Last weekend, my son ran and competed in the state finals for track. What struck me most were those who finished the race at the back. They had qualified. They had been the best of the best, either by time, or by place in other races. Finishing last, when you’re used to being first, takes something gritty. Something more. They reminded me by their perseverance, even in the long seconds after everyone else finished, of the reality of our reality. 

We’re not called to be constantly in a state of euphoria, or to be physically, mentally, socially, emotionally and otherwise perfect at all times everywhere, such that anything other than epic in all experiences constitutes a failure to thrive. However, it’s so easy to believe, we should never suffer, we should never struggle, we should never weather storms. We get used to success and get seduced by prosperity, such that it seems to us that it should always be bigger and better, more and more. Running all-out when you finish last takes courage and graciousness and humility. It’s hard, and it hurts, but it reveals something precious, a soul that will not quit. 

In Saint Louis Marie de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary, he speaks of “dying to ourselves daily,” and “renouncing the operation of the powers of our soul and the senses of our body.” Watching these athletes running, I know they’ve ignored pain, weather, fatigue and frustration. They’ve given up hours of time and made it this far, only to be denied. Now, the value of that sacrifice will be in their conditioning, in their having made it this far, and in what comes in the years ahead. Now the merit of their workout ethics will manifest itself in self-discipline in other areas of life, in addition to sports. For my own son, the running itself is the joy — and the not winning, I suspect, reminded him of this reality. He loves it because he loves it. He runs because he could not do otherwise.

In our own spiritual race, are we about the business of collecting trophies and ribbons, or are we about finishing strong, having given everything, regardless of how we place? Are we dying to ourselves daily? Or are we standing upon our rights, to be heard, to be honored, to be recognized, to be celebrated, to be served?  

Our society recognizes winners, first places, personal records and world beaters. It does not recognize Our Lord. When we let ourselves focus on the world, we become rather like the disciples after Christ died, not always able to recognize Jesus because our eyes are not looking for Him, but rather focused on the needs and cares of this world. 

But Our Lord recognizes who we are, and calls us to Him. By the grace of God we recognize His voice, and respond, for He welcomes each of us who runs to Him.