Sunday, August 5, 2012

Passion, power and pageantry of "putting on the new" man or woman in Christ for victory greater than Olympic gold

The passion, power and pageantry of the Olympics has transfixed the world and many of us as well. The glorious human struggle to achieve the gold medal is a story that embraces the human nature that all of us share and romances our imaginations through the vision of a greater humanity that it opens to our sight.

Behind the glamor of the Olympic ceremonies, however, lies another story that we have to dig deeper to find and that is sometimes revealed to us as athletes open up and share the stories of their personal struggles. Michael fell into a depression and stopped swimming after setting records and winning gold in previous Olympics. Gabby had to leave her family and home behind and move far away to live with another family in order to have access to training; suffering and putting childish things aside to discipline herself and reach her goal, keeping this ever in mind especially when weakened by sadness and defeat. Katy, from our own Archdiocese, must have had to overcome great odds to train and win as a 15-year-old novice competing against more seasoned and intimidating veteran athletes.

Behind the glorious moment of the golden victory there is also the passion and power of putting off the old man or woman of yesterday’s defeats and depressions and putting on the new man or woman. Some athletes also reveal their personal experience of the spiritual as well as physical reality of human endeavor. And for we of faith there is no greater glory than that of God, no prize on earth more precious than His love which promises eternal life.

We train for that goal just as athletes train for Olympic gold. In order to train and win we must constantly struggle with God's help to take of the old and "put on the new" man or woman. The idea of "self" as proposed in some translations may not be helpful, as it calls to mind the type of identity we see glorified in media such as "Self Magazine" with all the worldly and mundane connotations this suggests. No, we are created in "righteousness and holiness" as St Paul describes it. This is the work of God and therefore of grace, and so not something we can do for ourselves but must receive from God.

Purity of heart is the “new” man or woman after the darkness and shame of sin, through mercy, but also to persevere in that way of life, learning to love and rejoice in the good as God always does.

One aspect of the newness of life in Christ is the great necessity of purity, chastity for every Catholic whether married or not. Temptations are peddled through many of the resources to which we turn for good purposes, whether for news, entertainment or information in mass communications. Sexual sins are certainly not the greatest of sins as are those involving a direct attack against God such as hatred of Him, blasphemy, or betrayal. But these still are mortal sins and deadly ones which hold the soul captive until death. The danger exists also for some of becoming recidivists, that is backsliders, or of falling into despair. Spiritual discouragement can also make it difficult for some, physically or emotionally, to go to Confession. Depending upon how we choose our friends these also can be sources of discouragement, offering little in the way of help or becoming an occasion of sin themselves. Family members and surrounding culture can influence our choices.

"Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Saint Paul asks and Saint John of Cross tells us that "one love is not driven out except by another love". Love of impurity can only be driven out by a love of purity--which most easily comes from learning about the lives of the Saints. It is necessary to fill our imagination and memory with the example, counsel and inspiration of the saints: the gold medal winners in the struggle to achieve the golden prize of heaven. We must with divine help turn away from intemperate use of the internet, impure films and images and instead read lives of saints and watch films that inspire us to achieve holiness.

Most important of all is the frequent use of Confession for getting up again when we fall in the struggle. The sacrament is divine assistance against the danger of discouragement and despair. A more serious and heartfelt preparation for Holy Communion is necessary, keeping in mind that it is God who gives Himself. Reverence is necessary that we do not forget and treat the Eucharist as ordinary bread, treading upon the Faith and disregarding our salvation. Lack of reverence, in some places, for Body of Christ stems from lack of purity, reverence which is an outward sign of bodily integrity. Those who believe that it is best and safest for ensuring their devotional love for God to receive Him kneeling are always welcome to go to the Communion rail and ask for reception of communion according this venerable and noble custom.

Praying the Mass in a physical way, such as bowing during the recitation of the Creed where indicated and bowing before receiving Communion in the hand are a training in Faith and require a victory over human respect in so many cases where others do not do pray the Mass in the fullest way as we continue to implement the wisdom of the Second Vatican Council in our public prayer.

Confession and Holy Communion strengthen us in grace which is not necessarily detectable by
senses, but real: strengthens us for the fight--and if (God forbid) we should fall, we will more quickly get back up. Saint Paul says "God will not be mocked" --we cannot fool ourselves into
thinking that these sins do not matter: we know in heart of hearts they do! Hence the great necessity to put off the old man or woman (self) of corruption and sin and put on the new: that is, become more truly like Christ: "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God". +

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