THIS BLOG POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MY CLIENTS-ONLY NEWSLETTER FROM 2016. I'M DUSTING IT OFF FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION, AND WILL FOLLOW IT WITH SOME OTHER ARCHIVE ARTICLES AS WELL. ENJOY!
I don’t know about you, but I love watching the Olympics. Just knowing that God built the human body to perform such amazing, graceful and grueling tasks is a wonder in itself: that anyone would train so hard and dedicate so much of their life to pushing their bodies to these extremes is totally beyond me. If you’ve been watching in Rio, you’ll know that Michael Phelps has been the center of a lot of attention. At the age of 31 (a total geezer by Olympian standards), he is not only still competing on the world stage, he is better than ever. The secret to his success? Training. Lots of training, coupled with a renewed sense of purpose, something he attributed to the intervention of long-time friend Ray Lewis and a little book called “The Purpose-Driven Life.”
This combination of pure talent, perseverance in training and a reason to persevere all make Michael Phelps arguably the best Olympic athlete of all time.
In the ancient world (the world of the first Olympiad!), athletes were lauded not only as individual victors; they were celebrated as heroes of their entire families and city-states. The honor they won for themselves translated to honor for all. It is no wonder, then, that the warrior (the practical profession for an athlete) was lauded by Homer as the exemplar of virtue: to put it simply, the warrior was the greatest specimen of mankind. This is because the warrior-athlete not only relies on his natural talents, but he commits himself to training--to the cultivation of perfection. This training was called askesis, in the Greek, and was picked up in very interesting ways by the early Christian Church.
In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes:
“Therefore, I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it a slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:26-27)
Here, Paul likens his Christian life to that of an athlete, who not only coaches others (through preaching), but also disciplines his own body so that he can emerge victorious in the test. He uses this metaphor again when he writes to Timothy towards the end of his life, saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7) Just as the athlete trains and then tests his preparation in a boxing match or in a race, the Christian trains body and soul and then is tested through the practice of the faith.
Christina has been an NFP instructor in the Boston Cross Check Method since 2013. She is on a mission to change conversations about body literacy and NFP within the Catholic Church, through innovative lifelong body literacy programming and support... plus apparently this blog.