“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Throughout my training for the first serious race I ever ran, a half-marathon during my senior year at Conception Seminary College, these words from the Epistle to the Hebrews were posted above my desk, along with a sheet that detailed the daily workouts I ran in order to prepare for the race itself. As I crossed off each workout I completed, I could say that for that particular day, I had run with perseverance the race set before me. Getting back to my room after a long run and crossing off the workout always brought with it a great joy even in the midst of physical exhaustion. I didn’t know what the next day or the next week would bring, but that day I knew that I had done what I set out to do.
Training for the Chicago Marathon over the past ten months has brought a similar, but more intense experience. I started small, with a few miles a day for four or five days per week, and gradually built my way up to running 20 miles a few weeks ago, the longest I will run before the 26.2-mile race on Sunday, October 7. If you would have asked me if I thought I could run 20 miles a year ago, I would have told you no way. Yet, here I am, about to run my first marathon. The journey to this point was a long one, marked by early mornings, gallons of sweat, a good amount of pain, and even a few runs stopped short for lack of willpower. But it was one that I was able to finish because I took it one day, one mile, one step at a time, simply running with perseverance the race that was set before me each day.
To me, this is a beautiful life lesson that can easily be applied to things like vocational discernment, formation for the priesthood, and even more simply the daily routine of prayer. Running has become an integral part of my routine that I look forward to with anticipation and joy. This discipline I have taken up has formed me and made me not only a better athlete, but a better man as well. And I can apply this discipline to everything, to my priestly formation as well as my daily life of prayer and study. Looking toward the end of the semester or the future of life as a diocesan priest can be frightening, as I see all of the tests, papers, and other obligations, as well as my own faults and weaknesses that appear too much for me to overcome. But I know that if I can run with perseverance the race set before me today, keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus, everything is going to be alright.
The icing on the cake of this process has been running for something bigger than myself, specifically, the Our Lady of the Angels Mission maintained by the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, some of whom take classes with us here at Mundelein. Sister Stephanie Baliga organizes a team each year to run the Chicago Marathon and raise money for the Mission, which serves the poor and needy in their neighborhood in the city of Chicago. It has been wonderful to run united in prayer and fundraising with the sisters and all of the members of Team OLA, including a couple other Mundelein students.
As the marathon approaches, I am full of excitement and ready to go, to run the race set before me one more time. Please pray for me and for the other Mundelein residents who are running – Father Michael Metz (Mundelein c/o 2018, Archdiocese of Atlanta) and Colin Patrick (Pre-Theology II, Atlanta) – as well as the Franciscan Sisters who do such beautiful work in the city, that we may all persevere in the marathon as well as in our own vocations, running the race set before us one day, one mile, one step at a time.