Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

The Longest Run (Yet)

A bit over a week ago, while getting ready for the weekend before last's sixteen mile run, I received an unexpected phonecall from a friend who is currently in basic training with the Maryland Army National Guard. We caught up for a bit, and being without email, he had no idea that I am training for a marathon. I told him that I was doing so, and that on the evening of the following day, I would run sixteen miles.

"Why?" he asked, in the tone of voice that conveys complete befuddlement, complete lack of reference point. It was as if I'd told him I planned on flooding my basement with tomato juice. He was being made to run five or seven miles daily, with a rucksack loaded with cumbersome equipment and in boots, I imagine. Plus, this particular friend hates running in the first place. His "why," if it meant anything, meant, "Why would someone voluntarily subject himself to THAT!" My own reason seemed so obvious to me for so long that I had ceased to think of it, and now, asked for one, was clueless. I don't like being clueless, especially about things I should know, so I just shifted the topic and asked how his weekend leave was going.

The answer haunted me. I had had an answer at one point - even several of them. But now, it seemed inarticulable, maybe even unreal. I ran the sixteen miles the next night, with my unflappably adventurous roommate, Tom, joining me for the first twelve. We laughed and goofed around afterwards, and had an overall good time. That's a reason. That's most of why I ran in high school and college, but it's not exactly a WHY.

Well, yesterday afternoon I had a brief conversation with a friend of mine from South Dakota. He is a priest and promised to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for me that evening, and I returned the favor in my meager way by promising to offer last night's run for him - my own little sacrifice. As I ran, mile after mile, I could feel the effects of pavement pounding, first on the ankles, then the knees and hips, and then the back. That's OK, I thought, because I can ice those joints afterwards, and they'll be good as new. I felt a new pain I never felt before, in my ankle. It was lower than what I think is a gradually developing case of Achilles' tendonitis, right at the heel, and sharp, although not that bad, and only momentarily popping up every mile or so. I studied the pain carefully - almost always on uphills, often just after or during a turn... hmm... maybe it was the same Achilles tendon after all.Ice has been holding it at bay so far, and perhaps still will. By mile fourteen I was fatiguing a bit. The sugar laden gel packs with gulps of water I was consuming every six miles helped, but I still needed to dig in and just keep on keepin' on. By mile sixteen, I was just keepin' on, and that's it. One foot in front of another. At about that point I came to the last long hill - it felt like thirty six mile straight up, but is probably about half a mile at a 10% grade - still no mean hill. Though I was making running-like movements, I am convinced that a well-rested great-grandma with a walker could have passed me.

Then I had my answer, sometime during my seventeen. I was running because it was hard, and painful. Lance Armstrong has said, "Pain is temporary, but quitting lasts forever." With due deference, I wish to amend his words.

Pain is temporary,
but glory is eternal.

That's a lesson from Calvary if I ever heard one. My friend was offering for me, as I ran and trudged, Jesus' Holy Sacrifice on Calvary. And as he offered that exquisite sacrificial Lamb, God's first and best fruit, I offered my own poor, best fruit for him. "That's the reason," I remembered. I want to help the Church in Washington DC to prepare men for the priesthood so that those men can help lead us to Jesus and bring Jesus to us. Something happened in me then. Seeing... no, feeling... in some small way how mile eighteen could fit into the Grand Scheme of the Universe made it so easy to overcome all the nagging reservations about how seventeen miles was enough for one night, about how tired I was, about my ankles, or that weird pain in the heel. I felt taken up and drawn into something larger than myself, although I won't exaggerate and say that I felt lifted up or bouyant. But I did every single step of eighteen miles, and averaged 30 sec/mi faster than I need to break four hours on the marathon.

The Goo Packs, those little sugary concoctions with electrolytes designed to require no real digestion, coincidentally made me think of the Holy Eucharist this morning as I ate breakfast. I don't think our Blessed Lord will be offended by the analogy. The Goo Packs gave me nourishment for a hard journey in progress, and a small taste of this finish line. In the Eucharist, our Blessed Lord feeds us on His own flesh, to sustain us on the hard journey of loving each other as He loves us, and to give us a taste of the finish line. Of course, the analogy breaks down as they all do: Goo Packs aren't necessary for a runner, but I don't see how a Christian can manage without the Eucharist; also, life is more important than marathoning, and the Eucharist is infinitely more powerful and precious than Goo, even vanilla flavored Goo. But I think you get the point.

Next weekend I get a rest - my long-distance run will only be 14 miles. Then will come the longest run of the training regimen: twenty miles. And thanks, by the way, to those of you who are helping me to help the Church to help the People of God get to the Kingdom. Let me know how I can help you do the same.

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