Note to self: It is a competition, run harder!
Not to be confused as a disagreement or debate between fellow Nameless family member Kate and I on a similarly named blog where she eloquently wrote on the jealousy and envy we often feel towards successful brothers and sisters, which you can find here. This blog is focused on healthy competition in our faith journey.
As we should, let’s start with scripture:
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
This is one of my favorite Bible verses. I use it as a reminder in sports to play hard and in life to pray harder. St. Paul clearly tells us it’s not enough to just show up, but to compete…to race. We can’t just say we have faith and do nothing with it (James 2:17), or our souls will look like this:
Bare minimum effort makes for a slovenly spiritual life
We want our souls to be unstoppable, like this.
Every three years the Corinthian people were accustomed to witnessing the Isthmian Games about nine miles along the sea-coast from their city. The Isthmian Games were the big event on the off-years of the Olympics. There were contests in chariot racing, wrestling, boxing, music and poetry (in which women were allowed to compete…check Corinth out, being all forward-thinking) and also MMA Fighting. No seriously, those dudes had the first MMA, and called it pankration (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pankration). These Games were such a big deal that even when Athens and Corinth were at war, there was a truce granted to athletes’ passage and the Athenians were invited as usual. The winner of these games took a wreath of pine leaves. There were also statues and odes created to honor the victors.
Imagine a Games without corporate sponsorship...
In true evangelist fashion, Paul uses a local pagan event to help illustrate the teachings of Christ. He makes an example of the incredibly fit competitors and how they sacrifice and strive for a simple wreath of leaves and let us ponder how much more we should strive and sacrifice for the eternal wreath of Heavenly Glory.
Paul encourages us to run with purpose, with a goal in mind. To box not as if “beating the air” but to train to fight our opponents (the world, the flesh, the devil).
We are one team with one Coach, Jesus Christ. Through Him we know our regimen. The minimum of what we must do to be allowed on the field. But just like with any sport, we can only be as good as we are willing to work to be. I guarantee that every successful athlete practices every task their coach gives them to perfection. We are called to do the same.
But when it comes right down to it, are we supposed to be competing against our brothers and sisters? Does that mean leaping over fallen Christians and cheering yourself on? No, of course not. I’d say more specifically we are to compete WITH our brothers and sisters. My wife used to be a NCAA swimmer and they would train against each other, racing and trying to out-swim one another. However, they celebrated the successes of the individual teammates, for each victory was a victory for the whole team. And whenever a teammate was disqualified or hurt, that was a loss for the whole team.
So, when Bobby Biblescholar once again finishes reading the entire New Testament or Debbie Devotional is talking about a new novena she’s praying through, we can be spurred on to deepen our own spiritual works. And hopefully, through our actions, spur on others!
Our beautiful Church has thousands of past athletes counted as Saints in the Church Triumphant. Those individuals are in the stands and on the sidelines cheering you on and giving you advice and insight through Sacred Tradition. Our team captain sits the Chair of Peter and leads us on, relaying the Coach’s instructions and keeping our focus on the goal when the minor losses or victories threaten to overwhelm.
St. Paul makes certain to end chapter 9 of his first letter to the people of Corinth with a reminder for himself and all of us. His use of “preached” would literally mean “announced”. In the Isthmian games, a herald made the announcements of the combatants, proclaimed the conditions, and excluded any who were unworthy. St. Paul acted as a herald but was also a competitor in the struggle for gaining eternal life. He feared that while he had preached/announced the conditions for victory to others, he himself might fail to observe them and lose his own prize. Our faith is a game of (eternal) life and death, so remember to play and play hard.
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”