The Emmy award Movie classic of the
early 80’s “Chariots of Fire” can teach us numerous lessons in our pursuit of
Christ and the attainment of holiness and the prize of eternal life!
Among the many memorable scenes was
the fall and resurrection of Eric Liddle in the 400 meters. Remember that 400 meters is one lap around
the track, considered a sprint that is often won by split seconds!
Go! The four athletes take off like
a lightning bolt! However, something
tragic that will turn to victory
occurs! Eric Liddle, the honor and glory
of Scotland, who is running at the edge of the track, is elbowed by the
adjacent runner. The force of the nudge
results in Liddle’s cascading to the ground!
The critical moment! What will the fallen athlete decide? Bemoan has bad luck, give into despair and
accept defeat, throw in the towel and hope for a sunny day in the near future---
none of these ever crossed this trained and well-disciplined athlete’s mind!
As the crowds and his arch-enemy,
Harold Abraham’s peer down on the fallen runner, Liddle courageously rises, not
wasting a split-second, and energizes his mind, body, and spirit to meet the
challenge! Although way behind, miracles
are indeed possible to those who trust in God and give themselves totally to
His holy will!
Almost immediately he catches one and
passes him and then another, but still there is the last—the one who knocked
him down-- to reach and surpass! With a
superhuman exertion of the will, Liddle reaches and beats his opponent,
breaking the rope, collapsing under near exhaustion and inhaling and
heaving! Triumph! Victory! Glory!
In the eyes of a shocked crowd and
before the envy of his arch-enemy, Harold Abrahams, Eric Liddle, the glory and crown of Scotland,
proved that victory can be attained despite huge obstacles, even that of
falling and losing those precious seconds that for sprinters seem to be years!
How can this short but poignant
episode taken from the Movie Classic, “Chariots of Fire” influence our own
journey, race, and battle in our pursuit of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
Interesting to note is that St. Paul
more than once uses sports images and analogies to explain Scriptural truths.
Remember that the Olympic Games in Greece were started even before the birth of
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Paul challenges us to run the good
race and to fight the good fight—that of boxing. Furthermore, he reminds us
that the prize is not some perishable crown of leaves that will wither, fade
and disappear in time. Rather, the prize
is imperishable and this prize is nothing less than the crown of glory that our
King and Lord has in store for his athletes who run the race to the end and
fight valiantly against the enemies of the devil, the flesh and the world. In sum, the valiant athletes of Christ have
their well-merited crown awaiting them in Heaven!
St. Ignatius, sinner by birth,
soldier by profession, converted through the grace of God at the battle of Pamplona,
he can teach us the meaning of falling and rising--- this means, living out the
Paschal mystery of Jesus, His Passion, death and Resurrection!
As Eric Liddle fell on the race
course and rose to great heights as a star Olympic runner, so Ignatius of
Loyola who had fallen away from the right path, and had chosen a life of
vanity, sensuality and sin—some authors state that he probably broke all of the
commandments--- would rise through humble admission of sin, confession of sin,
the undertaking of severe penance and the decision to follow in the footsteps
of the athletes of Christ, the saints!
After Ignatius’ conversion at
Pamplona and his confession in Montserrat, he was ready to receive form the
hands of Mary in Manresa the blueprint for the Spiritual Exercises. The saint compares physical exercises to
spiritual exercises. Both demand
discipline, determination, and perseverance until the final tape is broken and
eternal life attained!
OUR LIVES IN THE LIGHT OF FALLING AND
Eric Liddle could have justified his
loss, complained to the judges, or even cursed out his opponent runner who evidently elbowed him
to the ground possibly disqualifying this runner. Instead, the star athlete
said nothing but proved the sterling quality of his interior life by his
actions. Up, supreme effort, courage to
the heights, trust to the limits---Liddle won the race!
St. Ignatius could have complained to
God, cursed out at his own soldiers, and
still more hated the French army that shot the cannon ball that all but
eliminated both of his legs. But quite
the contrary, his falling in battle, wounded body and spirit, paved the way to
a new life! Ignatius would rise from the
dust of earthly defeat and follow the Lord of Lord and King of Kings, inspired
and motivated by the saints, God’s champion athletes. “If Dominic can do it, so can I! If Francis could do it, then so can I!”
Shakespeare summed it up concisely:
“To err is human, to forgive is divine.”
Being cut of the same mold of all
of humanity, we all indeed are sinners. However, there is an important
difference between sinners--- those who relish and cling to their sins—and the
saints. Both fall into sin. However, the
unrepentant sinner sinks in the mud unwilling to rise up. The saint falls but
is unwilling to stay in the mud of his own sin.
Like the fallen runner, Eric Liddle,
we have one of two alternatives. We can
either stay down and sink deeper and deeper into our own moral misery or we can
rebound, bounce-back, and return to the Lord with a more intense love, due to
our trust in His Infinite mercy. As the
man who was converted from Saul to St. Paul clearly wrote for all to read and
meditate until the end of time, “Where sin abounds, the mercy of God abounds
all the more.” May God’s mercy triumph in our lives!
May the elbowed and fallen “Eric
Liddle” in us rise to sublime heights of
holiness. Jesus said to St. Faustina
Kowalska that the greatest sinners can truly be the greatest saints, if they
only trust. Fallen? Get up! Rise!
Run! The Lord has the crown of glory
waiting for you!