Fire from Within
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

The Beijing Olympics is said to be the most watched Olympics. We have witnessed the struggles and victories of the best athletes in the world. New records have been made and we marvel at how a human being can push himself and tap his inner resources to become a winner. A case in point is the swimming event. Mark Spitz’ record of seven gold medals is finally exceeded by Phelps’ eight-gold achievement.

Action starter: What drives you through life?

We admire and wonder at the talent, discipline, and will-to-win of these athletes. We saw them in their moment of glory. What we did not see were their struggles and sacrifices as they prepared for the Olympics. No one among these winners crammed for the event. In many instances, they have been training for years, even from childhood, to develop the stamina, strength, speed, and finesse that were necessary to become the best in the world. As any good coach knows, an athlete must have talent and natural abilities. But that is not enough. There must be discipline and fire from within. It is the inner dynamism that makes a winner.

The same is true in matters of discipleship. St. Paul who must have seen or heard about the earlier Olympiads and describes it:

All the runners at the stadium are trying to win, but only one of them gets the prize. You must run in the same way, meaning to win. All the fighters at the games go into strict training; they do this just to win a wreath that will wither away, but we do it for a wreath that will never wither” (1 Cor. 9:25).

The readings this Sunday speak of the attitude of the friend of God. A friend of God like Jeremiah the prophet is not spared from troubles. Oftentimes he is in trouble because of his closeness to God. He may feel like giving up the work assigned to him but an inner fire drives him. Jeremiah describes his troubles, “The word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart” (Jer. 20:9). He feels driven to do what God wants. In the second reading, St. Paul challenges the early disciples to be counter-cultural and thus unpopular, “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect.

Jesus did not mince words when he challenged Peter and the apostles, “If a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and begin to follow in my footsteps” (Mt. 16:24). This does not seem to be a good recruitment speech but compare it to that of an Olympic coach giving this imaginary inspirational talk to his athletes in training, “ I am not promising you a bed of roses. In fact, I will make your life miserable. You will have to wake up early and spend hours in practice. You will live with aches and pains. You will not have much of a social life. You will suffer. But in the end, you will win.”

Like Peter, Paul and Jeremiah we are participants in the Olympiad of life. It is the love of God that urges us. It is the fire within.