HOMILY: Run the Race

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time | August 21, 2016

Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted weekly at Leaven in the World. To see the archive of all his posts, just click here: Salesian Sermons

PROTIP: You can take a look at the Sunday readings here. This homily focuses on the Gospel reading.

So I still remember the day I fell in love with the Olympics.It was 1996 and the US female gymnasts were locked in a tight contest for the gold medal.

Kerri Strug was in the final rotation. Her teammates before her had fallen and panic was setting in. Kerri needed to complete two vaults to secure the gold medal. But on her first vault, something went wrong. You could tell from her face that she was injured.

The medal hopes of the US appeared to be disappearing.

But then to the utter shock of everyone, Kerri took off running for a second vault.

Not only did she complete the vault. But she stuck the landing.

She then collapsed in pain. Learning later that she had vaulted on two torn ligaments in her ankles.

That evening, as the Americans received their gold medals, Kerri was carried to medal stand by her coach.

​That moment began a lifelong fascination for me with the Olympics.

I have watched as Michael Phelps has dominated in the pool. I have watched Kerri Walsh dive for a volleyball on the sands of Rio. I have watched as Usain Bolt has decimated records.

And yes, I have often dreamed of what it would feel like to stand on that platform and receive that gold medal as the sounds of the National Anthem washed over the stands.

But then I have a brutal reality check.

I really don’t like physical activity.

See, my brief forays into athletics have always ended in disaster.

​I broke a leg playing volleyball in college.

​I shattered my glasses playing soccer.

And my personal favorite, I fell asleep while on the treadmill and went flying off onto the floor. In front of the entire basketball team.

See I like the idea of winning the Olympics. But I really don’t want to do the work to become an Olympian.

I have never chosen to prioritize physical fitness in my life. I have never been a disciplined athlete. Which is why the door to the Olympics is closed for me.

The only way it would open is if I chose the much more difficult and narrow path. The path that comes with daily work, discipline, and persistence. Of prioritizing and committing to being the best athlete I could be.

In many ways, I believe that the readings for this weekend are preaching the same lesson.

If we wish to achieve the ultimate prize. If we wish to enter through the narrow door. Then we too must be willing to commit ourselves to the daily work, the discipline and the persistence that is necessary in our spiritual lives. We too must prioritize and commit to the path that leads to holiness.

It is funny, but I feel as if the Scripture readings for this entire summer have been building to this lesson.

For they have been showcasing for us, the different disciplines and practices that we will need in order to reach this goal.

​We have been reminded to keep knocking in our prayer lives.

​We have been challenged to question our treasures and refocus on what is truly important.

​We have been told to be vigilant. To avoid complacency and getting too comfortable.

We have been reminded to stay in the fire, allowing the trials and tribulations of this life to bring out the gold that is buried within us all.

And above all, we have been commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves.

And now, as we are on the cusp of another academic year, it is as if Christ is summing it all up.

If you wish to pursue the devout life. If you wish to enter the narrow gate. If you wish to become the people God calls us to be.

Then we must do the work.

We must find the time to pray. Even when we are tired or stressed. Even when it feels as if no one is listening.

We must question our priorities and keep a spotlight on what is really important. Even when the pressure is there to have the newest and the best, regardless of the cost.

We must shoulder our share of the cross. Recognizing that in the crucible of our difficulties and struggles, our God is with us, helping to bear the load.

And we must find a way to love. Even those who frustrate and annoy us, those who frighten us and confuse us. Those who have hurt us and who have left us.

And in these daily spiritual disciplines, we must be patient and persistent, realizing that this is not a sprint. It is a marathon that will last our entire lives.

So let us continue on our journey, my friends.

Let us continue to run the race.

For the prize awaits us.

And we do not run this race alone.

May God be Praised.

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