Ave Maria’s Father Robert McTeigue, S.J., preached this homily at today’s Mass:
Do you want to hear a story? When I taught at another university, one that identified itself as “Catholic”, I all too frequently had the following conversation with students.
“Do you practice any particular religion?”
“Well, I’m Catholic…I guess…”
That always struck me as odd. How can one not be sure about whether or not one is a disciple of a crucified God? If you asked someone about his profession, would you expect to hear, “Well, I’m a brain surgeon…I guess…I mean, sometimes I practice brain surgery, but not a lot and not recently, because, well, like…I don’t really get much out of it, but I know that my mother would like me to do it more often…”
My late mentor in philosophy, the great Paul Weiss, was an agnostic Jewish metaphysician…
…He was fascinated by the Catholic faith, a faith which he greatly admired but could not quite find himself able to believe. And he had absolutely no patience with lukewarm Catholics. He would yell, “If you believe you’re participating in a miracle! A miracle! How could you not give yourself completely to a miracle when it is offered to you?”
And that question brings me to the words of Saint Paul we heard today: “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”
In other words, Saint Paul knew what he was doing and why, just as a committed athlete knows what he is doing and why. Saint Paul, like an athlete, conducted himself so as to win a prize. Unlike athletes, Saint Paul was also conducting himself so as to keep himself from a most terrible doom, namely, eternal separation from Christ our Lord.
I’ve seen athletes and other competitors sport the slogan, “I will do what others won’t so that I can do what others can’t.” These brave folks have committed to a life of discipline, even a severe discipline at times, to attain what other less disciplined souls would find unattainable. And that is very admirable. But it is not enough. You see, Saint Paul knew that he had to choose between two paths—one path leads to doom, the other path leads to glory. We have a similar choice to make.
Yes, great competitors push themselves so that they can do what others can’t. Saint Paul pushed himself so that he can do what he and we and everyone else must—to choose Christ over eternal death. That is the universal human vocation—to choose Christ over eternal death. The unruly demands of our fallen flesh, the frenetic demands of our insane culture, the subtle and overt temptations of the devil—all these would lure us to the easier, broader path to doom, to separation from Christ. Our senses must be disciplined, our minds trained, our hearts set aflame, if we are to keep our eyes on the prize, to strive to give our utmost to arrive at what is best, which is eternal friendship with Jesus, Who is the Christ of God.
My friends, let’s resolve to put aside whatever holds us back, let’s resolve to take up whatever we need, let’s resolve to do what must be done, so that we may finally arrive at our one true home, and with the psalmist cry out, “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!”
May God’s Holy Name be praised now and forever.
Father McTeigue is currently finishing a collection of homilies and essays on preaching entitled, I Have Someone to Tell You: A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel. He recently began writing a weekly column. He earnestly seeks your prayers that his life and work be to God’s greater glory – and he invites your comments.