How could I ever turn my back on my Beloved God?
Many years ago, just after we finished high school, a dear friend and classmate of mine received an athletic scholarship to attend college in the United States and play basketball for a US college team. And so, off she went. For four years or so, this friend attended college and played on the college basketball team while she studied for her degree.
I am not a very athletic sort of person, and I never really took any interest in sports, but I do remember talking to my friend over the years and picking up bits and pieces about what life was like for her when she trained on that team.
As a member of that basketball team, my friend was required to follow the strict diet that was designed for her by the team’s dietician so that she could build muscle for endurance and strength during her games. But it was not just food that the coach concerns himself with for my friend. There was training and curfews and all sorts of other restrictions designed to keep my friend’s body in peak physical condition.
I have been reflecting on this experience of my friend as I was following the controversy that surrounded the American Olympic gymnast, Simone Biles, who withdrew from competition in this year’s Olympics due to her failing mental health. For hers was surely not a decision that was made lightly. After all, this athlete surely trained for most of her life to reach this moment. One does not become an Olympic athlete based on a spur of the moment decision… It takes training and commitment and discipline and dedication. And yet, after all those years and the commitment that got her all the way to the pinnacle of her athletic dream, this young woman walked away from it all – literally mid backflip…
A woman who had competed against other women to be selected from a total American population of over 250 million people over a very long period of time, was surely someone who knew what she wanted. And yet, there in the moment of completion – at the culmination of her career – this young woman stopped dead in her tracks and changed direction.
I have been thinking very much about that athlete in the weeks since I first heard about her decision. After all, there were surely a hundred other young women who would have done very much to have taken her place on that American gymnastics team. And yet, this woman accepted the challenge to complete at the Olympics, and then – at the very last minute – backed away from it…
This makes me think about salvation. After all, we as Catholics – like my dear friend during college and Simone Biles at the Olympics –are given many tools by our “coach” to help us to “train” for the “game” of life.
We receive the sacraments and Grace so that we can become spiritually strong enough to endure temptation. Our Heavenly Father ensures that we eat well and are well looked after through those sacraments – just as athletes are looked after by the coach and trainers in their team. And we are supposed to train spiritually through sacrifice and prayer – just like the athletes do in the gym – so that we can grow in discipline and commitment. And eventually we must pass the test, and gain eternal salvation…
But despite all the best efforts and all the best care that the “coach” our God makes for us and even despite all the best training, at the end of the day – just as for the athletes – the ultimate decision comes down to us!
Nobody could compel my friend to move away from her family and live in a different country for years at a time studying and training – but she did it anyway. And nobody could compel Simone Biles to complete the competition at the Olympics this year – when she chose not to.
In the same way – despite all the advantages of our spiritual training through suffering and all the benefits provided to us by our God, nobody can compel us to choose salvation – that is a decision each of us makes alone! But as I stand bathed in Grace it occurs to me I am one of the lucky ones -I am chosen as the child of God – how I long never to turn my back on that!
For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.