August 29, 2008
Go for Gold!
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 16:21-27 “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.”
Beijing Olympics ended last Sunday with a big bang at the Bird’s Nest. It was participated by 204 countries and a total of 10,500 athletes competed in 302 events in 28 sports. The Games saw 43 new world records and 132 new Olympic records set. A record 87 countries won medals during the Games. Chinese hauled 51 gold medals and a total of 100 medals. USA brought home 110 medals, 36 of them are gold. American swimmer Michael Phelps broke the records with 8 gold.
Aside from China, Asians did well in Beijing. South Korea and Japan ranked 8th and 11th in the overall medal count with a haul of 31 and 25 medals respectively. What was sad was the performance of the Philippines compared to Southeast Asian neighbours. Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and even Vietnam had some medals to be proud of. Our 15 athletes went home bringing nothing for our country. After 84 years of joining the Olympics, the Philippines remained gold less.
Why winning the gold so hard for us? Expect Olympic “who to blame” game this week. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago started rolling the ball, “The poor performance of our athletes in the Olympics is not due to bad genetics but the government’s lack of concern for the development of a comprehensive program in the area of sports. Olympics should not only be enjoyed but also taken seriously.”
In our gospel today, Jesus started revealing the secret of his glory which is far from the mind of the disciples when he said that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” (Matthew 16:21) It was totally opposite to the common idea of a “winner” and so Peter rebuked him and said, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Peter failed to see the value of suffering and sacrifice. He wanted a “quick fix” and “easy road” to victory and glory.
Victory cannot be won by taking the shortcuts. Victories or “gold” in life are the fruits of faithful carrying of our cross - those boring, uneventful and unnoticed daily routines and struggles in life. We see Phelps in his glorious moment of receiving the gold medal eight times, but we did not see him spending hours and days in a swimming pool for four years after winning gold in Athens 2004 Olympics. I am sure he will be back soon to the pool to prepare for the London 2012 Olympics. Chinese gymnasts underwent years and years of training in preparation for Beijing Olympics. No to shortcuts. Be faithful to your daily training. No to junk food. Be passionate. Winning an Olympic gold is not a matter of luck and genetics; it is a matter of perseverance, passion and sacrifice.
Seven-time Tour de France champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong wrote, “I’ve read that I flew up the hills and mountains of France. But you don’t fly up a hill. You struggle slowly and painfully... and maybe, if you work very hard, you get to the top ahead of everybody else.” That’s how to win gold.
When Jesus scolded Peter with the words, “Get behind me, Satan!” It is not that Jesus called Peter a Satan. Rather through his intervention Peter continues the Satan’s intervention, to find a short cut to the mission of Jesus, namely to be unfaithful to the will of the Father to save the world by suffering and dying on the cross. Jesus wants victory over sin and our salvation, but not via shortcuts. An Olympian runner may win the gold via abuse of performance enhancing drug; he may grab the gold and gain admiration from the crowd but not from himself and God. Without pain there is no real glory.
Temptation is basically the devil’s offering of an easy shortcut – an easy road to glory with no blocks, no detours and no traffic. But life is not like that – it has its own challenges, detours, and delays; and that’s the only way to victory.
Five years ago, a friend of mine who owns a big bakery in Manila employed his youngest son as a working student. The son assisted the chief baker and prepared the dough. At first, the son resented the idea of working in their own bakery. He found it humiliating and a waste of time. Now he understands the value of hard work when his father made him the new manager of the bakery.
We admire students topping the bar exams, but God knows how much they denied themselves of many things just to spend more time to study. We envy our neighbour harvesting mangoes from their backyard; they planted trees many years ago while we did not. We feel hopeless that peace in Mindanao still eludes us. But did we exert extra effort to do something for peace? We complained a lot in our family but we don’t do anything. We are observers and not doers. We love to harvest but we don’t want to plant. We want gold but we don’t work hard for it.
Dr. Michael DeBakey, the pioneering heart surgeon who performed more than 60,000 cardiovascular procedures, trained more than 1,000 surgeons, received 50 honorary degrees and died at 99 years old said, “When you think of life as a living, active process, I don’t think it’s a pleasurable activity unless you have some challenge in that life – no matter what it is, I think, in a way, that is the philosophy of life.”
Peter, in his desire to protect Jesus from the suffering and dying on cross, failed to see that Jesus’ road to glory will be in doing menial things: washing the feet of others, wiping the tears of the lonely, visiting the sinners, consoling the abandoned, being with the poor and ultimately, dying on the cross!
Today’s Gospel calls us to walk the same difficult road with Jesus. ““Whoever wishes to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). To win life’s gold, Jesus ask us to dedicate our lives in serving and loving others, even if involves rejection, pain and self-denial.
St. Paul even exhorts us to run and win the race: “Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27).
A prisoner in Bilibid once told me, “Ngayon ko lang naunawaan na mas mabuting pakainin ko ang pamilya ko ng tuyo o sardinas na galing sa aking pawis, kaysa sa pakainin ko sila ng lechon na galing naman sa masamang gawain.”
No too shortcuts. Deny yourself and carry your cross. Just do it!
That’s how to win gold.
Fr.Willy M. Samson,SJ
Ateneo de Zamboanga
August 31, 2008