Thursday, July 17, 2008

Running the race

The cheerful news this past weekend that a local woman had qualified for the upcoming Olympics in race walking (oh, I should mention that as a local parishioner she was featured in the Diocesan magazine Parable before the race) got me to thinking. Strangely, it got me thinking about martyrdom. Then again, if you've ever trained for a race that connection isn't as strange as you'd otherwise think.

Just as racing is generally divided into long- and short-distance the muscles that run those races can be divided into fast- and slow-twitch. Fast-twitch muscles are what we generally think of as "stronger", generating more power and speed, but they quickly tire. Slow-twitch muscles generate less power and speed but tire much less slowly. Everyone has a different balance of fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers. Those with a high proportion of fast-twitch tend to become sprinters or body builders or the like; those with a high proportion of slow-twitch tend to become distance runners. The former garner all the attention, the latter are often shown on TV in the wee hours of the morning. In the end though, it's still a gold medal.

I've harbored for a long time a haunting wish that God would grant me the blessing of becoming a martyr for His Name. Not because I enjoy pain or have some particular interest in death but because, well, in some curious way it seems easier than the life-long alternative. It's a one-shot deal with a guaranteed ending if you can hold on for just a little while. It is, in that way, like a sprint - one short burst of extreme pain and then, at the end, if you compete well, you garner that gold medal. It's short, glorious and when it's over you get the title of "World's Fastest" and your face on a cereal box, or in our case you get the title of Martyr and your name remembered in Masses until the end of time.

But really, how many of us are there out there who are built like that? No, we're here for the long haul. We are, in fact, race walking - putting one foot in front of the other time after time after sometimes painful time. Striding ever forward, sometimes dodging a puddle, a rock or a pothole and always trying to avoid drivers who have better things to do with their time is our call.

You know, maybe being a walker isn't so bad. The sprinter has his glory and his crown, is regaled in song and cereal box and meets his eternal destiny in the blink of an eye. His is an inspiration to a life that almost no one can attain because it is only through a gift of God that he was built that way to begin with. But the walker grinds through life and is met by many who, if he is doing his job, find their own inspiration to take up that walk and join on the road. Most of us will never be championship sprinters, but we are all called to walk the narrow path.