A Catholic Who Tries
St. André Bessette, C.S.C. (1845-1937)

A Catholic Who Tries

I am that person. That person who says a serious thing in response to a Facebook post that is clearly intended to be humorous. I do not aspire to be this person, but here I am again. I love training for triathlon, though I have only raced once in the last couple of decades. I am a member of a wonderful triathlon group that is really supportive, especially of eternal newbies like myself.

Recently, a member posted a funny rant that she had seen in another group about the different personality types one finds in triathlon. It has the usual suspects – way too serious guy, huge muscle guy, new guy, etc. – but the final one prompted my serious hat to materialize on my head.

#10- EXCUSE MAKER GUY Nobody likes this guy. He finds an excuse for everything. He didn’t have a good swim because he got caught in a pack that was “working against him.” His bike [expletive deleted] because the course wasn’t marked well. His run was terrible because that new brand of body glide “bleeped.” This guy will displace blame for his poor performance every time. It has nothing to do with his pathetic training habits and weak mindset on race day. Don’t be this guy. Ever. It just so happens that this guy is also the Posts Every Workout on Social Media Guy. Enough said.

I live in fear of being this guy in both my training and my faith life. Life is complicated, and most of the time I do not live up to the goals I have set for myself. I don’t pray as deeply as I planned to. I don’t work out as hard as my schedule says to. I never sleep enough.  

I want to live according to Saint Augustine’s admonition to, “take care of your body like you’re going to live forever and take care of your soul like you’re going to die tomorrow.” But the urgent regularly overwhelms the important. And just as often the equally important scribbles out other important things. I was blessed with natural athleticism and good health until meningitis changed my life in 2011. After over a decade of crippling pain and related problems, on Assumption of last year the pain and other health problems lifted. I received a miracle. I wish to live up to that grace.

A decade of crippling pain has consequences for personal performance. It is more difficult to kneel at Mass. I am even less confident in my bicycle riding. I fall asleep more easily – sometimes a good thing sometimes not so much. And training will always take a backseat to the needs of the Church and my family. Because my life is not my own and has not been since I was 23 when I first became a mother.

I am aware how all of this might sound like excuses. I am aware of how all this might sound – like excuses and complaints. “Oh, poor me.” I call them reasons. I’ve been trying to race for 3 years and haven’t gotten to a starting line. I have been trying to complete the 5 first Saturdays and 9 first Fridays devotions for longer than that without success. I never wish to complain. I genuinely feel like I am blessed far beyond what I deserve and that I should exude gratitude with every breath for all the Lord has given me and mine. The responsibility for my inability to grow in health and holiness at the rate I hope to is solely mine. I wear the pin, 100%. I should also never judge the path others are walking in these areas.

As I’ve been training I have begun re-listening to Introduction the Devout Life. In it, Saint Francis de Sales reminds us that, while we are our brothers’ keepers and responsible to assist them, we must never judge their interior lives.

Men see the exterior; God alone sees the heart, and knows the inmost thoughts of all. Our Blessed Father used to say that the soul of our neighbour was that tree of the knowledge of good and evil which we are forbidden to touch under pain of severe chastisement; because God has reserved to Himself the judgment of each individual soul. . . Now what is this that a man knows not at all? Surely, the heart; the secret thoughts of his neighbour. And yet how eager is he to dip the fingers of his curiosity in this covered dish reserved for the Great Master. . . And what is it that a man knows best of all, or at least ought to know? Surely, his own heart; his own secret thoughts. Nevertheless, he fears to enter into himself, and to stand in his own presence as a criminal before his judge. (Part III, Ch VIII)

Modern American media encourages us to peek into the lives of others and judge them by what we see. But what we see has little to do with the lived reality of most people’s actual lives. I’ve known people who have jobs, families, hobbies, and seem to manage it all seamlessly. That’s never been me. I’ve known people who are in all the Church’s groups yet still work and manage their home lives. I see these folks as living in the tradition of the great saints. I’m closer to Saint André Bessette, C.S.C, who was considered too stupid even to be a doorman. But a doorman he was and made his life meaningful through Christ’s work. In my small way, I will continue to do whatever small work Christ puts in my life and be grateful to have this life. A holy priest admonished his congregation to assume others are holier and suffering more than we. I strive to take this advice.

I used to read research on work/life balance issues, multi-tasking, and learning theory, among many other topics. Something that became clear to me about myself during these years was that human beings all have the same 24 hours, and we choose how to live those hours. Some people need less sleep. Some people need more quiet time. Some people need more stimulation, but essentially, we all make choices each day of what to prioritize. My priorities are God first, family second, and my health and other interests after that. I can imagine how these priorities might create what sound like excuses.

So having now thought through my response to whether or not I’m #10 in the above scenario, I think that I’m not. If I state that getting enough training in is difficult for me, I’m not saying that I think I’m special in this way or that my life is somehow more complex or challenging than that of others. I admire those who can train regardless of what else is happening. I have learned a great deal from others in the On Pace triathlon club who are where I aspire to be. If I say that I’m still distracted sometimes in prayer, it is to welcome advice from those holier than I so that I might emulate them. These statements of difficulty, statements of where and how I fall short, are not intended as complaints. They are not to say, “look at how I suffer. Look at how hard I try.” They are pieces of the puzzle of my life that I try to figure out how to fit together in the best way possible for everybody my life touches, including myself.

I may always be the heaviest triathlete at the starting line. I may always be the most distracted penitent on her knees. I will likely always be the slowest cyclist, and the least holy communicant. But I will always, for the rest of my life, be at the starting line ready to take care of my body like I’ll live forever and my soul like I’ll die tomorrow.

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Written by
Jennifer Borek