Musing on 1 Cor 9:24-27

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 Corinthians 9:24-27

Cinderella.

Every March in the United States, this word gets thrown around continually and casually.

We all know what it means — the “Cinderella” team — the underdogs who proved themselves to everyone; the team no one believed in; the ones whom no one gave a second thought to; the team that everyone glazed over while filling out their brackets. “Oh an 11-seed? They’re going down in the first round, for sure.”

This year, I’ve had the privilege to watch my hometown team, the Wichita State Shockers, become the Cinderella of the 2013 NCAA Championship Tournament. A nine-seeded team that beat four teams — including the two best in its region — on its way to the Final Four.

Yes, we all love those underdog stories, don’t we? We latch on to movies like Seabiscuit, Glory Road, We Are Marshall, Cinderella Man, Miracle, and Cool Runnings (which are all based on true stories, by the way). Why? Because we love to see those teams, those players who weren’t the best still succeed, even when all the odds were stacked against them.

They take a stand for themselves — they prove to everyone that they’re worth something, that they shouldn’t be underestimated, that they shouldn’t be counted out.

We love underdog stories, because the idea of an ‘underdog’ is based on prejudice. “Oh, this team has more money, a better coach, more talented players, a tougher schedule — so, they’re definitely going to beat this second-rate team of schmucks, no problem. Right?”

The idea of an underdog also is based on empathy — we don’t like it when other people underestimate us, and count us out. So, when we see another underdog succeed, it gives us hope. The ‘little guy’ can win, even when the world is stacked against him. David can beat Goliath, and he does.

So life is for us Christians. We are the underdogs; we have the disadvantage, seemingly, against all that we try to combat — the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Think about it.

Everyday, we wake up to our ongoing struggles against all of our erring brothers and sisters, who pressure us (sometimes with good intentions) into joining their escapades with “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” — of rejecting our religion, our relationship with God simply to do what everyone is doing. We wake up to our own bodily desires, which were created good, but have been deformed through our own sinful nature, our predisposition to sin. We continue to pervert those gifts which God created good, because we believe that they will give us pleasure. And, lastly, and most frighteningly, we wake up everyday to combat all the demons of Hell, who have retained their angelic powers and use them to tempt us away from God — to give into our societal pressures, to give in to our own bodily desires, etc.

So, not only is the world against us, but the flesh and the devil, too!

How then — you might ask — can we possibly win?

And I would reply: How can we possibly lose?

We’re the underdogs! Our life as Christians is a classic underdog story. We win as any other longshot, counted-out team does: through Faith.

For athletes, it is faith in themselves, in their coach, in their teammates. For us, it is Faith in Our God, in our Church, in the Lord’s plan for us.

Train yourself for devotion; for, while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. For this we toil and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the savior of all, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. –1 Timothy 4:7-11

So, like those athletes — those dark horses, who find themselves down at halftime to the best team in the league — we draw on four components of our Christian faith to “run the race so as to win” so that we might win our “imperishable crown” :

HEART

We could also call this passion or desire. Think of those athletes when they say they give “110%” to their sport, to their team, etc. Let us think of HEART as that ability to give of yourself for your Teammates, for your Coach — in good times, in bad; in everyday practice, in a clutch championship game; always. I often see athletes use the Twitter hashtag #NoDaysOff.

Our Faith, our life of training for devotion, must be the same way. These athlete have such commitment and passion for their sport, their team, their way of life. Why can’t we do the same? We must have HEART — passion in our Faith, desire to live for Christ — to “win” in our lives of Faith.

SKILL

No basketball team is going to win in any game, let alone against the overall No. 1 seed, unless the players know the fundamentals. Many coaches describe this as “Basketball IQ.” Sure, sometimes a victory comes down to talent and talent disparity between one team and its opponent; but, as any basketball fan knows, talent doesn’t count for much if the talented players don’t have a high Basketball IQ — if they make bad passes, if they commit stupid fools, if they travel or carry the ball.

In our faith lives, we have something similar: we have four gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, and Knowledge.You can be a good Christian — you can have all the passion to be like Christ in the world — but how can you be like Him if you don’t know Him? If you’re not open to the Holy Spirit? If you have no fundamental knowledge of the Faith — of sin, of right and wrong?

Just as an athlete has to know his sport — know its rules, its strategies, its speed, its techniques, its competition — so, too, do we have to know our Faith. But, beyond that, we have to live it out. We cannot simply draw up the plays, but we must execute them as well. As St. Paul says to the Corinthians, No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. (1Cor 9:27)

FOCUS

I didn’t know what better word to sum up this idea. I see those athletes who, in a critical game, do something wrong — they do something really stupid: commit a bad foul, turn over the ball, drop the baton, miss a block, etc.

And we sports fans scream and holler at our televisions “What the heck was that? How could you be so stupid?” But, then later, and sometimes not even one minute later, that same player does something awesome — intercepts the ball, breaks a record, or makes a huge shot. And you wonder “How can he be so bad one minute, and so good the next?” Because of focus — of that ability to “shake off” the bad and focus on the good. We Christians must do the same.

Sometimes we mess up. We sin; we fall away from God; we stumble in our lives of prayer and/or ministry. We do something stupid. But, we cannot be discouraged. Because, like that player, if we only focus on the bad, we cannot move forward and do the good. We will be stuck in an endless mental loop of “What if?” We will be focused on the past, instead of on the present and the future.

Yes, we need to correct our mistakes, but we also need to forgive ourselves (and our Teammates) when we mess up, when we do something stupid. We must have that persevering mercy for ourselves and others — we must have that resolution to forgive our mistakes, to sin no more, and to continue on our journey of Faith.

To be good Christians — to be like Christ– we must correct our faults, and focus on our ongoing mission of sharing Christ’s Gospel with others through our prayer and our example.

Think of it this way: at the end of a game, do people remember that you had 29 points, or that you committed four fouls?

SPIRIT

Lastly, a true underdog has to have spirit. Again, I don’t know how else to describe this idea of a ‘spirited’ competitor in one word. But, I recognize those dark horse athletes who look their much bigger, more talented, better coached opponents in the eyes and (through their body language) tell them: “I am not afraid of you.”

That indomitable spirit, that courage, to never back down and to never give up. That spunk, that grit, that determination to keep fighting — and to keep fighting with everything you’ve got until the clock expires. To fight nobly; to compete with dignity.

Win with humility, and lose with dignity, as my bishop once told my high school’s football team.

And, so we as Christians must do the same.

We should not be afraid to go toe-to-toe with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Because, weak though we are, we have the Grace of the Father, the Strength of the Son, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit to fuel us for our daily bouts against our three challenging opponents.

But, we cannot back down. We must have courage, fortitude, to keep running the race with faith in God and in His Love and Faith in us. We Christians must recognize that Christ’s grace is sufficient enough for us — He will get us through any fight, so long as we have faith in Him.

Remember St. Paul and his struggles, as he describes them in 2 Corinthians:

Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. –2Cor 12:7-10

IN CONCLUSION

“…the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize… They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.”

So, brothers and sisters, we must allow the Spirit of God — the Spirit of Courageous ‘Spunk,’ shall we say — to dwell within us.

These four things — Heart, Skill, Focus, and Spirit — are the four qualities, the four ‘virtues’ that any true underdog must have to succeed in his endeavors, no matter how insurmountable they may seem.

Whether in sports or our lives of Faith, we underdogs must hold fast to these four things to win — we must hold fast to these gifts that God has given us. We must strengthen our passion for Him (Heart); we must learn about Him (Skill); we must learn to forgive like Him (Focus); and we must have the courage to face our enemies head-on (Spirit).

For, while our enemies might scoff and underestimate us and our Gifts — Our Faith in God — we should not. Because we are the underdogs, and God willing, we will be victorious in our struggles. We will “run so as to win.”

After all, what better underdog story is there than the seemingly ordinary Man Who died… only to conquer Sin and Death, and rise Victorious from the grave?

Amen. Alleluia, Alleluia!

Musing on the Resurrection

UPDATE ON “NOT IN INK” : The Lord is Risen! Alleluia, Alleluia! Truly, He is Risen! Alleluia, Alleluia! I hope everyone is having a wonderful Easter Monday, or as it is called in Italy, “Pasqueta” — or “Little Easter.” I apologize that I wasn’t able to update you all with too many meditations/musings during Holy Week, but I hope you all liked the Good Friday meditation on the Centurion. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out.

Because these (somewhat daily) meditations/musings were part of my Lenten regiment, I won’t be updating the blog as often. But, I would like to continue updating it with musings and meditations. My goal right now is to post something for you lovely readers maybe once or twice a week.

Please continue to read the blog, and pray for me and my family. I am praying for all of you, and I wish you the greatest and most blessed joys of the Easter season! Thanks!

A Musing on the Resurrection

As He was going [to Jerusalem]… the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” –Luke 19:36-40

Yesterday, on my way home from Easter Sunday Mass, I was — as is my Easter tradition — jammin’ out to Ron Kenoly, a 90s Christian/Gospel artist. The last song on the album is called “Ain’t Gonna Let No Rock.”

Of course, as it is Easter, I thought of the story of the women disciples finding the tomb empty on the first day of the week:

Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. –Matthew 28:1-4

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. –Mark 16:1-5

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. –Luke 24:1-3

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. –John 20:1

All four Gospels speak of a body-less tomb, and each four remark that the stone was rolled away — the tomb was unsealed. Death was conquered! Christ was victorious!

Now remember Jesus’ words on His entrance to Jerusalem: “If (my disciples) keep quiet, even the stones will cry out!”

After Jesus’ death and burial on Good Friday, the disciples were silent. Judas had killed himself; Peter had denied Jesus; all of the 12 Apostles except John had abandoned Him after He was arrested in the Garden. Their Master and Teacher was dead — cold, executed, and defeated. They did not remember what He had told them. They were in mourning.

But, while they kept their silence, even the stones — or at least, one large stone in particular, cried out. Maybe its voice was not heard. But, its presence was known all the same, because every Christian knows the story of the stone that was rolled away, of the tomb that was empty.

Can you imagine what that stone would have said, if it could cry out? What mysteries it would have told?

The stone was, in an essence, the first to see and hear the Gospel, the Good News — that Christ is risen from the grave! It was, alongside the angel, the first herald of His Resurrection!

That stone, if it had a soul, if it had a voice, would have proclaimed the Gospel message to those women who came weeping and mourning to the tomb that Sunday morning. It would have told them immediately Who Had Risen; it would have turned their tears into shouts of joy!

And, so we must do the same. We are an Easter people, and “Alleluia” is our song! Our God Lives! He has conquered sin and death, and has risen from the grave!

God did not give that stone a voice, yet it proclaimed the Good News all the same!

Shouldn’t we then proclaim the Good News — the Joy of the Resurrected Lord — all the louder? All the more clearly? For indeed, God has given us tongues to proclaim, and hands to share the Good News with our Brothers and Sisters in the Lord!

For while the stone in front of the tomb may have been the first herald of the Resurrection, we should not let it be the last! We cannot be quiet and timid like the disciples; we should not be afraid or unbelieving of the Easter message, as they were at first.

For, if we do, even the stones will cry out instead. And, as Ron Kenoly says, “I ain’t gonna let no rock out-praise me!”

Let us continue our Christian mission of proclaiming the Gospel — the Good News — so that we may make Christ’s presence among us known throughout all the world.

For, we are an Easter people, and “Alleluia” is our song!

THE LORD IS RISEN, ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA! TRULY HE IS RISEN, ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA!

Musing on God the Father

Author’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series of musings on Each Person of the Holy Trinity. This musing is on God The Father. Read the musings on The Son and The Holy Spirit.

Musing on God The Father

Much can be said and written on Each Person of the Trinity, but ultimately it is a Mystery. All that we know of the Holy Trinity is what has been revealed to us by God, and what we can deduct from those revelations.

But, let us begin with God The Father.

Again, God is Infinite, and thus, if we completely understood Him (which we don’t), could be infinitely described, written about, etc. So, how and where can we even begin to muse, to ponder, to wonder about God The Father?

How about with His Name? The Father.

Jesus reveals His Relationship with His Father: “The Father and I are one,” and other similar passages found in the Scriptures. And, we as Christians accept that God The Father is Jesus’ (the Second Person of the Holy Trinity) Father, and ours also – just as we address Him in the “Our Father” prayer.

We attribute the title “Creator” to Him (as we do similarly with Jesus’ “Redeemer/Savior” and the Holy Spirit’s “Sanctifier”). We understand that He possesses, and is the source of, all the quintessential attributes of a father: loving, protective, caring, authoritative, and so on.

However – without forgetting the magnificence and importance of these above attributes – let us ponder on another attribute of God The Father: knowledge.

“God is a spirit, and the first act of a Spirit is to know and understand. God, knowing Himself from all eternity, brings forth the knowledge of Himself, His own image. This was not a mere thought, as our knowledge of ourselves would be, but a Living Person, of the same substance and one with the Father. This is God the Son. Thus the Father “begets” the Son, the Divine Word, the Wisdom of the Father.” — A Manual of Religion

Thus, we understand – through revelation and deduction – that God The Father’s Eternal Knowledge of Himself begets His Son, the Second Person of the Trinity.

Yet, why do we still call Him Father? Why do we not call Him “God The Knower,” or “God The Almighty” or some other such title?

Why is He The Father?

Because (I would contend) a principle function of a parent is to impart knowledge to his/her child. (This is not so much the case with Jesus, God The Son, as being Fully God, He is Omniscient.)

Think about what an earthly father does, ideally. (Mothers do these things too.)

Among many things, he teaches his children – how to walk, how to throw a ball, how to drive, how to stay away from dangerous things like hot stoves, strangers, and drugs.

But, even more importantly, he teaches his children about themselves.

For instance, my dad has shared stories about things I did as a baby or a toddler that I wouldn’t remember – how I was a fussy baby, but I was calmed by the sound of running water; how I would cry and plead to get a new pet each time we went to the pet store; how I had no scruples about sharing my very frank comments with my family members.

My father helps me know myself.

He is always ready to give me words of criticism or encouragement as the situation provides – “You’re being really negative today” or “You’re really smart, so you should try the advanced class.”

He helps me to see what I cannot see or do not wish to.

And because of that constant flow of (self) knowledge, I look to him for advice, for counsel, for guidance.

We do the same with Our Heavenly Father. For who knows us better than The One Who Created Us and Loves Us Best?

However, like our earthly parents, we can also rebel from Our Heavenly Father – “Oh, you don’t know me. You don’t know what I’m capable of. You don’t know what’s best for me.” But, while earthly parents can sometimes be wrong (but not very often, hopefully), Our Heavenly Father never is.

Another thing that our fathers (again, mothers too) also do is connect us to the past. They tell us stories about our grandparents, great-grandparents; how our family came from this place and settled in that place; and so on.

Happily, more often than not, we devour this (self) knowledge, because our culture has encouraged us to believe that our past will influence our future, for better or worse. Most times, we desire this knowledge, because we want to know where we (inasmuch as our family) came from.

We want to know who we are, and our parents help us in that task.

By learning about who we have been and who are families are, we want to figure out what we are ‘destined’ for – what the outcome of our lives will be.

But, we are created by God The Father out of Love. We are created to love and be loved by Him and our brothers and sisters. We have no need to search for our ‘destiny’ anywhere else, but with Him:

God is both our origin and, we pray, our outcome.

Yet, to be with Him, we must first know Him; then, love Him; and serve Him.

So, like an earthly parent, God The Father tries to impart all this (self) knowledge onto us, but it is up to us to decide what to do with it. Like our parents, He assists, protects, and guides us on our path, but we make our own choices. He just wants us to make the right ones, so that we can be with Him one day in Heaven.