I’ve played sports just about my entire life. Whether it was karate, baseball, or football you could find me doing something sports-related. Throughout my playing career, I always had coaches, some good and others not so good. I always remember wanting to model my life after the good coaches, men like Lewis Cook and James McCleary, two coaches I played for and coached under. These men taught me things like hard work, discipline, and the value of being a good teammate. I’m sure all of us can point to certain people in our lives that have greatly impacted us in a positive way. As I think about my coaching journey and this year’s Abbey Youth Festival, I can’t help but realize that just like those coaches impacted my life in a positive way, so too can the saints in our Catholic faith impact our lives in a positive way.
This begs the question, have you ever considered the saints as spiritual coaches? Up until the a few days ago, neither did I! But as I was reflecting on the many, great saints our Catholic faith has to offer, I couldn’t help but think about St. Paul and what he wrote to the people of Corinth, “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.” (1 Cor 9:24-27). Here we see St. Paul exhorting his people to train like athletes but to also realize that at the end of the day, they chase an imperishable crown that is rooted in the glory of God.
What’s even cooler about what St. Paul says is the mention of the word “athlete” in his writing. "Athlete" can be traced back to a word called asceticism. Asceticism is from the Greek word, askesis, meaning athletic training. This term became popular among the early Christians who adopted it to signify the practice of the spiritual things or spiritual exercises performed for the purpose of acquiring the habits of virtue. Especially during this season of Lent, we are able to practice asceticism in our penances we choose to adhere to. Our simple acts of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving pave the way for spiritual conversion and deepening one’s relationship with God. It’s pretty awesome to know that all of us are athletes in the eyes of the Church chasing an imperishable crown rooted in the glory of God. So, brothers and sisters, let’s arm ourselves in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving so that we may be prepared to run the race to a destination that does not stop in this world, but ends in the Kingdom of God!
Written by: Nick Ware, seminarian of the Diocese of Lafayette