run for the roses…

This week kicked off the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Amidst political discord and an ongoing pandemic, hopeful athletes from 84 countries are gathered, in search for the ultimate prize: a gold medal and the chance to stand atop of the podium while their country’s national anthem is played.

Each sport has its own “top of the podium” experience. Although most professional sports have a cash incentive, the unique traditions are what stand out in our minds. The Indianapolis 500 has Borg-Warner trophy and the “drinking of milk” in the winner’s circle. The Kentucky Derby has the blanket of roses and the Masters at Augusta has its coveted green jacket.

In some sports, there are certain advantages given. In the world of racing, the term “pole position” means you had the fastest time in qualifying and thus have a slight advantage at the beginning of the race. If you win a coin toss in football, you get to choose whether to kick off or receive first. And though it may not seem like going last in golf could work to your advantage, players ahead of you posting big numbers may make you pay closer attention to the challenging playing field.

Even as a spectator, there are some vantage points that are better than others. The fifty-yard line…behind home plate…the green at the 18th. The same is true for other events: concerts, operas, plays, etc…there is always a coveted spot.

As I was thinking through all of this, I had in mind a question: where is the best place to be in our Christian life? Obviously, our ultimate goal is heaven. But here on earth, what is our “pole position”? Where can we be to have the best view?

When I go to Mass, I like to sit near the front. I do so for a couple of reasons. First is that it cuts down on things that distract me. My eyes seem to pick up every little movement and I know that in order to concentrate, I need as few distractions, visually, as possible. The sound of a crying baby or fussy child…not a problem. To me, that is a sign of a growing church…one that I relish. But things I see are what distracts me…so I try to minimalize that possibility from the start.

The other reason is to catch the little things. The words Father Robert says softly while preparing the altar, the sound the host makes as he breaks it, the inflection he gives to certain words. It’s all important and so, I try my best to give my undivided attention.

But when I’m at home, it’s even harder. I have to be even more purposeful in my quest for concentration. There are distractions around every corner. I need an edge…an advantage. And I think I have found it. It’s Mary.

There is one place that she beckons to me from…that she calls me to join her. It is the most perfect position to be, in my mind, to cut all distractions from the world. There, I find my focus does not waver. It is intense and though I do not stay long, I try to return as much as possible. My pole position? The foot of the cross.

When I kneel with Mary, I join in her suffering…her pain. It is gruesome to be sure. It is hard. But I have never felt closer to Christ then when I put myself, not just at his feet…but his feet crucified. It is here that Mary calls me to join her. How else will I know how much he suffered for me? How else will I understand the depth of his love. So, I go.

For me, there is no place harder to bear…and at the same time, no place as dear. If I want to have clarity in my own life…those areas that I need to work out the most…they come to light here. It’s my vantage point…my edge in the race. Because life is fast…and tomorrow is not a guarantee.

Just like the athletes of the Winter Olympics or the race car drivers at Indy, we must persevere in our pursuit. To fall short is not an option. Near the end of his life, in a letter to Timothy, Paul penned these words.  

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.

For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.

But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.

As Paul says, we are all in this struggle…our own “run for the roses”. He doesn’t say it will be easy…in fact, he says, whether it be convenient or inconvenient. No one can run the race for us. But we do have an advocate. We do have one that has run the race perfectly and by her example, can help us along our path. Mary beckons us to join her. How much closer can we get to Christ than to kneel with his mother? The race is long and hard. But because of one man and that one cross, we can all be winners.

For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.

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