In the days leading up to the race, the Holy Spirit led me to find much more meaning in my running. Since this year was the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, I was able to learn a lot about the message that Our Lady delivered to those three shepherd children. One of the messages she gave them was to offer up small sacrifices for sinners. Over the course of my training, inspired by the message of our Lady, I tried to give new meaning to my running by offering up each mile for the needs of the world and other people in my life. This was sometimes quite the challenge, because when I got really tired it was a struggle to think about anything other than the discomfort I was experiencing. The Tuesday before running the marathon was the feast day of St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the great martyrs and Fathers of the Church. I was greatly inspired by a passage I read from his letter to the Romans. As he prepared for his execution (he was killed by wild beasts) he said “I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread.” His firm resolve to give everything over to the Lord moved me. I began to look at the marathon as my own sort of mini-martyrdom, an exercise in giving myself over to God through great physical suffering.
When I was running the marathon, I found an uncanny amount of parallels to the spiritual life, with all of its ups and downs. The first 18 miles of the race flew by. I felt like I was on top of the world, like nothing could stand in my way. Then mile 19 came along, and I wasn’t quite so positive. By the time I got to mile 21, I didn’t think I was going to make it. I was in so much pain that I was about to stop and walk, when another runner offered me some words of encouragement, giving me a much needed boost in morale. When I entered into the final stretch, I was given another boost by all the people cheering on the sides, especially my family.
All of these experiences have close connections to the spiritual life. Our life here on earth is not a sprint, but a marathon. Sometimes God makes Himself known to us very evidently in prayer. In these times of consolation, prayer is easy. There are other times, however, when God seems distant. We feel like we are alone, and that we won’t be able to make it. But when we turn to God in our time of need and persist in faith, He reaches out to us and touches us in prayer and the Sacraments, giving us the strength we need to journey on. We also have the Saints in heaven cheering us on and interceding for us as we approach our finish line. Around mile 22 I grabbed some water from one of the water stations, and I couldn’t help but think about what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well: “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4: 13-14). As I approached the end of the race, my thoughts were drawn to the joys that await us in heaven. This life is far from easy, but when we open ourselves up to receive the true water that comes from Christ, He will satisfy all of our deepest longings.