It’s that time again. The Olympics are back. Our living rooms are filled with international drama, and our water-cooler talk at work revolves around parallel bars, 100m freestyles, and even lightweight double sculls.
The broadcasts are filled with inspirational stories which (even if they occasionally seem a little melodramatic or forced) tug at our heart strings and make us want to cheer for that swimmer or runner, even if we had never heard of them before now. And though there are plenty of subplots to distract us and damper our enthusiasm, it’s hard to remain unmoved when we see tears in the eyes of a young athlete when the medal is put around his or her neck, the American flag is raised, and our national anthem is heard.
In homes across America, young children are watching. And young children are dreaming.
It is natural to look up to those who have gone before you, to those who have shown you that a goal is attainable, a target is reachable, and a dream is worth dreaming.
This is the importance of the saints.
During the 2012 Summer Olympics, I remember hearing the American girls gymnastics team recount how much they looked up to the 1996 team, who had been the first American girls team to win gold. Even though most of the girls were too young to remember watching the 1996 team, they served as their inspiration. They had proven that American girls could win gold. The 2012 team is now inspiring the 2016 team, as Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman lead new teammates to gold.
Though we didn’t know the saints personally, their lives are inspiration for us. Even their quirks, foibles, and sins can be encouragement for us to continue to persevere. Heroic sanctity doesn’t happen overnight. It’s the result of a life-long struggle against concupiscence and temptation. But if the saints could do it – so can we.
Paul reminded his Greek readers, well-acquainted with the Isthmian Games (similar to the Olympics):
“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)
If you don’t have a devotion to the saints, begin to read and research and get to know them. Not only will you find a wealth of good stories, you’ll probably find someone you can relate to – whether because of their vocation, family background, occupation, or temperament.
And next time you flip on the Olympics and marvel at the dedication of these young athletes, remember that you too are called to such commitment. You’re just after a bigger prize.
Then we can say with St. Paul, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7)