The Province celebrated with with families of confreres gathered at St. John’s University. Fr. Pat Flanagan shares his homily (text and graphics) for the 4:30 Eucharist in St. Thomas More Church.
Tomorrow throughout the five boroughs of New York City, close to 50,000 people will compete in the annual marathon. This magnificent iconic event draws competitors from all over the world not to mention their families and friends to cheer them to victory. It is quite a spectacle to see this massive amount of people make the 26.2 mile journey throughout city streets. So, please do not be alarmed if you see Father Astor and I “carb loading” at dinner tonight. We want to stand in solidarity with these runners.
I suspect it will come as no surprise that I have never run a marathon. As for Father Astor, I am not sure; there have been moments when he has astounded me with his athletic prowess. Lest you forget and lose your attention, though, back to me. Every year when New York City is turned into a Greek Olympic playground, I am amazed to hear of people from different parts of my life whom choose to run, as I suspect you may be. They aren’t your typical athletes but each of them wants the thrill of this magnificent challenge.
Running a marathon like this is only one part of the “adventure” as these athletes call it. The physical and mental preparation for this long haul is another, but no less significant. I have seen these people as I drive by them in my car on the track. They are making efforts to get into the right frame of mind, positioning their bodies to avoid sprains or strains, and constantly trying to beat their times. These women and men steadfastly commit themselves to a daily workout plan and regularly try to surpass their accomplishments of the previous day.
No Pain No Gain
Any athletes like these would remind us of the familiar phrase “no pain no gain.” Indeed, we, well I guess I should not put myself in this category, but you know what I mean, there are certain residuals that come about from pushing ourselves beyond our limits, outside our comfort zones. Despite the incredible soreness and profound exhaustion a runner might feel after practice and competition, these athletes oddly enough seem to experience less stress in their lives. The release of endorphins floods the body is a natural high.
Sports & Spirituality
Father Richie Rock, the university chaplain for athletics, as well as his predecessors such as Fathers Tri Duong, Jim Maher and Bob Vignola, have spent a great deal of time with our student athletes and coaches to help them appreciate this exhilarating experience as a spiritual one. In their workouts, practices and sporting events, it is hoped in these athlete’s satisfying accomplishments, they can truly appreciate the insights into God’s profound mercy, attentive care and sustaining love. As Wisdom teaches about God: “For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.” The Psalmist amplifies this as we sung of God’s graciousness, mercy, kindness, and fidelity.
Sport and Life
There are many authors and preachers who have made a similar connection between sports and life. Life is about due diligence, steady exercise, constant improvement – “moving the cones or pins further ahead,” contending with external challenges, and even bodily resistance. One is sustained and encouraged though by family and friends. Tomorrow, we will see individuals with their bodies plastered with pictures of their loved ones. There will be some who will crawl to the finish line exhausted or even cross long after the finish line is disassembled. These people do it because of the support of loved ones in the midst of life’s hurdles. St. Paul knew that when he encouraged the Christians at Thessaloniki:
We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.
That is why we gather twice a year as a Vincentian Community for family day, once here in New York and once in May in Philadelphia, to give thanks to Almighty God for the gift of families who have supported the Vincentian community all the daylong and help us run not merely the sprints, but the marathon of religious life.
Our gospel selection from Luke offers us a clear illustration of a marathoner and the rewards associated with going the distance. Luke relates that Zacchaeus was a vertically challenged man with more of a history than a future. As a tax collector, we might more readily appreciate him as the combination of an IRS agent with stealth telemarketing skills. Zacchaeus, though, was ambitious to make a move and to see what this Jesus had to offer. Upon arriving, however, he found himself blocked by the crowd. Using his creativity, he saw the large mass of people more of a challenge and moved into position to overcome it – a lesson to us all who can too easily turn around and return home when the going gets tough or we don’t seem to be able to muster the energy to face up to the reality.
Zacchaeus did and lumbered up the tree. For his efforts, he was rewarded heartily for going the distance. In Jesus, he saw the possibility of a new relationship with God, himself and others. It may have been frightening at first leading him to offer up practically everything in his life. Zacchaeus was ready though to embark upon his new training schedule acknowledging the sacrifice and discipline it might demand. If we think of our lives in Christ, we recognize that despite whatever our pasts might be, Christ welcomes us and wishes to eat as he does here and bring salvation to our lives. Too, given the many “crowds” in our lives, we sometimes have to be creative to see Jesus. And, finally, we thank God, during this month of All Saints and All Souls, as we gather around this table of the Lord with all our loved ones truly present and celebrate Christ’s victory in their lives as having “run the good race and fought the good fight” leaving us even more examples of how to excel on earth and triumph in eternity.