Rico De Silva: Aim for gold in the 'spiritual Olympics'
"Like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them." (Wisdom 3:6)
In these days of ubiquitous high-definition TVs in public places, it was almost impossible not to catch a glimpse or two of the 2012 Olympics in London this summer. I've always loved the Olympics since the time I was old enough to cheer. I have vivid memories of some great Olympic moments going as far back as the 1970s. I remember my dad praising Mark Spitz's superhuman qualities after the swimmer won seven gold medals in Munich in 1972. I remember my secret crush on gymnast Nadia Comaneci during the Montreal Olympics in 1976, after she captured the world's attention with her graceful and flawless performances. And, of course, there is the "Master of the Clutch," as I call Michael Phelps, who won eight gold medals in Beijing in 2008, with number seven decided down to 1/1,000 of a second.
I'm convinced that God frequently speaks to our hearts through people, things and events that are dear to us, so I thought I would try to draw some connections between the Olympics and the spiritual life.
First of all, Catholic literally means "universal." Well, I can't think of an event more universal than the Olympics.
Also, what stood out the most for me during the 2012 Olympics in London was the competitive edge all the Olympians displayed. These were truly world-class athletes who prepared every day for years, just to have a brief moment of competition and the chance to win a gold medal. What an example of self-sacrifice and tenacity!
For some of the athletes, just being able to compete in London was a dream come true, and that fact was not overlooked by other athletes and the media. We saw Irish gymnast Kieran Behan competing. When he was 10, Behan was bound to a wheelchair for two years, and doctors told him then that he would never walk again. And we saw the unforgettable Oscar Pistorius, a South African double amputee, with two carbon fiber prosthetic blades as his legs, who qualified for Olympics track events.
At the same time the Olympics was under way, we Catholics also celebrated some special feast days.
On Aug. 15, there was the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Queen of All Saints. On Aug. 22, we commemorated Mary's feast as Queen of Heaven and Earth. On Aug. 14, we also celebrated the feast of a champion of Mary: St. Maximilian Kolbe, priest and martyr. According to St. Maximilian's memoirs, Mary appeared to him when he was 10 and offered him two crowns: a white one for sainthood and a red one for martyrdom. When she asked him to pick one, he picked both! Fast forward to 1941, during Nazi Germany, while St. Maximilian was a prisoner at Auschwitz, he literally stepped up for another prisoner who was married and had been condemned to die. The saint took the man's place at the starvation bunker and died of a lethal injection three weeks later.
A teenaged Jewish maiden, Mary, whose "yes" to God changed the course of salvation history. A Conventual Franciscan priest who made it possible for a married man to reunite with his family after surviving the atrocities of Auschwitz during World War II. For us Catholics, Mary and the communion of saints are the Nadia Comanecis and the Michael Phelpses of Church history and a fountain of inspiration for us. We are more like the Behans and the Pistoriouses of the "spiritual Olympics," running the "good race" on a daily basis – not in any extraordinary way, but as Mother Teresa would say, by doing "little things with great love." While the length of our lives is uncertain, our spiritual goal is heavenly gold. And if we remain faithful to God now in the training grounds of this world, He will find us a champion at the clutch hour of our death. Amen.
Rico De Silva is a member of St. Gabriel Church in Charlotte.