Religion Column — The race

Published 7:00 am Saturday, January 12, 2019

By Fr. Jonathan Filkins

Some years ago, a prestigious group gathered for a test of skill, proficiency and performance. These were not your average athletes, for they were competing in an Olympics. Now, some would say they were not average, but they were below average, as their perceived challenges were often viewed as handicaps. These were the early years of the Special Olympics.

In order to compete, they had to be challenged with some physical, or mental difficulty. The gathering attracted the halt, the maimed and those with intellectual deficits. Each came with their limitations, yet each carried very special gifts; most especially the gift of caring.

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On that balmy summer day, the foot racers assembled on the university’s track; in the day when the turf was cinder; not like the rubbery surface we find now. Each participant waited anxiously for the starter’s gun. At hearing the shot, they began their pursuit at victory, as each eyed the starting line in the distance.

Some moved rather quickly, while others fought their predilections and moved haltingly along. Each was trying their very best. Soon, gaps began to appear between the competitors, as the “crunch, crunch,” of their footfalls echoed into the viewing stands. Noticed now for the ever-growing distance between them, the runner in the last position began to struggle. The crowd cheered in support. Yet, all of their enthusiasm could not prevent what would happen next.

A deathly silence fell across that stadium, as that thin, frail, malformed body tripped and fell into those volcanic cinders. A collective, audible gasp arose from all the observers. As silence reigned, the other runners stopped in their tracks and looked back. Now, it no longer mattered who won the race, as one of their own had fallen along the path. Collectively, they went to their comrade. As a whole, they assisted in returning their fellow athlete to their embrace and shared concern. Each, locking arm-in-arm, walked slowly to the finishing line; crossing as one. The crowd was ecstatic with the joy of this expression of love, for another. This act transcended the Games themselves, for there were no losers, as they all finished in first place.

Yes, we too are running a race. It is this race called “life.” If those, who we often identify as having limited intellects, can show such compassion, it begs the question, “Why do we, who have a broader range of capabilities, so often fail to see the race to be run before us?”

Saint Paul, in writing to the Church in Corinth, said, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?” Here, he is telling us of our race, as it is our own race and we are running it, inevitably, alone. Yet, our prize relies upon the support of those running their own races too. In other words, we too may stumble and fall. Perhaps, we may come to know others who have fallen along the way.

There are those among us, perhaps even ourselves, where winning the all-important earthly race is paramount. They may assure themselves that what comes afterwards does not matter; if they believe in an afterlife at all. There are, also among us, those who place a far greater value upon the race which is being conducted for another, less-earthly, reason. Most of us fall in the middle, somewhere. It is all a matter of choice, and the decision to sooth a fallen fellow runner, or not, shall have a most lasting effect.