Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

07 September 2013

Homily for the Vigil of My First Marathon (or rather, the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C)

Tomorrow I intend to run my first marathon in Allentown. The major sponsor is Via of the Lehigh Valley, an organization that works with the disabled. (On my blog I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but my blog receives fewer hits than the heavyweight champion of boxing receives in a single round.) Many of you do know that I run regularly--you might say, religiously--because you've seen me on various Berks County roads; but only a relative few outside my virtual social network know that I have been training for this race all summer. At this point there's not much else to do other than have a decent carbohydrate-laden meal, say my prayers, and try to sleep.

Keep an eye out for me!
"Who can know?" The weekend's readings should resonate well with anybody who has ever prepared for a very special event. Hear again the inspired words of the Book of Wisdom: "The deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans. For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns" (9:14-15). Well before any express doctrine of original sin, this inspired author knew the mental, emotional, and physical troubles we can cause for ourselves as we "play the waiting game"! Moreover, it seems that external conditions (our bodies, the weather, and so forth) often pose limits we can't easily transcend, despite our best efforts. As we persevere in our discipline, we never know what we may accomplish, but we also never know what lies ahead.

"Sit down...calculate...decide." Jesus poses the challenge of all time to the crowds who had joined His traveling show. If you want to follow Him, you can't stay on the periphery for very long. You must put your affairs in order. You must "renounce" all your possessions--which is to say, you must be willing to set aside whatever is in you (or whoever is among you) that is not worthy of Him. The Greek word translated here as "renounce" could also be used of a baptized person who formally rejects the faith--that's how monumental the decision for Christ must be. Recall, however, that Christ's decision for us is equally monumental. You know what He renounced. The time and attention I devoted to marathon training was considerable, in light of what was at stake and what a successful completion might require; but there is Something greater than 26.2 miles here: a journey of a lifetime, a journey unto life everlasting.

"Welcome him." St. Paul had retained a former slave named Onesimus, but he decided to return him to his master, with the expectation that he should continue to enjoy freedom. Paul is asking Philemon henceforth to consider Onesimus as a brother, and they must now be willing to accompany each other side by side along their Christian journey. I expect to run side by side along my fellow marathoners tomorrow; some I will pass, and some will pass me. A good friend told me the other day that all of us are a success story simply by virtue of showing up at the starting line. Of course, we all endeavor to persevere to the finish line, which will more likely happen if we are careful to pace ourselves, to take liquids and food as our bodies and the weather require, and--most importantly--rely on our fellow runners, our supporters, and the Hidden Hand pushing our behinds. (The Scriptural and Eucharistic analogies scream out, don't they?)

This event takes place on the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which also happens to be the ninth anniversary of my father Joseph's death. In his day he was more of a weightlifter than a runner, but I believe he will root me on from the eternal sidelines.

I know he's keeping an eye out for me!
In these precarious times we do not forget to pray and sacrifice for the situation in Syria; these people deserve far more attention than a local marathon, and this particular competitor. Christ, the Prince of Peace knows the reality of violence in the world; He was the Innocent Victim for man's sins! And yet He advocated violence, believe it or not: He wants us to vigorously oppose that within us which does not tend toward the love of God and neighbor. And where did He learn that? From Mary, the Queen of Peace, whose steady hand and steady spouse together raised God the Son in the fullness of humanity.  May all oppressors swiftly come to recognize the oppressed as their brothers and sisters, and may we all boldly attend to peaceful solutions to the conflicts in our lives!

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