March 4, 2014
Did you watch any of the Olympics? Each of the events was so very impressive as contestants pushed themselves to perform at their personal best. I found myself remembering the admonition with which St. Ignatius Loyola encouraged those who joined his work in the Jesuit order -- that they should engage themselves in their work “for the greater glory of God.” Certainly all of our work should be undertaken as an opportunity to give honor to God. St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century reminded us that the glory of God is man fully alive. So, when we are doing our best, as those Olympian athletes, we are giving God the highest praise and pleasure.
Ignatius’ urging also holds within it the encouragement to strive for what is “greater.” He wants us to push ourselves to even greater purpose and achievement. Our personal best yesterday should be exceeded by our personal best today. Our goal should always be to push the boundaries of our capability, ever so gently and incrementally, but nonetheless persistently, so to live into the possibilities imagined in the mind of God for us.
One of the greatest metaphors of this spiritual attitude came to me as I watched American figure skater Jeremy Abbott’s fall during his short program singles routine. He did not leave enough space for the quadruple toe loop and failed to fully rotate, resulting in a hard fall to the ice. After a few agonizing seconds when it was almost certain he would not continue his program and withdraw from the competition, he had the amazing grace to get up and, certainly painfully but with great precision, skate his personal best performance. Not only was that a demonstration of psychological and physical courage and strength, but it was an admirable expression of a certain indomitable spirit that lies within all of us to keep on pressing toward ever greater accomplishment.
This week we celebrate Ash Wednesday, the start of the liturgical time of Lent. Traditionally this 40-day period before Easter is time to engage more assiduously in the discipline of our spiritual lives. Just as the Olympian athletes engage in a rigorous regimen of conditioning and training, so must we consciously and actively submit ourselves to the development and refinement of virtue. Someone once remarked to the golf great Arnold Palmer that he made the game look so easy. He responded that it took a lot of hard work and practice to make it look easy. A life of honesty, integrity and compassion for others does not come automatically; it requires the hard work of reflection, changing patterns of behavior, picking ourselves up after stumbling, and trying again and again. That’s the discipline of striving for greater realization of the potential of being fully alive and living into the incomparable and enchanting love of God.
Maybe you will seize the opportunity presented by this upcoming 6-week symbolic period to get into better shape, to become more alert to those situations that compromise your ability to reach and exceed your personal best, and to exercise the restraint and reorganization that promotes both your incredible potential and that of those around you.
Vice President, Mission Integration
Saint Thomas Health