Run to Win: Weekly Message for 02-21-2020

Dear Friends in Christ,

I hope you are having a prayerful week. You’d better be. This week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, concluding with the Feast of St. Paul’s Conversion this Saturday, and tomorrow is the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children in the United States as preparation for the March for Life on Friday. We always have plenty of intentions for which to pray, but also plenty of things for which to strive.

A few miles away from the basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome is a quiet Trappist Abbey known as the Tre Fontane (Three Fountains) Abbey. When I go there, a little off the beaten path, I feel connected to two things: the past, just from the antiquity that is palpable there, and the fact that life is like a race. We prepare for it, we give up some things for it, and seek others, and when the moment comes—it could be high school, it could be college, it could be one of any number of life changing events—we fix our eyes on the prize and run as straight and fast as we can, relying on everything we are, thanks to our training and discipline, everything we were, and everything we hope to be as a result of how we live life today.

I think of races and finish lines at the Tre Fontane Abbey because it is one of the greatest finish lines of salvation history. A race of 2,500 miles by foot and 3,800 miles by ship. A race started with a stone thrown at Jerusalem and finished with a martyrdom on the site of that Abbey. The stone’s throw, like the pistol shot of a race, was aimed at St. Stephen, around 35 A.D., and as the other stones followed, the outraged Jews of Palestine piled their cloaks at the feet of a young Jew named Saul who was on fire to defend his God, convinced the Christians were blaspheming him (see Acts 7:58-60). Saul set out on his race to win justice for God, a noble prize, but he set out in the wrong direction. 

God is willing to do dramatic things to put runners back on track. In Saul’s case he was about as blunt as the Bible gets: struck down and blinded while on the way to Damascus to seize and arrest Christians (see Acts 9:1-9). The feast of Saul’s conversion into St. Paul this Saturday commemorates that moment where God turned his racer in the right direction to win.

After baptism, Paul went for a time to pray in the Arabian desert, then returned to Damascus and started preaching the Gospel. The situation became so dangerous he had to be lowered in a basket outside the wall to escape death by the Jews. That didn’t stop him from continuing the race: he made three documented missionary journeys from 45-61 A.D., arriving at the end in Rome as a prisoner waiting to make an appeal to Caesar, and presumably made a fourth journey when released from his Rome imprisonment around 63 A.D. Where he traveled for his fourth “leg” of the race is unclear, but he was arrested again in Rome and beheaded in 67 or 68 A.D. His head bounced three times, and a fountain sprang up on each spot, hence the name Tre Fontane and the Abbey on the spot where he finished his race on this earth.

Paul told his protégé, Timothy, that he saw his life as a race and believed he had run it well (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6-7). He encouraged us all to see life as a race for eternity, a race in which we needed to run in order to win: “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win” (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). He knew winning was not a given because he remembered long ago when, as Saul, he ran in the wrong direction. We can each ask ourselves if we are running to win. That means not only running but running in the right direction. As Paul teaches us, “I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-16).

Our retreat guide, Christ Alone is Enough, will give you more tips from St. Paul on running to win.

May you run to win not only this week but every week. The finish is all that counts.

Father Nikola Derpich, L.C.
Online Classroom Manager

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