What Olympians can teach us about the pursuit of greatness and glory

| Deacon Marc Paveglio | February 27, 2014 | 0 Comments

wintercrucifix

Just recently, the winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, concluded, and the victors went home with their medals. I’m always riveted by the level of power, agility and endurance these athletes display on the ice and snow. I’m even more impressed, however, by their stories. Many of them discovered their talents at an early age and then committed their entire lives to the perfection of their physical and mental abilities. They trained every day, they sought the best coaches, and they sacrificed myriads of other opportunities, interests and pleasures for the pursuit of one single goal — Olympic glory.

The words of Jesus from this weekend’s gospel, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24), can be seen clearly in the life of an Olympian. Every day is a choice to be “devoted” to the demanding regimen of practice, exercise and healthy nutrition, or to “despise” it — by devouring potato chips and watching TV all day long. One of these “masters” requires self-denial and patience, but it leads to greatness, joy and glory. The other “master” might be attractive at first, but it leads to mediocrity and boredom.

What Jesus reveals to us is that this principle, which we see at work in natural life, is even truer in the spiritual life. When it comes down to it, every person chooses and acts for one final end. We pick one master. This master will determine how we will live our lives, what we are willing to undertake and what we are willing to sacrifice. Christ, the master, wants to set us free to live lives of generous love. Another master constrains us to seek only our own interests, excluding our neighbor. For that reason, the Lord tells us that we cannot serve both God and mammon — the idols of money and material possession. They are contradictory and cannot be reconciled.

But Jesus goes even further. Beyond avoiding the selfish pursuit of money and wealth, he even tells his disciples — that’s us! — not to worry about food, drink and clothing. Doesn’t this seem a little extreme? Doesn’t Jesus strain our attention span here? Might we think that this is a mystical ideal for ancient ascetics, which doesn’t apply anymore?

Actually, these words ring true today as much as ever. Jesus is essentially asking us, “Do you really trust that God will provide for you?” All of our daily anxieties spring from the inner fear that God is not good, the fear that God will not provide for my needs, and the compulsion that I have to seize what I need in order to get by. The saints proved otherwise when they faced life’s most trying situations with peace and confidence.

Jesus wants us to grow in the same peace and confidence day by day. Two things are necessary. First, that we remember how loving a father we have, one who will never forget us (Isaiah 49:14-15). Second, that we seek God’s kingdom and righteousness before we desire anything else in life (Matthew 6:33). Once he is our one master, he will order our lives in his wisdom.

St. Paul wrote that athletes compete to obtain a crown that perishes, but Christians strive to win a crown that is imperishable (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). May we, like the Olympians, strive for greatness. But may this striving not be filled with anxiety, but with trust in our father. When you find yourself this week saying, “How am I going to get through this today?” turn it into a prayer: “Father, how will you marvelously provide for me today?” and expect to be surprised.

Deacon Paveglio is in formation for the priesthood at St. Paul Seminary for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. His home parish is St. Stephen in Minneapolis, and his teaching parish is St. Lawrence and the Newman Center in Minneapolis.


Readings

Sunday, March 2
Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

  • Isaiah 49:14-15
  • 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
  • Matthew 6:24-34

Reflection

In a faith sense, what does it mean to strive for greatness? How can we prioritize to make sure we’re following only Christ?

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Category: Sunday Scriptures