Earlier in October, Eliud Kipchoge broke the Two-Hour Marathon Barrier with a time of 1:59:40.
His achievement is a tremendous accomplishment and highlights his own individual ability, but it also speaks to the importance of training. And our training as Christians is just as intense sometimes as Eliud's was, just in a different way.
Both Old and New Testaments compare the spiritual life here on earth as a form of training and often they use the example of a runner. Paul in Corinthians reminds us to “run so as to win” and to train our bodies and our spirits. But how do we do that? What does this training look like? Is this feasible for me as a lay man or woman or can only religious do it?
And my answer is the same that I give for anyone who is physically running or wants to start: anyone can do it, and everyone should do it. It doesn’t matter how fast or how slow you go. It just matters that you start training.
As a runner and a Dominican Friar, here are some thoughts I have on training ourselves for the race with Christ.
1. Stay hydrated by constantly drinking at the fountain of God’s Word and in His Presence in prayer.
Prayer, both private and communal, sits at the heart of our Dominican reality. Without this dedication to prayer, our preaching mission is impossible. Our preaching comes from an abundance of time spent in the presence of God. We thirst for God and for the Word that he speaks in our lives and once we are full, we then go out and share that Word by our preaching.
Some easy ways to stay hydrated:
Dedicated location and time: Find a place where you can pray and make it a place where you only pray. Don’t bring work or any distractions into it, just be with God. Bring your Bible or some writings of the Church Fathers or the popes if you want to do some spiritual reading. When you are truly intent on training, you don’t watch Netflix or try and do homework at the same time. You prioritize and manage your time appropriately.
The Rosary: No Dominican could write a post about prayer without mentioning the Rosary of Our Lady. The Rosary is a wonderful tool and means to pray with Our Lady while reflecting on the Life of Jesus Christ. For the Dominican Way of praying the Rosary go here.
Catholic Apps: Apps like Dominican Compline, iBreviary, Hallow all strive to help you get the most out of prayer by guiding you in meditation or in silent reflection.
2. Load up on carbs by energizing and nourishing yourself daily at
the tables of word and sacrament through the Eucharist.
Daily Mass is one of the greatest ways to fuel up for the race of faith. Throughout our Catholic history saints have gone to extraordinary lengths to receive the Body & Blood, Soul & Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here in the United States we’re blessed with so many opportunities to go to Mass and receive the Eucharist. Also the explosion of Eucharist Adoration throughout the world means that there is probably a Church or Chapel nearby that will have our Lord visible and available. Take that opportunity even if you can’t stay a full hour. The Eucharist is the source and the summit of our faith, we need that food for the journey.
If you’re not sure if there is a Mass near you, check out masstimes.org
For how to receive the Eucharist with reverence and more prayerfully, check out this recent reflection series put together by my friend and brother James Pierce Cavanaugh, O.P.
3. Before each day’s run, pause and stretch your muscles so faith,
hope, and love are limber and agile.
Don’t overestimate yourself. We often want to start out going to fast or without the proper preparation and suddenly we find ourselves in deep trouble and gasping for air. Take it easy, find your pace and learn what you can do well. You don’t need to spend 5 hours in Adoration every day and read a book from the Bible every week. Start small and simply work to integrate prayer into your day more fully over the course of a week, a month and a year. Make a plan and stick to it as you slowly ramp it up.
If you don’t think you can pray silently for 30 minutes, try 15 minutes, or bring some spiritual reading, or pray the Rosary. We have to slowly develop our muscles, both spiritual and physical.
4. Plan for the “caffeine boost” you will need in the middle of the
race by mobilizing family and friends for spiritual support.
Intercessory Prayer is the coffee of the spiritual life. This is what is going to kick-start your own spiritual journey and the journeys of all your friends. Get a prayer chain going, offer up your daily Eucharist for the needs of others, pray for the dead, etc.
Also, when you say you’re going to pray for someone, DO IT RIGHT THEN. Often, we wait and find our day has gone by and we forgot that we promised to pray for someone’s grandfather, or godparent, or cousin. It's just like when you get up for a morning run at 5 a.m. You don't want to do it but you know if you just get up and get out there, you can make it happen.
So, pray right away, just take a moment and offer your prayer to God.
5. It’s a marathon not a sprint. Shed any extra baggage or weight you might be carrying.
Trying to run the good race and to chase after Christ is already difficult and our sins, mistakes, flaws and imperfections are just weighing us down. We need to drop that weight if we truly want to race at our best. Make your way to confession or even make an appointment with a priest if you cannot make the regular hours at your parish. Frequent confession will keep the weight to a minimum and get you geared up to go.
6. Find a role model in a particular saint and grow and strengthen your relationship with them.
I cannot speak highly enough of finding yourself a role model and a saint that you think speaks to you, your spirituality and your life. Read the lives of the saints, be attentive to the saints who maybe have gone through the same struggles that you have. Those holy men and women will speak most clearly to you.
Saints to look into: John Paul II, St. Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, Dismas (the Penitent Thief), Augustine, Dominic, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, etc.
There are mountains of saints each of them unique in their holiness. Find the saint you need and spend a year growing close to them.
7. Finally, be sure to check in with your coach about what you personally need to do.
This is a nice list, but each of us is starting from a different place on our way to the heavenly goal, so you might need something different or at least tweaked for you personally.
Go talk to your coach, your spiritual director. This person is going to be your guide to understanding the layout of the race and how you can best prepare yourself.
If you don’t have a spiritual director, don’t be afraid to seek one out. Ask your parish priest if they can do it or if they are too busy ask if they have some suggestions. Priests, religious and lay people in every diocese are trained to be spiritual directors.
We all need help to grow and there are people ready and willing to do that. After all, we don’t get to Heaven alone, we get there with everyone else.
Written by Br. Dominick Jean, O.P.
Dominican Friars of St. Louis, MO
The Dominican Friars living at St. Dominic Priory in St. Louis, MO are members of both the Central U.S. Province and the Southern U.S. Province. Our student friars go through their formation together at the St. Louis Studium, otherwise known as the House of Studies.