Reading – 9:24-25
Feast of Saint Valentine
Is it possible to make a connection between this reading and today’s celebration of Saint Valentine? Let’s see:
In a race, Paul tells us, there are many participants but ultimately only one winner, a reality that both agrees with the Western and especially American ideal of individualism and clashes with the popular movement to recognize and affirm all people as winners for, at the very least, being people. What should we think of it? Rather than trying to apply Paul’s expression of “running the race” to society and thus critique it, let’s examine how his words can illumine the person of Jesus Christ and our relationship with him.
In the race of salvation, humanity has had the tendency to show up late to the event, ignore the starting whistle, shuffle its feet once started, and generally get stuck near the starting line. A lot of people have striven strenuously to reach the finish line, but, by their own power, have not been able to do so. Many have become lost, unsure of where the finish actually lies and, perhaps, scared of what comes after it. In the whole human race, there has only ever been one true winner: Jesus Christ. Fully divine and fully human, Jesus opened his ears, eyes, heart, and soul completely to God, following the directions and guidance of the Divine throughout the whole course of his life. Jesus reached the finish, not by depending on himself or seeking his own end but rather by allowing God to completely motivate and drive him. His victory, achieved not for his sake, thus became a victory for all of us, from the beginning to the end of time.
Jesus accomplished the most daunting task in the race of salvation: actually finishing the race, marking the definitive path to communion with God, and opening a new pathway of mercy and guidance to us. As we now know, winning the race is as easy as letting God fill our entire being and guide our every movement – and also that difficult. Saying “yes” to God in every moment means sometimes ignoring the directions and actions that we think are best or that most people use; it also means plenty of bleak paths in addition to breathtaking vistas as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Moreover, saying “yes” will involve more than belief. True faith in and embrace of God will inevitably result in action expressing that faith and embrace and seeking to show others the open secret of winning the race. We want to show ourselves, others, and God that we truly trust in the path shown by Jesus, so we run it, mindful and yet heedless of all dangers and obstacles in our way. We realize and accept that we in all our toil and perspiration will never finish the race on our own; God has to and will bring us to the finish. In that very act of acceptance, we begin to strive every more eagerly for the finish, for God, simply because we want to be there already with God and to bring others with us.
The race is profoundly personal and social: we need others to help and to help us as conduits of God’s grace, points of refreshment and encouragement as we stay the course. As we run on the path of Jesus, we make progress due to the efforts of those who have come before us, but we also make the path firmer and clearer for those coming after us.
Those who have allowed God to coach them and run in and through them set further examples for us in the race of salvation. Named and unnamed, these are the saints, like Saint Valentine. In his own way, he raced toward God, motivating others in the past and present to do the same. Now past the finish line, he and the other saints call out encouragingly to us and listen to our joys and sorrows as we run the race, forming a divine support group that cheers God’s name to us and our names to God.
We can all win, each of us in our personal race toward God. This is possible, however, only through the presence and help of others and, most of all, the precedent and continuing aid of Jesus, the “one man” who definitively won the race and extended the crown of victory to us. O God, may we run with all our strength and all our being toward you each day, following in the path of Your Son and allowing you to bring us to the finish. Thank you.
So, there you have it: An actual, if somewhat tenuous, connection between tonight’s reading and Saint Valentine (not to mention Saints Cyril and Methodius, also celebrated today). Happy Valentine’s Day, reader. Know that God loves you, and extend that love to others! ~