“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9: 24-27)
St. Paul frequently uses athletic metaphors to describe our journey of salvation. As an effective teacher, he uses the familiar, sports, to explain the less-familiar, the mysteries of the human-divine process called “salvation,” or our “return to wholeness” or oneness with God and one another. This is the “prize” for which we strive on our God-focused, Spirit-embracing, cross-carrying journey. As is the case in athletic competitions, on this journey we have opponents, and these are “other” focuses or aims, outside of God, and other “spirits,” like idleness, despondency, self-centered fears and lusts, and judgment of others. We are called to “outrun” these, or move beyond them, by re-focusing on God, again and again, and re-embracing His Spirit in “repentance” (“metanoia,” a “change of mind” or focus).
As the Apostles’ Fast draws to an end today, for those of us on the Older Calendar, and as the World Cup also draws to an end this week, I thank St. Paul for bringing these two “journeys” together for me. Both of these can serve to remind me of the bigger picture, of my life-long journey, along which “I do not run aimlessly,” but with my eye on a “prize” that is salvation. So let me re-embrace His Spirit once again this morning, re-connecting with Him in some heartfelt prayer, and handing myself over to His loving guidance and discipline. Holy Apostles, pray to God for us!