This past Mother’s Day, I joined family and friends at the starting line of the 10 km (6.2 miles) run for Camp Oochigeas, a camp for children with cancer. It was a brisk morning with gusty winds that made the sub-normal temperatures feel even colder. No matter. Everyone who was there was running directly or indirectly for kids who have had or are living with cancer. Many people were running in memory of a child who has died from cancer.
Our group, Team Bryan, was running in memory of a courageous seven-year old boy whose one year battle with a brain tumour ended one year ago just days before last year’s run. That year, the memory of his fight was very raw and we carried our sorrow with us when we participated. Time has healed some of the pain but this year we ran again to honour him and all the other children affected by cancer.
Twenty-seven thousand people were there that morning, ready and willing to give their time and physical ability to run for children who can’t. I realized that I could look at this as merely a sporting event or I could learn deeper lessons from the experience. I couldn’t help thinking of St. Paul’s exhortation to run the race as if to win. “Do you not know that in a race, runners all compete but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.”(1 Cor. 9:24 -25) Life, I observed, is very much like this race and not all of us will finish.
There were random acts of kindness from participants as people moved aside for faster runners, smiled and talked to complete strangers and much faster runners slowed down to keep pace with their slower teammates. The overall atmosphere was one of congeniality.
In the race of life, that is as it ought to be. That is how we are to run so as to win the race: with consideration and charity towards our neighbour, putting their needs before ours and supporting their efforts to run the race well.
There were people who were running that had more blind faith that they would finish than actual physical ability to do so. Their race was predicated on the hope that they would make it to the finish line and I’m sure most of them did. After some of our team had finished and were heading home, we saw people still straining towards the finish line. Some were grimacing, some were limping, some were smiling but all of them continued forward towards their goal.
Isn’t that the way it is in our lives? We fall and we suffer but we continue on. Many times we run with difficulty but often with joy knowing that what is important is that the finish will be truly spectacular and all the sprains, strains and struggles serve to purify and mold us before we receive our winner’s crown.
At the fifth kilometre, a woman held up a sign that read: “Running is a mental sport. You are all insane.” The same has been said of Christians running the race for Christ. The world looks at us as crazy and out of touch. Most people don’t understand our witness to the Truth of the Gospels and it takes courage to live out our beliefs. While our witness, like the race, is challenging and imperfect, we keep at it knowing that Jesus was not accepted either. “If they persecute Me, they will persecute you.” (John 15:20)
By the ninth kilometre, I began marking my pace from traffic light to traffic light, landmarks that guided me towards the end. I compared this to the lives of Catholics who are called to live from Sunday to Sunday, Mass to Mass, Holy Eucharist to Holy Eucharist. Jesus in the Sacrifice of the Mass, His Real Presence in the Eucharistic Host and Precious Blood is the sustenance that fuels our race and sets the pace of our lives.
On the back of our Team Bryan t-shirts, Bryan’s parents had requested that the words “faith, hope, charity” be printed in white to contrast against the red background. The theological virtues of faith, hope and charity are what we cling to on the race of life. They are what help us to make sense of sorrow, give value to our happiness and enliven our efforts.
When we reached the finish line, we were greeted with cheers and applause from racers who had finished ahead of us. We received a medal and we had the consolation of knowing that we had done our best. Isn’t that what Heaven will be like? We will be welcomed into our Heavenly home by the communion of saints who have gone before us and we will finally receive the Heavenly crown that will not perish. We can then say, like St. Paul, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
This is an abridged version of an article to be published in a future print edition of Catholic Insight Magazine.