Not too long ago we celebrated the life of St. Sebastian, an early Christian martyr who was put to death because of his faith. He was tied to a post, shot with arrows and left to die. However, he was healed with the help of the later Saint Irene, who took him into her home and bandaged his wounds. Once at full health, Sebastian courageously met the Emperor in a small passageway. He had overcome his own pain, his own weakness and was condemned to death a second time. He was beaten to death with cudgels and thrown into the town's sewer.
Reflecting on the life of Sebastian and the words of the Psalms, I began to think about our lives as champion Christians, a people of faith who persevere and run with joy the course that has been set for us. We're called to be champions.
One might say that to be a Champion means to conquer. It means to defy the odds, to surpass all other rivals and be, in the end, victorious - the last one standing. Champions are those who have lived courageously, fought with strength and persevered in times of difficulty; they overcame. The champion is moved to be victorious; he’s moved to defeat everything that stands in his way in order to obtain a prize worth cherishing forever. The champion is an athlete and not only an athlete but a person who sees with clear vision his purpose. He understands he has been made to accomplish, to achieve and to succeed. Above everything, the champion is a person who longs for victory using every ounce of energy that has been built up inside.
Now you might notice that there are striking similarities between this champion athlete and the champion Christian, because to be a Christian is to be an athlete and to be a champion Christian is to accept the invitation into true championship with Jesus Christ, the true Victor! You might be surprised to know that you are an athlete, you are a runner of the race and you have been endowed with a special gift of strength and courage. We are athletes for Christ, as St. Paul puts it, striving to obtain the eternal prize of salvation. We are a Christian people who have been gifted with a purpose in life, a meaning and an objective to reach that everlasting prize. It’s the imperishable crown that St. Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians. The strength of the Christian champion has its roots in God almighty. He gives us all that we need to move forward; he strengthens us when we are weak; he trains us and he pushes us to pursue everything that he has in store for us.
“Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one” - 1 Corinthians 9:25
Since we are sharers in the championship that Christ has already won, we are also gifted with immeasurable strength and courage that is necessary to overcome any blockade. Those moments in our lives that instill doubt or spiritual soreness, slothfulness or acedia. These are things that keep us from moving forward with hope that we will soon wear the winner’s crown, the imperishable one. We doubt ourselves and we give in to the voice that tells us we will never reach the end. Slowly we slip into modes of hopelessness and mediocrity; we lose sight of the goal! However, we are built to be champion Christians, champion athletes. We are called to overcome, called to push through our doubts, to persevere with strength and hope in moments of uncertainty. We have been given a spirit of courage and endurance, a spirit that aids us in our weakness.
“Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” -Romans 12:12
Remember that you've been called into a true championship with Jesus. You have been invited to complete the task and he has given all that you need to do it. The psalms tell us that the Champion is one who "joyfully runs his course." (Psalm 19:5) and St. Paul adds that, as runners, we should run to win. We should not run aimlessly or carelessly, but with conviction, confidence and courage.
"...Run as to win." -1 Corinthians 9: 24
In those moments when our zeal seems to be gone, hope shattered or our strength seems to be getting slim, we should turn to the words that have been written down for us. He reminds us to be strong and courageous, (Joshua 1:9) to fight the good fight of the faith! (1 Tim 9:11), to rejoice with hope, endure affliction and persevere in prayer! (Rom 12:12). This is the heart of a Champion, to look beyond our struggle and pain, see our own destiny of Glory and be moved to obtain it. This is the heart of a champion and it’s the heart of a Christian, to persevere with courage in order to hold the eternal prize of glory.
+Br. Vince Mary