear of it
and were seeking a way to put him to death,
yet they feared him
because the whole crowd was astonished at his teaching.
When evening came, they went out of the city.

Early in the morning, as they were walking along,
they saw the fig tree withered to its roots.
Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look!
The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”
Jesus said to them in reply, “Have faith in God.
Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain,
‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’
and does not doubt in his heart
but believes that what he says will happen,
it shall be done for him.
Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer,
believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours.
When you stand to pray,
forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance,
so that your heavenly Father may in turn
forgive you your transgressions.”

—Mark 11:11–26

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Accursed_Fig_Tree_(Le_figuier_maudit)_-_James_TissotThis passage from Mark is a tricky one to understand. At first glance, it seems as though Jesus cursed the fig tree out of spite when it didn’t provide Him with food. Why not bless the tree with abundant fruit, just as He multiplied the loaves and fishes, instead of condemning it to wither and die? Mark even notes that figs were out of season at the time. Why would Jesus curse the tree, then, for not providing figs? It seems a rather extreme reaction.

But for the early Church, who were better acquainted with the fig trees of Israel, this story took on different meaning. When fig leaves would appear around the end of March, they were joined by small, edible buds, called taqsh, which fell off before the real fig was formed. Peasants would often eat the taqsh to assuage their hunger. But if no taqsh appeared, then there would be no figs on the tree that year at all.

So when Mark notes that “it was not the time for figs,” he is referring to this period when taqsh would typically grow. When Jesus looked to the fig tree to find sustenance, He saw a tree with leaves but no taqsh—meaning there would be no fruit to come, either. From a distance, it was flourishing with leaves, but up close, there was nothing of substance. Jesus recognized that, just like the fig tree, many people put on a good show of piety but had no signs or intentions of good fruits to follow. They were all outward appearance.

In the middle of this story we hear Mark’s account of Jesus rebuking the money-changers in the temple. There is a parallel drawn between the fruitless fig tree and those who desecrated the house of the Lord: these men spent their days at the temple, but they had no interest in actually worshiping God. They, too, were all show with no signs of fruit.

KKSgb2948-67The fig tree is a symbol used throughout Scripture to signify peace and prosperity for Israel. It requires patience and attention in order to grow and thrive, but it delivers rich rewards, bringing both a shady resting place and delicious fruit. The money changers sought shade without fruit, capitalizing on the community surrounding the temple while paying no regard to its sacred purpose. But for Jesus, their leaves could not conceal the barrenness of their hearts.

Jesus curses the fig tree as a reminder to us all that we do not know when our time for judgment will come. We may or may not have developed fruit when that time arrives, but He expects to see in us a desire for true growth and fruitful service. We cannot assume that we can wait until next year to pay attention to what God is asking of us. He doesn’t expect perfection but presence. Jesus does not judge us based on our achievements or accomplishments but on our openness to channel His life-giving grace in all its fullness, however He wishes to manifest His fruit in us.


1. James Tissot, The Accursed Fig Tree / PD-US
2. Hans Simon Holtzbecker, Ficus carica / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

A Question of Fairness

Peter turned and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them – the one who had leaned on His breast at the supper and had said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it that will betray You?’ Seeing him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘What about him, Lord?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to stay behind till I come, what does it matter to you? You are to follow Me.’ (John 21:20-22)

Have you ever felt unfairly picked upon? What is our reaction? “How come you didn’t ask person A…? Why can person B do this, but I cannot? …”

Last Supper, Jacopo Bassano (1542)

It is curious, Jesus did not address the unfairness which St Peter pointed out. Instead, He seemed to chide him even more! Strange how the Just One seems unjust. Or could it be that it is not always a question of fairness but of love?

Many a time we choose to focus on the cost of discipleship and forget the privilege of being chosen as His disciple! We choose to attend to our pride instead of to our love; for the husband of a pregnant wife does not say it is unfair when he might have to put in extra hours to bring home the money needed for the family, nor does a woman in labor say it is unfair to have to suffer so as to see her newborn baby for the first time, nor does the child cry unfair when they spend their hard-earned savings on a Mother’s Day gift.

The question is; how much do I love others as compared to myself? Can I humble myself for those who love me/whom I love? Can I humble myself for Love?

So the divine love is sacrificial love. Love does not mean to have and to own and to possess. It means to be had and to be owned and to be possessed. It is not a circle circumscribed by self, it is arms outstretched to embrace all humanity within its grasp.
— Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Child of God

Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. (Mk 10:15). One of my favorite verses from the synoptic Gospels.

What does Jesus mean when He says we must be like a ‘child’? The short answer: “A child is a more complete human being than he will ever be again.”

Jesus and the Little Children, Vogel Von Vogelstein (1788-1868)

A child possesses humility and simplicity in the fullest sense. A child has the capacity for total joy and total surrender. A child’s reactions to other people are absolute, his trust is without question or doubt. His values are true; he is untouched by the materialism of grown-up people.

To go back to childhood means that we must get back true values, instead of those that are based on materialism, public opinion and snobbery. Above all, we must regain the courage that is partly a boundless zest for living and partly an unquestioning trust in an all-powerful love.

This is exactly the type of child-like disposition we need when we “confess our sins to one another, and pray for one another” (Jas 5:16). It is no surprise therefore, that Jesus took them [children] in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands upon them. (Mk 10:16)

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Originally posted on Instagram.

Why we should read “Gaudete et Exsultate”

Back in March, Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation all about the call to be holy, Gaudete et Exsultate. Within just a few days, the online world was discussing (and debating) the document. As often happens in our world of constant news and digital engagement, a few weeks went by and conversations about this exhortation died down. People began arguing about other topics. The release of this apostolic exhortation seems like a distant memory, and if you haven’t read it yet, you may be reluctant to do so. We often like to read and discuss whatever is trending in the world, so if the world has seemingly moved on, what good can come from perusing these words of Pope Francis?

1. Gaudete et Exsultate is a loving note of encouragement from our Holy Father.

As an apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate does not seek to define dogma or lay out a detailed analysis of the Church’s teachings about one particular topic. Instead, it is an apostolic exhortation that seeks to encourage us in our mission as Christians.  In this document, Pope Francis clearly states that his aim “is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification. My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities” (#2). Pope Francis did not write this document for a few scholarly people to pull apart and debate; he wrote it for all of us to read and learn from. 

2. This exhortation takes us back to the basics of holiness.

In five pithy chapters, Pope Francis’s words remind us to stop over-complicating things and just be holy. As someone who tremendously enjoys learning about the intricacies of our Faith – especially as manifested in the liturgy – I sometimes face the temptation of forgetting the heart of Christ’s message. Like a Pharisee, I grow overly legalistic and proud, and let this overshadow the message of transformative love that floods the Gospels. In Chapter Three of this document, Pope Francis walks us through the Beatitudes, reflecting on how – looking at the Scriptures and the lives of the saints – we can embrace our call to holiness through this path that Christ lays before us.  Pope Francis notes that:

“The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card. So if anyone asks: “What must one do to be a good Christian?”, the answer is clear. We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives” (#63).

3. There are some beautiful and profound one-liners. 

I can always appreciate a succinct, thought-provoking statement that I can ponder for a while. To my delight, I found that Gaudete et Exsultate is full of these! No matter if he’s talking about the universal call to holiness (“To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious”), the importance of cultivating peace in our world (“We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and skill”), or the command Christ gave us to forgive others (“We need to think of ourselves as an army of the forgiven”), Pope Francis bluntly calls us forth to be holier men and women.

If you’ve been hesitant to pick up this document because it seems like “old news,” read it anyway – the reflection Pope Francis presents about holiness is needed in our modern world.

If you haven’t read this document because you think that it’s just for theologians and scholars, read it anyway – Pope Francis wrote it for us. In the conclusion, he states: “It is my hope that these pages will prove helpful by enabling the whole Church to devote herself anew to promoting the desire for holiness” (#177). He wants to help the whole Church, not just a privileged few.

If you’ve neglected to pick up this document because (based on opinion articles, headlines, and social media posts you’ve seen) you think it is chock-full of faulty teachings, read it anyway – the pope is not laying out incorrect teachings or false doctrine; he is encouraging us to be holy. While yes, there are some passages that seem a little vague and could be twisted in a variety of ways, I invite you to reflect on the pope’s words as you examine how you can practice sanctity in your own life.

Image credit: “Pope Francis” by Mikedev, via Pixabay (2017). CCO Public Domain. 

My Alabaster Jar

“When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head. There were some who were indignant. ‘Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil? It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wager and the money given to the poor.’ They were infuriated with her. Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anticipated anointing my body for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.'” (Mk 14:3-9)

The gift of the woman at Bethany was not small. She came to Jesus with repentance and sincerity of heart; with her broken jar she anointed Him with the best that she had, holding nothing back. She gave to Christ from her heart.

Such sincere gift left her vulnerable in the eyes of others. They were irritated and criticized her gift. Why wasn’t she following convention? Why wasn’t she displaying kindness in the popular way?

Perhaps this woman knew what their reaction would be beforehand. Her actions were somewhat radical… but at the same time, they weren’t. Would one who truly loves hold anything back from the beloved? Nothing is wasted on Christ.

Amid the scoffing of the bystanders, Christ read the woman’s heart. “Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me…She has done what she could.” These words must have been a wealth of consolation for the woman. She had the guts to run to Christ and now He was hiding her in His bosom, acknowledging that her actions were beautiful and pleasing.

The woman cared little for human respect and public opinion. She gave glory to God in the best way she knew how, and let the others think what they wanted.

The bystanders thought that she should love God through charity to the poor. But the woman went far beyond mere external actions- she gave God her heart. This woman gave all that was most precious to her to Christ, without bothering about people’s opinions and envious thoughts.

What is in my alabaster jar? What is my gift of priceless worth that I am holding back from God for fear of the opinions of others? Dear Lord, help me to break my alabaster jar and give my heart to You.

My outraged Jesus, / by the weakness You suffered in going to Calvary, / give me enough strength to overcome all human respect / and all my evil passions which have led me to despise Your friendship. / I love You, Jesus my Love, with all my heart; / I am sorry for ever having offended You. / Never permit me to offend You again. / Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will. (The Way of the Cross according to St. Alphonsus Liguori) 

#AllforJan: Slovakia mourns a young Catholic journalist

After Laetare Sunday Mass, a fellow parishioner asked me: “Have you heard of the protests in Slovakia? They are the largest since the fall of Communism! 50,000 people marched in the streets of Slovakia on Friday, and 25,000 on March 2, not to mention even more people gathering in cities across Europe. A 27-year-old investigative journalist was killed, along with his fiancée, because he had uncovered links between the Italian mafia and the government.”

Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová were found fatally shot in their new home on February 25, 2018. They were to be married in May.

A funeral Mass was held for the young couple at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Štiavnik, north-western Slovakia, attended by his parents, friends and fellow journalists. Kuciak’s sister Mária Kuciaková said, “Our whole family got a bullet to the heart.”

Former Archbishop of Trnava Monsignor Róbert Bezák C.SS.R. stated: “The murder of a person should not be lost in time. It would be a sign that we are morally broken and that we don’t care at all. But we do care. Janko and Martinka will always remain in our hearts.”

Archbishop Stanislav Zvolenský of Slovakia’s capital Bratislava, who celebrated the funeral Mass, observed: “If the murderer wanted to silence Jan, he managed quite the opposite. Believe that evil won’t win — even if it might seem so now.”

Slovakia is the third most Catholic Slavic country, after Poland and Croatia, with 62% of the populace being Roman Catholic, and 4% Byzantine Catholic. Trnava is known as “parva Roma”, that is, “little Rome”. The first Slovak in Australia was a Jesuit missionary who arrived in 1888. The first recorded Slovak immigrant in the USA was also a missionary, albeit Mennonite.

My fellow parishioner said, “Slovakians are hardworking people, but because of government corruption, they work hard for very little. It is sad to see how living conditions in Slovakia haven’t improved much since the fall of Communism.”

Kuciak’s last, unfinished story also reveals how Italian businessmen with mafia links have been siphoning off European Union funds meant for the development of eastern Slovakia.

A memorial website, https://www.allforjan.com/, has been created for people to express their sorrow and their gratitude for Kuciak’s work uncovering the criminals manipulating Slovakia’s government. On Twitter, the hashtag #AllforJan has been trending, displaying photographs of the crowds who came out in the bitter cold in honor of this young man’s life and death. His fellow journalists have refused to be cowed by his murder, vowing to continue his work.

Two politicians, Viliam Jasaň and Mária Trošková, have taken a leave of absence, and the Minister of Culture, Marek Maďarič, has resigned from his post.

Pope Francis last year publicly acknowledged Italian victims of the mafia, in particular three assassinated judges. He created a new category for sainthood which allows the canonization of those who freely give up their lives for others.

May the terrible sacrifice of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová be the catalyst for real change in their country, freeing it from the grip of organized crime. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.

Dealing with Resentment

I’m one of those people who tend to attract people with problems.

I’d be sitting quietly at a party, or at a church event, and strangers come up and spill their guts about their illnesses, their romantic woes, their family problems, everything. Sometimes, strangers on the Internet do that too!

It feels good to be able to help with a listening ear, but after awhile one can get really overwhelmed and resentful, and wish everyone would just go away and deal with their own problems.

Jesus probably felt something similar when, following his cousin John the Baptist’s death, he retired to an isolated area by boat, only to be followed by crowds on foot. He took pity on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:13-14)

How does one respond when one is overwhelmed?

Firstly, you should listen to your own feelings. Jesus was God, but He didn’t preach and heal non-stop. He took refuge in prayer and silence, resting in His human form and communing with the Father and the Holy Spirit so that He could minister anew. If you don’t recharge, you can’t serve, and you may end up snapping or burning out.

Secondly, it is important to set boundaries. People are not omniscient and they probably don’t know of all the other things on your plate. Sometimes it is also good for them to be declined, so they can actually stop fretting and do something constructive about their problems, or take them in prayer to God Himself.

Thirdly, it really helps to be able to put on the mind of Christ, even though it can be very difficult, and to see the other person as an occasion of grace, not as a pest. It can be extremely hard if they have a mental health issue and contact you every day, but that too is an opportunity to exercise patience and charity, while learning how not to compromise your own daily duties and much-needed rest.

These are also opportunities to lift others up to God in prayer. As Christians, we are our brothers’ keepers. When they get too much for us, one can ask for community help to shoulder the burden, and one should always turn to God in times of dismay. This allows Him to transform us and those whom we meet.

A deep prayer life enables us to be reservoirs of grace, overflowing with the peace of Christ, which can be hard to attain in this busy, distracted world of ours. By being reservoirs, we can face any trouble calmly with ease, knowing that God is present and works everything to good.

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Image: PD-US

The Beggar on the Bus

One afternoon, I was on a bus to the city when a disheveled young man boarded the bus. He was in gray pajamas, barefoot, and looked like he hadn’t had a shower in awhile.

“Can I please get on? I only need 60 more cents,” he begged the driver.

The driver demurred, probably adhering to company policy.

Being one of the nearest passengers, I rose and fished out the necessary change.

The man sat down. “Thanks,” he said. I decided to start a conversation with him.

He told me that he had no siblings, his mother was overseas, and his father refused to talk to him.

As we neared the next bus-stop, a disheveled lady came up. “Here, have this,” she insisted, pressing ten dollars into his hand. “I’ve been there before, mate. Use it for whatever you like. Look out for me on the streets. I just have to report to the cop shop now!”

Of all the people on the bus, that impoverished lady was the most generous. She was able to see past the grime to the face of a person in need of love. She identified with his situation and did what she could to alleviate his privation.

May we learn from her example and find the face of Christ in the lowliest-looking people we meet.

Please keep Chris and Carla in your prayers.

_____

Image: PD-US

On St. Paul, Sports, and Sanctity

My high school batch at St. Paul College of Pasig, a Catholic school for girls here in the Philippines run by the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, just celebrated its homecoming.  We prepared for it for a year, a year that was spent reminiscing about high school memories and organizing a grand celebration dinner.

Among the fond memories of our high school days, a favorite is that of the Intramurals. The Intramural athletic competitions were, and still are, a big thing in our school. Rivalry between batches in volleyball, softball, track-and-field, swimming, and chess events was intense, although everyone played fair and clean most of the time. Even members of the non-athletic majority, such as I, were expected to take the Intramurals seriously as we formed part of their batches’ pep squads in the cheering competitions. The cheering competitions were the biggest events in the Intramurals. We practiced hard for hours amidst the demands of high school homework, and each batch tried to outdo each other in coming up with the most sophisticated and most artistic pep squad and cheer dance routines.

From the conversations and social media interactions among my batch mates, it is clear that the spirit of the Intramurals is still alive among us – especially since we could never forget that we were the champions of the cheering competition during our junior year.

It seems that sports competitions were a big thing, too, to our school’s patron saint. In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he used athletics as an example to illustrate the determination and sacrifice it takes for a Christian to reach the highest goal in life, which is union with God: “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.” (1 Corinthians 10:7).

In other words, St. Paul was cheering on the Christian community in Corinth, “Go! Fight! Win!”

I like the way St. Paul viewed the struggle for sanctity as a sport.

Often, we balk at the suggestion that we should aim to be saints.  We tend to think that sanctity is reserved for an elite few, and that the rest of us are doomed to either spiritual mediocrity or damnation. We want to be good but we find it hard.

St. Paul himself knew how hard it is to aim to be a saint. His writings reflect his awareness of his sinful past, and even post-conversion he wrote about “the thorn of the flesh” and having had to be delivered from his “body of death”.

Perhaps it is because he knew how discouraging the struggle against oneself can be, that he wrote about it in terms of sports to encourage his readers.  Sports are tough and demanding. They involve pain and hard training. But they are fun, too. They are all about a sense of accomplishment when one wins, hope for another second chance of victory when one loses, and camaraderie with one’s teammates in any case.

It is depressing to examine one’s conscience every night and discover that one has committed the same faults and sins as the day before.  But it is less discouraging to see one’s repeated falls as the reps that an athlete must do to master a technique.  The struggle for sanctity is not about loathing oneself for being a sinner and beating up oneself to become what one is not.  The struggle to be a saint is a spiritual sport.  One can win with training (developing virtue), proper nutrition and hydration (the Eucharist and the other sacraments), proper treatment of injuries (the sacrament of confession), following the advice of one’s coach (spiritual direction and the teachings of the Church), the right mental attitude (the theological and cardinal virtues), and teamwork (the support we get from each other as members of the Mystical Body of Christ).  Like any other sport, it is enjoyable; one fruit of training in this spiritual sport is joy.

St. Paul’s reference to a “perishable wreath” refers to the fact that during his time, victorious athletes got nothing more than crowns of leaves for all their efforts. Today’s athletes receive more durable prizes – metal or plastic trophies, or medals of gold, silver, or bronze – but just the same, these prizes serve no further purpose than to be displayed. Nevertheless, athletes invest a lot just to win these prizes. The prize for winning the spiritual sport of pursuing sanctity is priceless, and surely worth all the effort involved in attaining it.

When we are defeated in the struggle to be good, we can either give in to discouragement, or we can, like a true athlete, train for the next match and try again as many times as needed to win.  One day, we will be able to say, like Saint Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith “ (2 Timothy 4:7)

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Image: PD-US