My Dear Sisters and Brothers! The Apostle of nations - St Paul, used the image of the Olympic Games which must have fascinated his contemporaries even more than us as they didn’t have as much entertainment. The Apostle applied the principles of determination, commitment and hard work which characterised the athletes to the Christian way of life. I wonder how much Paul’s observation was reflected in the observation of Pope Francis who during the World Youth Day in Poland said to the young people: “The time we are living in does not call for young couch potatoes but for young people with shoes -- or better -- boots laced. It only takes players on the first string, and it has no room for benchwarmers. Today’s world demands that you be a protagonist of history. The Lord wants to work one of the greatest miracles we can experience: he wants to turn your hands, my hands, our hands, into signs of reconciliation, of communion, of creation.” I don’t know how much St Paul was fascinated with the Olympic Games as I don’t know how much the Pope is but I can sense that both of them were familiar with the upfront message Jesus gave to the person who asked him about how many people could be saved. I think that the translators of our Bible wanted to be very gentle and kind when they translated “Fight to enter by the narrow gate” as “Try your best to enter by the narrow gate.” Again St Paul, who had a rough conversion, very realistically wrote to his young trainee – Timothy: “The point of all our toiling and battling is that we have put our trust in the living God. (…) Fight the good fight of faith and win for yourself the eternal life to which you were called.” In another Letter to Timothy St Paul revealed something of his own life experience: “I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept faith.” Isn’t a stimulating communication coming from our Blessed Lord, Jesus Christ, who assures us of his grace, given to those who want to utilize it?
In Jerusalem there is a narrow ancient gate, which sometimes is identified as the eye of the needle. Coming through this gate pilgrims experience a strange emptying moment. The gate is so narrow that one needs to leave behind everything, including a jacket, to push themselves through that opening in the wall. It was even observed that one needs to leave behind his or her dignity too, and allow himself or herself to be awkward and vulnerable.
The first step of that Christian fight is within us as we start usually by fighting with God. The Second Reading captures that: “The Lord trains the ones that he loves and he punishes all those that he acknowledges as his sons. Suffering is part of your training; God is treating you as his sons.” Usually we don’t like it, do we? We would like to take a couch, Coke and popcorn to observe other efforts rather than to get into the fight ourselves. We fight God off when He takes those comfy “necessities” from us.
My Dear Friends! The Olympic Games are great. They can give us a sense of pride and unity. However, when it comes to Christian life we are not spectators watching and cheering for a few potential saints. We are called to get off our couches, put on boots laced and leave a Godly mark on this planet.