Our Olympic Struggle to Stay Oriented

(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: http://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Mass-Blog-for-the-24th-Sunday-in-Ordinary-time-2021.mp3)

Human beings were conceived in greatness. We aren’t born to BE great, but to do great things for others. We are born with that mission and a kit of talents to accomplish it. But we can get in trouble in one of two ways: believing we ARE great and trying to do EVERYTHING, or believing we AREN’T great—and therefore doing NOTHING.

Greatness is not for us to attempt. Our attempts must be aimed at accomplishing our mission. But when people TELL us how great we are, we can get the twisties.

Those are the demons Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles blames for the mental block that caused her to leave the Olympic team finals in Tokyo at the end of July. Athletes describe twisties as feelings appearing out of nowhere that make a gymnast lose their sense of direction while in the air. Experiencing this block while flipping and twisting leaves a gymnast blind to their surroundings, and therefore unable to effect a safe landing on the ground.

But in an Olympic athlete’s soul, effecting a safe landing isn’t the mission—just as BEING great isn’t. In fact, leading up to Biles’ Twisities at the Tokyo finals, Biles billed herself as the “Greatest of All Time,” or the GOAT. Biles’ had a classic lesson in the dangers of mission creep. It was Charles Pierre de Frédy, founder of the International Olympic Committee, who said “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.”

In other words, it’s the work that saves you, not the faith that it’ll get done. As James tells us in Sunday’s second reading (Jas 2:14-18), “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”

As Christians, we believe the only thing that saves us is belief in the only truly great person who ever lived: Jesus “The Christ,” or “The Annointed.” His Mission: to save humanity. He knew his mission, and his became OURS –to save each other by the power of The Holy Spirit.

In this Sunday’s gospel reading (Mk 8:27-35), he asks his disciples if THEY knew it. Judging by Peter’s answer, he knew the WHAT but not the HOW. When Jesus explains the how to him (to suffer, be rejected, then be killed before rising again), Peter tries to give Jesus the Twisties by knocking him off that orientation to this earth. But Jesus confronts this demon:

“Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

We’d do well to meditate on one of Sunday’s psalms (Ps 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9), which reminds us how God thinks. That meditation reminds us of OUR Olympic mission:

Gracious is the LORD and just; yes, our God is merciful. The LORD keeps the little ones; I was brought low, and he saved me.

Saving each other is both our mission and our orientation to this earth. Our judge knows the level of difficulty. He lived it.

–Tom Andel

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