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Elizabeth Reardon takes a closer look at St. Paul's famous comparison of the Christian life to a race.

Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize?
Run so as to win.
Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)


In this passage, St. Paul reminds the community at Corinth, as well, that our Christian life has a goal and many choices that require discipline and sacrifice. Within Corinth, meat that had not been offered to pagan idols in the temples was a scarce commodity. Tables were even set in the temples for sale and consumption after the offering had been made. Even the origin of the meat in the marketplace was suspect, though a less obvious connection. For Christians strong in the faith, eating this meat most likely would not thwart them in their spiritual journey as it would not hold the same religious significance. For weaker ones or those new to the faith, however, it might serve as a temptation to return to a previous life.

Here our freedom is weighed against a greater good and a responsibility to God and others is brought front and center in the Christian life. While partaking in the temple meat might not effect their own commitment, it would be seen and quite possibly be misunderstood by newer Christians. Seeing their presence within the pagan temple, they would be conveying that it is possible to practice both religions or be too great an inducement to revert. It would be better, in St. Paul's view, for a Christian to abstain altogether.

If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my recompense? (1 Corinthians 9:17-18a)


St. Paul speaks too in this passage about the exercise of his right to accept a salary for preaching or of taking a wife. While it certainly was common practice among clergy at the time and would have been accepted, St. Paul felt it ran counter to the conditioning and perspective he needed for the course ahead. Rather than receiving "recompense" now, St. Paul looked to the hope and promise of eternal life and an "imperishable" crown as his sole reward. St. Paul viewed his acceptance of the call to preach the Gospel as a graced responsibility and a stewardship which he felt compelled to follow over any perceived right others thought he had.

These rights would come second to the task of being "all things to all people" in the desires to win hearts and minds for God. Yet, to clarify, this does not mean that the message of the Gospel changed but St. Paul sought to walk the walk, and understand the spiritual journey of others from their perspective. St. Paul then became able to reach out and share the Gospel with the broken, the weak, those under the law and those unaware of it altogether.


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Just as we have a responsibility not to purposefully lead another to sin, we also have an obligation to live out the Christian life so well as to help lead one another to heaven. #catholicmom


Perhaps as you read this you are wondering, "I don't feel that same obligation to share my faith, why deny myself the freedom to exercise my personal rights? Why should I be responsible for my brother and sister in Christ? I live a good life—isn't that all God asks of each one of us?" St. Paul would answer, I believe, that your journey as a Christian is not yours alone. Just as we have a responsibility not to purposefully lead another to sin, we also have an obligation to live out the Christian life so well as to help lead one another to heaven. Our life here on earth is truly a race, not a walk around the block.

Thus I do not run aimlessly ... No, I drive my body and train it (1 Corinthians 9:26a, 27a)


Filled with struggles and sacrifices, or conversely with blessings and comforts we may come to believe that the race itself isn't desirable at all. And why should we? Rather than see sacrifice as a bit of spiritual conditioning to re-train our minds and hearts we avoid sacrifice and anything that disturbs our comfort at all costs. Ever have a problem that you sought to avert only to have it reoccur because it was left unaddressed? Or with this same problem in mind, instead you leaned in with prayer and faith and then were able to help others in similar circumstances? We may even come to recognize through this training that we are falling into the same trap and be able to quickly start the work necessary to get into spiritual shape.

Today, if you feel that you simply aren't up to running a race, take heart you will never be running the race alone.

If you are finding yourself running in circles, take a moment to pray and reflect where a tuneup might be needed to right the course ahead.

And if you are stuck in a comfortable place and content to sit at the pit stop, ask yourself that in any race worth running ... why not run to win?



Copyright 2022 Elizabeth Reardon
Images: Canva