This weekend we celebrate the God’s belief in us! We focus this week on the fulfillment of the mission of Jesus Christ here on earth in anticipation of Pentecost next Sunday. Most parishes will celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord today, though technically the feast was this past Thursday. The Gospel reading of Matthew 28 for the Feast of the Ascension offers us the great command where Jesus says “OK boys, now it’s your turn. I will always be with you, but now it’s your turn to transform the world in my name. They will listen to you and you will do great things”. Yes, I paraphrased a bit. Jesus, the one who conquered death, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and now would leave earth to return to heaven says, now you go and do what I did! What do you think the disciples were thinking when he said this? “No way can I do that” would be the first thing in my head.
Have you ever been in a situation where the deck seemed stacked against you and being successful seemed impossible? Did anyone stand by you and constantly remind you “you can do it”?
Twenty-two years ago I was in an accident that left me paralyzed. After a long recovery, which included my ability to walk again, many things seemed impossible. One thing I promised myself was that someday I would run a marathon. Saying it and doing it are two different things. Many years went by, I started a family and even my own business and it stayed a wish because “it was not possible”. In truth, just two years ago I could not run 1 mile. There was no way I could run a marathon. Not me. Not Possible. In fact, that was for crazy 20 something’s and I was now 40 and let’s just say well over 200 pounds.
I learned that doing the impossible requires great discipline, kind of like why the Church asks us to commit to daily prayer – it’s a discipline for excellence. I started slow and after 1 month, I could run 2 miles without a break (we will not talk about my time…I did not die and that’s the key). There are many cold mornings in Wisconsin during the winter months. Staying in my warm bed was very appealing. But the path to accomplishing the impossible is paved with thousands of bricks of small triumphs. Every day I got out of bed for my early morning runs, I laid a brink on that path. Every day I said no to sugar and yes to fresh vegetables, I laid a brick on that path. Did I want to turn back? Heck yes, hundreds of times. This is where the advocate, our coaches and cheerleaders come in. Next week the Holy Spirit will fill us. Jesus is our Spirit, our coach who believes in us. For my running, it was other runners who gave me tips. It was my wife and kids leaving water and oranges at the end of the driveway for me as I passed by on my long runs and a sign that said “Proud of you”
The first time I ran 8 miles, I just about jumped out of my skin. The impossible was not so impossible. I was still a long way off my goal, but wow, only kind of crazy now. I also noticed that what I was doing was rubbing off on others. My wife started to exercise and two friends did the same. They started to look at themselves different because of my actions – just like scripture says! As 8 miles became 12, the impossible was starting to look more possible. My first run at 15 miles I started to say to my family, “I actually think I can do it”.
On October 13, 2013 I stood at the starting line for the Chicago Marathon with 45,000 other hopefuls thinking “I can do this”. As the miles went by I became more and more confident. I passed the halfway mark faster than I had ever run before. At several points I saw all my family and extended family cheering me on with posters and horns and bells. Along with the 1.8 million spectators I was having the time of my life. Even when trouble started at mile 18 and I started to cramp up, I found my mindset pushing me through. I had trained for this. This is when the daily discipline paid its dividends. Without the discipline it’s too easy to quit, to give up when things get tough. In my mind, I had already crossed the finish line hundreds of times. I just needed to finish for real. Maybe the Church asks us to train hard in our prayer life for the same reason. Finish the race when the journey gets hard. Jesus believes in us and so does the Church!
As long as I live I will never forget the last two miles. I was on autopilot. While every muscle in my body was in pain I was spiritually never more alive. For two solid miles the crowd was 30+ deep and yelling and screaming for every runner and cheering us on for the last push to the finish line. All I could think about was the entrance to heaven with all the choirs of saints and angels cheering us on and I said to myself “If heaven is anything like this, I can’t wait”. When Jesus said to his disciples (and to us) as he was assumed into heaven “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, and behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” I think he was saying, “ Don’t doubt yourself. You CAN do it. I believe in YOU. People will see your life and be inspired to say I can do it too!”