I hope you’re all having a blessed Sabbath Summer, finding again the fullness of life in Jesus. If you’re in a good place spiritually, keep on receiving His grace; if you’re not, what I’m going to say will also help you, except in a different way.
Here’s the message today: Get ready for the upcoming crisis. Which crisis? I don’t know. All I know is that one is coming. Why? Life is an alternation of consolation and desolation, of being tested and being at peace. This is how God perfects us. And don’t worry: If we follow what the Lord is telling us today, the upcoming crisis won’t hurt us spiritually. St. Ignatius of Loyola says: “Let the one who is in consolation think how he will conduct himself in the desolation which will come after, taking new strength for that time.” This is Rule 10 of the discernment of spirits, which teaches us how to resist temptations of the devil and how to cooperate with God.
I’ve told you before about a universal spiritual experience: Every year, we have a crisis, then we struggle and question God, and our prayer becomes shaky. Then we have a good cry, our friends help us, and we slowly start praying again. You know what happens the following year? The same thing! God the Father doesn’t want this to happen over and over! We’re supposed to grow in grace and wisdom so that we can respond properly.
The Second Reading uses the analogy of a race, which was so familiar to people in the Greco-Roman world.
“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” (Heb 12:1). This is the image of being in a stadium with people cheering us on. In this case, the author of Hebrews is talking about all the saints in heaven, who went through the exact same trials we undergo. They are praying for us and are our examples.
“let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,” Most athletes need to be as light as possible, to move quickly; they can’t have any excess body weight. In the same way, the word here for ‘lay aside’ is used in the Bible to refer to no longer lying, or giving in to unjust anger, gossip, or impurity. If we’re going to make it through this year’s trials, we have to change ourselves and act more like Jesus.
“and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,” Life is a trial, a test, and a race. Don’t be surprised that there are ups and downs and tough terrain. Some Christians give up following Jesus after one year, a few years, even when they’re in their fifties. Perseverance is a quality most often mentioned by Jesus in the Book of Revelation. Don’t give up.
“looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the Cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). This is the best part: looking to Jesus. In order to make it through life, we have to look at Jesus Who’s at the finish line, waiting to reward us! That’s how athletes make it through competitions. Boxers, for example, think of their families for motivation. Rich Froning, whom I mentioned twice before, when he’s tired and feeling sorry for himself, and questions why he’s going on, thinks of Jesus on the Cross dying to bring us salvation.
One of the most famous descriptions of prayer comes from St. John Vianney. He saw a simple farmer in church praying and asked him what he says to God during prayer. The man responded, “I say nothing to Him. I look at the good God and He looks at me.” Looking at Jesus is prayer. By looking more at Jesus, no crisis can harm us spiritually.
Let me simplify this concept: “When you think about a problem over and over in your mind, that’s called worry. When you think about [Jesus] over and over in your mind, that’s meditation. If you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate! You just need to switch your attention from your problems to [Jesus]” (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, 90).
When we think over and over about Jesus’ suffering and love, ‘who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the Cross, disregarding its shame,’ then it puts our trials in perspective, and we know how to respond.
Furthermore, Jesus is not only our example, He’s our source of grace! The most important fuel for long-distance athletes is hydration, and Jesus says, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink” (Jn 7:37). Jesus is the source of life-giving waters.
Many athletes have said that the difference between training and exercising is that training has a goal. Exercising is healthy, but training needs commitment, because there’s a goal. To make it through life, we need to think of prayer as committed spiritual training.
Three years ago, when we renovated our chapel, over 300 people signed up for weekly adoration. And, during various lockdowns, lots of people were coming to pray. However, from my observation, the commitment to adoration has decreased. At first, this worried me. But then I thought about the analogy of training: Most people committed well for a year or two years! Nevertheless, this training program served its purpose and is now over. Now it’s time for a new spiritual regimen.
The challenge I’d like to suggest to you is a stronger commitment to prayer. Each of us has to determine our own routine, but the principles are the same. This is something we need if we’re going to make it through the next crisis.
And for those who want to grow in prayer, all of our spiritual programs are starting soon: Journey Through Scripture on Sept. 8, 2022; Faith Studies on Sept. 20, 2022. And for disciples, think about our Life Groups, concerning which you can talk to Ricky, our Director of Community.
Let’s end with an image. Imagine two people are taking the bus, and both are standing, holding on to the rails. The first person is on his phone, and, because the current street is straight and smooth, he holds on lightly—that’s all that’s needed. But as soon as they hit a curve in the road, he loses balance and falls. He has a minor injury and the rest of his day is more difficult. The second person also stands and holds on to the rail, but because she’s listened to Fr. Justin’s homilies, she looks ahead and anticipates the curve. She spends more energy holding on, but that’s all. There’s no fall, no injury, no damage, and the rest of her day continues (Fr. Timothy Gallagher, The Discernment of Spirits, 131-132).
These are the two options we have for the upcoming year. What we’re doing spiritually right now might seem like enough, but, when the crisis comes, we’ll have a huge struggle and the pain will be immense. Others, who commit to spiritual training and prayer, focusing on our Lord Jesus, will also be tempted, but without injury. And Jesus will say, “I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne, as I myself first won the victory” (Rev 3:21).