CrossFit and Jesus

Transfiguration of the Lord (August 6, 2017)

Daniel 7:9-10,13-14

Psalm 97:1-2,5-6,9-12

2 Peter 1:16-19

Matthew 17:1-9

I love CrossFit. For those unfamiliar with this term, CrossFit is a form of exercise that involves high-intensity interval training. To put it simply, it’s a combination of lifting weights and doing cardio exercise that makes you drip a lot of sweat in a short period of time. I love it because it challenges me to do things I never thought I could do. After completing the workouts, I feel emotionally and physically stronger…which makes me go back for more punishment, soreness and bruises the next day.

About two weeks ago, we were doing what is called a squat clean ladder at CrossFit. Picture a barbell on the ground with weights on each side. A squat clean is when you lift the barbell off the ground, shrug your shoulders up and then quickly squat down to catch the bar on your chest/clavicle area. Then you simply rise up to complete the lift.

When you’re doing a squat clean ladder, you increase the weight after each lift. Prior to doing that workout, the most I’ve ever squat cleaned was 185 lbs. This ladder involved lifting 125 lbs 9x, 145 lbs 7x, 165 lbs 5x, 185 lbs 3x and then finishing with lifting 205 lbs 1x. I was nervous and a little bit afraid. I weigh 184 lbs. How in the world can I lift the bar 24x and still have enough energy to lift 205 lbs at the end, which is 20 lbs more than I’ve ever lifted before??

Well, after about 12 minutes, I managed to successfully make it to the 205 lb lift. I stood there, starring at the bar, sweating, wondering how I could possibly do this. So I bent over, lifted the bar and then quickly dropped it. It was heavy and I was exhausted. In frustration, I bent over again, lifted the bar, got it to my chest and then dropped it a second time.

Upset and disappointed, I walked over to get a drink of water, to gather my thoughts and stall for time. I even contemplated quitting as I started thinking of all the other things that I couldn’t do or that have gone wrong in my life over the past few years… all of my fears and failures, for some reason, were right in front of my face… laughing at me.

I then glanced over at the 205 lbs lying on the ground. At that moment, it dawned on me, that all of my fears and failures in the past may have knocked me down… may have punched me right in the gut… but they didn’t keep me down. They don’t define who I am today.

As I was slowly started walking over to the bar one more time… I shifted my thinking to the things that I’m grateful for, the positive things God has put in my life… my wife, my kids, my faith, my health, my friends…. And with that in mind… I again stood in front of the bar… bent over… lifted it up… shrugged my shoulders… squatted down and caught it on my chest just right… and then I let out the loudest scream as I raised up… no longer afraid.

In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples to “Rise, and do not be afraid.” Peter, James and John just witnessed the transfiguration of our Lord. They weren’t 100% sure what was going on. They had fear and doubt…so much fear that it knocked them to the ground. You see…on their own, they couldn’t stand up.

And guess what? On our own, we can’t stand up either. And all too often, we lay in fear as we focus on our failures. We forget that failing at something does NOT make you a failure. We need to focus instead on our strengths. And you know what??? Jesus is our biggest strength. He is our biggest ally. He was sent to earth to show us how to live for heaven…. Not to waste our lives by living in fear and doubt.

So the next time someone or something knocks you down… picture Jesus right behind you, whispering into your ear… “Rise, and do not be afraid.”

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 21, 2017)

Acts 8:5-8,14-17

Psalm 66:1-3,4-5,6-7,16,20

1 Peter 3:15-18

John 14:15-21

Actions speak louder than words. How many times have we heard this phrase before? It is an absolute truth in my opinion. If you say one thing, but your actions prove otherwise, you are living a lie. It’s that simple.

Another word that comes to mind is “integrity.” My definition of integrity is: doing the right thing, even when no body else is around to see it. For example, if you are at Walmart and see a man unknowingly drop his wallet in the parking lot… and you pick the wallet up but keep it for yourself because no one else saw it… you lack integrity.

This is one of the basic Christian teachings that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel from John. “Jesus said to his disciples: If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “If you say you are a Christian, you should do the things I tell you to do.” Actions speak louder than words.

Being a Christian can be a struggle… I get it. Love your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you. Some of the teachings from Jesus are… let’s just call them, “challenging.” Why? Because many of our Christian beliefs go against the grain of the world. But that doesn’t make them impossible to follow or at least try.

Jesus himself knew that we would struggle in this area after he ascended to Heaven. That is the very reason he promised to give us an Advocate to be with us always. This Advocate is the third person of the Trinity, better known as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is who guides us and strengthens us in our day-to-day lives. He’s the one who we should be relying on to help us when we have to choose between doing right or doing wrong in any given situation. And the more we choose to do right, the more He will strengthen us.

Just like an athlete training for the Olympics. If they train and eat right faithfully, they’ll perform at their best come game time. But if they cheat on their training regiment and on their diet over and over again, they will fail miserably when it really counts.

So too with us. If we consistently live out our faith in word and action, those ethical and moral challenges we will face later won’t see some overwhelming. But if we continue to choose poorly in little things, we’ll fail miserably when we are really challenged.

Hopefully I haven’t scared you by now. I’m sure there’s at least one person out there saying, “Yup, I fail daily with little things. My integrity stinks. I’m doomed.” Well chin up buttercup! Go to confession and get a fresh start. That’s the great thing about our faith. We serve a merciful God who LOVES giving us a fresh start because He is overflowing with his divine mercy. We just have to ask for forgiveness and try again. Remember, actions speak louder than words.

Love God. Learn your faith. Live out that faith. Ask the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance. It’s really that straightforward. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father.” So please, let us all show Jesus how much we love Him by learning and living out our faith more and more each day.

It’s Game Time

First Sunday of Lent (February 14, 2016)

Deuteronomy 26:4-10

Psalm 91:1-2,10-15

Romans 10:8-13

Luke 4:1-13

“Great moments are born from great opportunity.” This was the opening line of what is considered one of the greatest speeches in sports history. Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team, gave a speech in the locker room right before USA faced the Soviet Union in the medal round at Lake Placid.

Herb Brooks

Herb Brooks

Let me set the scene for you as to why this speech is relevant for us today and how this underdog story gives us hope. At that time in history, the Soviet Union was considered to have the best hockey team in the world. They won the Olympic gold medal in 1964, 68, 72 and 76. This happened at the height of the Cold War where the Soviets were spreading communion and invading satellite countries bordering the Soviet Union. Our country had a deep dislike for the Soviets and everything they stood for at that time. This meant that all hockey fans in this country HATED the Soviet hockey team with a passion. First, because they represented communism and second, because nobody could beat them. And now, the Soviets were playing hockey on American soil… Lake Placid, New York.

On the other hand, the US hockey team was a young group of players from various college teams whom never played together as a unit before training for that Olympics. They were the new guys, with a new coach heading into the lion’s den of Olympic hockey dominated by the Soviets. Somehow, this scrappy, young American hockey team fought their way to the medal round. All the while, the Soviets crushed every team they faced. This David and Goliath match up wasn’t even for the gold medal. It was a game to determine who would go on to play for gold..

1980 USA Olympic Hockey Team

1980 USA Olympic Hockey Team

So in the locker room just before the historic game, with a country united behind a bunch of college athletes, Herb Brooks gave this speech, “Great moments are born from great opportunity, and that’s what you have here tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game; if we played them ten times, they might win nine. But not this game, not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight we stay with them, and we shut them down because we can. Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players – every one of you, and you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Forget them! (I cleaned it up here!) This is your time. Now go out there and take it!” Team USA won that game and won the gold medal that year. In that speech, Brooks gave his team the power for a victory, which inspired a nation.

So here we are, the First Sunday of Lent. Lent is our 40 day journey dedicated to prayer, fasting and almsgiving in preparation for Easter. It’s a time we put an extra effort to make sacrifices and turn away from sin. It’s a time we should be focusing on helping others and spending less time pampering ourselves. If we take this journey seriously, it should be challenging. Today’s Gospel shows us just how challenging it can be.

This Gospel reading from Luke is our underdog story. Jesus Christ is our coach. The devil is our competition. This passage from Luke is our motivational speech for Lent, leading up to the victory of Easter Sunday. Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man. He felt emotions that we feel. He journeyed through the desert and was tempted by the devil just like we are tempted.

Lent is a great opportunity for us to mirror Jesus’ journey through the desert. And that’s what you’ve got here today ladies and gentlemen. That’s what you’ve earned here today. This Lent. You could go through 10 Lents, and 9 of them may not change your life. But not this Lent. Not these 40 days. Today, we walk with Jesus through the desert. Today He is our strength and we shut the devil down because we can. Today, we are the greatest collection of Christians, ready to turn our lives around and change the world. You were born to be alive in Christ. Every one of you. You were meant to journey through this Lent. This is your time. The devil’s time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what the devil wants us to do through all of his temptations. Forget him! This is your time. Now go out into the desert and come out on the other side a champion! By His example, Jesus gave us the power for a victory, now it’s up to us to inspire the world! It’s game time…

Cut It Off

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 27, 2015)

Numbers 11:25-29

Psalm 19:8,10,12-14

James 5:1-6

Mark 9:43,45,47-48

If everyone could do me a favor and hold their hands up and keep their eyes open… It appears to me that everyone has both of their hands and both of their eyes. So why in the world does Jesus say in today’s Gospel reading that, “If you hand causes you to sin, cut it off” and “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck if out.” Call me crazy, but I have a hunch that everyone in here, including myself, has used our hands or our eyes to sin at some point in our lives. But as I said just a minute ago, everyone in here has both of their hands and both of their eyes. So what’s the deal?

Before I answer that, I want to tell you a story about a young girl named Catherine. She was the youngest of 25 children, many of which died at a young age. At the age of 6, she experienced a vision of Jesus, seated in all His glory with the Apostles Peter, Paul and John. It was believed that this vision helped her at a young age decide on her vocation. A year later, Catherine made a secret vow to give her entire life to God.

By the age of 12, Catherine’s mother insisted that she pay more attention to her physical appearance in hopes to attract the attention of a future husband. To please her mother, Catherine started to wear bright dresses and jewels that were what all the young girls wore in those days. However, remembering her secret vow to give her entire life to God, Catherine repented of her vanity and declared that she would never marry. And when her parents insisted that she pursue marriage, Catherine cut off the attribute that was considered to be her most beautiful and prized possession…her long, golden-brown hair. For those who have never heard this story before, it is about St. Catherine of Sienna, one of the great mystics and a Doctor of the Church.

st catherine

St. Catherine of Sienna

Now, before all of your ladies go out and chop off your hair, realize this: beauty is not a sin…having long hair is not a sin…pursuing marriage is meant to be a good thing. St. Catherine did not become a saint because she cut off her hair or remained single. She became a saint because, in her short life, she clearly and consistently surrendered her life to Christ. She tried to cut out anything that interfered with her journey to God. And as a passionate young girl, that meant her hair.

So let’s get back to today’s Gospel reading from St. Mark. Is Jesus asking us to literally cut off our own body parts in order to avoid sin? Honestly, I don’t know. But think of all the ways we use our bodies to sin: our brains for evil thoughts, our tongues for gossip, our hands for fighting, our hearts for hate, our eyes for lust, our feet for walking past those who need our help, plus the other body parts that I won’t mention in the company of young children. If we were to cut off anything that causes us to sin, we wouldn’t have a body left!

cut it off

Now, I do know that God’s original plan for our bodies was for good. I also recall that, according to 1 Corinthians 6:19, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” So logically, it appears that we are not to take this Gospel passage literally, but try to figure out what Jesus is convening to us with such graphic imagery.

So here’s the message that I believe Jesus is trying to convey to us with urgency– do whatever it takes to get to heaven. Sin cuts you off from heaven…so you need to cut sin out of your life. If your brain causes you to sin due to evil thoughts, try filling your mind with prayers instead. If your tongue causes you to sin by gossiping, try using your tongue to confess your sins in the sacrament of reconciliation instead. If your hands cause you to sin by fighting, instead try extending your hand for a handshake or give a hug to someone who needs it. If your heart is filled with hate, ask God to remove the hardness of your heart and fill it instead with love. If your eyes cause you to sin on the Internet, buy a filter that limits what sites you can look up. If someone needs help, stop walking past and help them.

This is not something that can easily be changed in one day. This is a continual journey from now until your physical death. We all slip up from time to time. The glory of it all is that with each new day, we get a new chance. Remember, every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. A lot of what that future holds is out of your control. But how you handle what the future throws your way, now that IS something you can control.

So like St. Catherine of Sienna, whether you live a long or short life, make sure that each day you try to cut out sin by clearly and consistently surrendering your life to Christ. After all, he surrendered His life for you!

Our Heavenly Mother

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God (January 1, 2015)

Nm 6:22-27

Psalm 67

Gal 4:4-7

Luke 2:16-21

A number of years ago I was in my office talking to a patient. He knew I was Catholic and we’ve had an occasional chat about religion, but nothing very deep. For some reason, he turned to me and said, “You Catholics…you really like that whole ‘Mary thing’ don’t you?” My response was, “Yup. We think she’s pretty cool.” He then said, “Well as you know, I’m Baptist and the only time we ever talk about Mary is during Christmas.” Then the awkward pause started where I could feel him waiting for my next response. I briefly contemplated either changing the subject so I could get to my next patient or if I should go a little deeper about Catholic Marian theology without trying to get into a long, heated debate. My “chiropractor voice” was telling me to zip it and move on to the next patient but apparently my “Catholic deacon voice” was louder. So I went on to explain, “Unfortunately, there’s a TON of misconceptions about what Catholics believe when it comes to Mary. Please understand that we do NOT think she’s God, we do NOT think she’s above God and we do NOT worship her as God. We honor her because, if you think about it, Mary was the first one to say “yes” to Christ. God asked her to accept Christ, not only into her heart, but literally into her womb. Therefore, you could consider her to be the first Christian. And since God chose her to carry His only Son in her womb, I’d say that means we should give her our respect.” My friend’s reply was simply, “Wow. I never thought her in that way…but you’re right.”

So, in honor of today’s Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, I thought we could all use a little refresher as to why Mary’s “pretty cool”.

mary

First of all, Mary’s “yes” to God is something that we can all learn from. In the first chapter of Luke, an angel appeared to Mary and told her she was to conceive the Son of God in her womb. Mary didn’t understand how this could happen since she was a virgin…but she didn’t let that hold her back. Instead she had enough faith to say, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” It takes faith to be willing to take a leap like that.

Have you ever doubted God’s plan? Have you ever been afraid to say “yes” to God calling you down a path that seemed scary?

annunciation-mid

 

Second, Mary models to us how important prayer can be to a person. Today’s Gospel passage from Luke chapter 2 describes when the shepherds went to the stable to visit the Christ Child. They told Mary and Joseph the message they received from the angels about how their child was to be the long awaited Messiah. Mary didn’t blow them off or turn to Joseph and say, “I think they’ve been out in the field a little too long.” No, instead it is written that she, “Kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” She turned to prayer.

Have you even been quick to judge someone because they sounded a little crazy or perhaps overly passionate? Do you take time to stop and pray before deciding your next move in life?

honthorst_adoration_of_the_shepherds

Third, Mary knows what it means to suffer. When Mary and Joseph took their infant son to the Temple to present him to the Lord, Simeon told Mary that “a sword would pierce her.” This foretold the pain and agony she would go through when her newborn baby would one day grow into a man and be tortured and killed for our sake. She did not fight it, she did not run from it. Mary’s obedience shows us there is always a better way when it comes to following God’s path, even in the face of evil.

How many of us run when our faith is challenged? How many of us question God when we have to endure pain and suffering?

pieta

 

The last point I want to make regarding Mary’s “coolness” is simply this, she is not only the mother of Jesus, who is God but she is also your heavenly mother. Let that sink in…you and I share the same mother as God. You see God wanted to become flesh so that He could save us all. He also wanted to do it in the normal way, which meant he needed to be born of a woman. Of all the women in all of eternity, He chose Mary to be the vessel for the Word to become flesh. Since we believe that Jesus is both man and God, this would make Mary the mother of God. Some non-Catholics get hung up here and assume we mean that Mary existed before God if we call her the Mother of God. We are not implying this at all. We are merely reinforcing the belief that Jesus was both fully man and fully God. With that in mind, remember the Gospel of John chapter 19 where Jesus was hanging on the cross while Mary and John the Apostle were at His feet. Just before He died, Jesus said to Mary, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he turned to John and said, “Behold your mother.” This command has always been understood by the Church as an act of entrusting the whole Church to Mary. Thus, since we are part of the Church, Mary is our mother also!

Weyden_Christ_on_the_Cross_with_Mary_and_St_John

Before I became Catholic in 1999, I really had no concept of who Mary really was. Like my Baptist friend I mentioned earlier, if I heard her name, I immediately pictured a nativity scene but that’s about it. After becoming Catholic, I’ve had the joy of deepening my relationship with my heavenly Mother by learning more about her. And this has lead me to the ultimate reason why Mary is so incredibly cool…every time I learn something about Mary, it has lead me closer to her Son. You see, Mary is NOT God. She is, however, the Mother of God. And like any good mother, she points us, not to herself, but to her Son. Recall the wedding at Cana in John’s Gospel. When the wedding party ran out of wine, Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Meaning, “Listen to my Son and He will restore what is missing.”

wedding-cana

At some point in time, you have asked a friend or family member to pray for you. So the next time you have doubts or are afraid to say yes to God, the next time something or someone sounds crazy, the next time you are enduring pain or suffering or your faith is challenged…in addition to turning to God in prayer, don’t be afraid to ask His mother to pray for you as well.

Are You Ready To Jump?

3rd Sunday Ordinary Time (January 29, 2014)

Isaiah 8:23-9:3

Psalm 27

1 Cor 1:10-13,17

Matthew 4:12-23

Three frogs were sitting on a lily pad in the middle of a large pond. After some time, all three of them decided to jump. So my question is, how many frogs were left on the lily pad? Three! You see there’s a huge difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it. 

frogs-on-a-lily-pad

So today I’ve decided that I’m going to challenge you to do something. I’ll let you think about it for a while, but ultimately you’ll need to decide to actually do it…or not. No more just sitting on the lily pad thinking about it for days on end. The time to jump is now.

So here’s my challenge. Here’s the question I want each of you to consider today. Are you a follower of Jesus? Are you one of His disciples? Now I’m sure if I asked for a show of hands as to who here was a follower of Jesus, every hand would go up. But I want you to go deeper. Simply being present here in this church today does not automatically make you a disciple. Remember, I said I wanted to challenge you.

Let’s consider what it really means to be a follower of Jesus so that you can answer my question honestly. That seems like an easy task right? Yea sure! Did you notice in Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians that the church there was fighting over this very question? There were rivalries forming and wrong teachings about Jesus being passed around which is why St. Paul wrote the letter. It’s as if he’s saying, “Listen up people, you are losing sight of what’s important. We should be united in mind and purpose. We need to focus on Jesus Christ and stop all this bickering. We need to be true to the teachings of the Son of God!”  What does this look like 2000 years later? According to a December 2011 report from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, there are upwards of 41,000 different Christian denominations worldwide. Apparently Jesus’ followers still have trouble agreeing.

membership class

So I ask you again, what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? Does it take wealth, fame or success in life? Hardly! The very first followers Jesus invited on His journey according to Matthew were fisherman. In the ancient world, fishermen were typically not part of the elite crowd. They were hardworking people who were not afraid to get their hands dirty. Peter, Andrew, James and John were ordinary men, who were given an extraordinary challenge from a humble teacher. They were asked to leave their steady jobs, leave their families, and become “fishers of men.” Honestly, these men probably didn’t fully understand what this phrase meant, but still they dropped their nets and followed immediately without hesitation. Now roughly 1/3 of the 7 billion people on this planet call themselves Christian and it all started with a few fishermen dropping their nets to answer a call. What safety nets are you still clinging onto? What is preventing you from following Christ without hesitation?

come-follow-me

In the Responsorial Psalm today we proclaimed, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” But do we really mean it? Do our day-to-day actions reflect our Christian beliefs? This really hit home for me when I was ordained a deacon in 2012. During the ordination rite, Bishop Gainer handed me the Book of Gospels and said, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” What are your actions teaching others?

Me holding the Book of Gospels at my Deacon ordination

Holding the Book of Gospels at my Deacon ordination

One of the great marks and curses of our faith is that Jesus doesn’t force anything on us. He allows us to freely choose what we want to do in life whether it’s good or harmful for us. He laid out His teachings for us to wrestle with and now is waiting to see what you choose. Obviously He’s hoping you will choose Him, but loves you enough to not force Himself upon you. After all, forced love is not true love. True love is doing what is right even when that means you may suffer for it. Being a disciple of Christ means being willing to lay down your life, figuratively and literally, as an act of love for Him. This is the invitation that Jesus gives all of us with the first words of His public ministry, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent simply means, “to turn.” Turn from what? Sin. He’s telling us to stop leading a life dedicated to “me” and start leading a life dedicated to “God.” Jesus opened the Kingdom of heaven for us. He is the key that unlocked the gates to everlasting life with His Father. He is the great light prophesied by Isaiah. God sent His only Son to earth out of love. Jesus’ appearance on earth was to be a wake up call for us, but are we listening?

So…are you ready to jump off that lily pad yet? Are you ready to honestly answer if you are a disciple of Christ? There’s not enough time in this short homily to discuss all of Jesus’ teachings and discern whether you are following them faithfully or not. That’s why it’s your job to read Scripture, study Sacred Tradition, and learn about the early Church Fathers, Saints and martyrs. Make studying your faith a priority for you and your family. And when doing so, remember, “believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”

Learn your faith. Live you faith. Jesus is asking you to be His disciple. What’s your response???

jesus with open arms

The Ultramarathon of Life

Feast of the Holy Family (December 29, 2013)

Sir 3:2-6, 12-14

Psalm 128

Col 3:12-21

Mathew 2:13-15, 19-23

I recently read a book by Sherry Weddell titled, “Forming Intentional Disciples.” At the very end, she describes an ultramarathon called the Leadville Trail 100 held in Colorado every year. It is nicknamed, “The Race Across the Sky” because the runners have to compete in elevations ranging between 9,200 – 12,620 feet up in the mountains. Leadville-Trail-100-Trail-LogoIt’s a grueling 50-mile out and 50-mile back struggle that begins on a Saturday at 4am. In order to successfully complete the race, the runners need to cross the finish line before the gun goes off at 10am the next day. If you expect to beat the gun, you really don’t have much time for sleep or resting. You have to stay in constant motion all day and night going up and down icy trails.  Roughly 500 people sign up every year to temp their fate and push their bodies to the limit.

I read about this just shaking my head wondering what sane person would want to do this! I get winded after 5 minutes of playing soccer with my kids for crying out loud. I could never do this race. Then I read more about the race and found the secret to reaching the finish line. No one runs alone. pacerEvery runner has a minimum of two volunteers. There are checkpoints throughout the course where volunteers hand out water, hot soup and other snacks. Aid stations are also available for runners to warm up, get weighed, change clothes and get checked out to make sure it’s safe for them to continue. Many of the runners have friends, called pacers, who take turns running beside them for miles at a time to help them keep the pace. Throughout the night, these running companions encourage, challenge and make sure their friends competing are hydrated and don’t get lost.

Sherry Weddell got to experience the beauty of the finish line a few years ago and also described it in her book. She was standing at the finish line one hour before the final gun was scheduled to go off and noticed a large support team of people wearing matching scarlet T-shirts. The front of the shirts read, “In loving memory of Greg.” Twenty-five year old Greg had drowned in a river the year before and his wife Beth was running the Leadville 100 in his memory. The mass of scarlet T-shirts were buzzing with excitement as word spread that Beth was only two miles away from the finish line with one hour left in the race. Immediately her army of supporters ran off to meet her. Sherry remained at the finish line watching grown men break down in tears as they crossed the line while moms were being cheered on to victory by their husbands and children. Then she saw it, up on the horizon…a sea of scarlet T-shirts in the distance surrounding a young woman, cheering her on as she limped towards the finish line. Beth’s pacer was by her side encouraging her, as all her friends and family carried her gear and ran beside her that last never-ending mile. In Sherry’s own words, “Beth was limping, but her face was radiant as she crossed the (finish) line eighteen minutes before the final gun went off.”

finish line 2

What an incredible accomplishment…to finish a one hundred mile ultramarathon, surrounded by your family and friends. If you think that’s neat, I have another ultramarathon to tell you about. It involves an older man and his very young wife. They took a 300-mile cross-country trek in a hot desert climate with their newborn son. However, this ultramarathon didn’t have people at checkpoints handing out food and water or offering them a change of clothes along the way. Nobody was there to help keep them hydrated or make sure they didn’t get lost. Plus they weren’t doing it for fun; they were doing it to save their son’s life because someone wanted him dead. They completed the ultramarathon and two years later, this family of three decided to do it all over again. This time they did it so that their son could fulfill his destiny and save all of us.

We can learn a lot from both of these marathons about what it means to be family. The first one teaches us that we need to surround ourselves with encouraging people and help each other out, especially when we are going through the up and down struggles of life. If you see someone you care about struggling, don’t just stand there and clap from a distance, go out and run beside them and help them to the finish line. So many people in today’s world are struggling with addictions, money problems, unemployment, marriage trouble, have challenges with raising children, have unfulfilling jobs or struggle to grow spiritually. We all could use a little encouraging.

The second marathon shows us that it doesn’t matter how large or small your family is, what matters is following God’s plan for your life. If you were paying attention to today’s Gospel, you should have caught on that the family who did this second marathon was Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We refer to them as the Holy Family for obvious reasons. Mary and Joseph were obedient to God. God’s angel asked Mary to be the Mother of God…she said YES. God’s angel asked Joseph to protect Jesus with his life…he said YES. They were parents of action. God spoke, they acted. I’d say that makes this a family we should take note of and try to imitate in our own families.

holy_family

I know some out there are thinking that it’s impossible to live up to those standards. I think all too often we look at Mary and Joseph and immediately give up because we view their holiness as unattainable. We view them as perfect and perfection is too hard to achieve. But listen closely to what I’m about to say…God doesn’t call perfect people; rather he calls sinners to change their hearts. That’s good news for us because we aren’t perfect. We’re sinners. He’s calling us. He wants us to change our hearts. So rather than throwing in the towel, do me a favor…stop trying to be perfect and work instead on being holy. The best place to start is with your own family. Ask God to give you the grace every day to be a role model for them. Pray for and with them. Show them it’s OK to forgive those who have wronged you. Be an encourager as your family goes through the ups and downs in the marathon of life and strives to cross that finish line. Surround yourselves with people of integrity. Try to live each day a little better than yesterday. Do these little things each day to become more holy and you too can one day experience the beauty of the finish line in heaven.

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