Emma Raducanu is looking for a new coach.
She’s young. She’s successful! But she’s also vulnerable, and she knows she can’t make it on her own.
At Wimbledon, she beat three world class players and then withdrew due to personal difficulties. At New York, she won the tournament! Then at Indian Wells, she was knocked out in the first round.
Have you ever known you’ve needed to be challenged beyond your comfort zone?
Great athletes know they need coaches. Without a coach to hold them to their disciplines, they might not get up so early or so often to train in the early morning, nor keep going until they’ve exceeded their personal best.
The young man in today’s Gospel knew he needed spiritual coaching. He was already a spiritual athlete, in the premier league of those who kept God’s Law. But he sensed he was called to more. Jesus threw down a challenge, to step out of his comfort zone and place his total trust in God. On this day, he wasn’t ready… and the Bible doesn’t show us what he did later, so we can only imagine whether his was a story of eternal regret or eventual surrender.
Like Emma Raducanu, each one of us faces three possibilities in our life with God. We can withdraw – that is, not take God’s law seriously at all. But in that case, you wouldn’t be here on a weekend like this. So we set out on the journey with Jesus, trying to keep God’s law – sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing.
It’s the job of a coach to encourage success – but also to help us move forward after failure.
Sometimes a coach has to help us unlearn bad habits we have picked up along the way.
Sometimes a coach has to help us unlearn even good habits we have picked up along the way, which might have helped us at the time but are now stopping us from moving forwards to where we need to be.
Holiness often requires “letting go”.
Perhaps we’ve been blessed with a long and happy marriage, but the one we love has died. I know a man, a friend of my family, who lost his wife but was so broken he couldn’t let a day go by without visiting her grave. We do well to honour the one who loved us in the past, but God invites us to be free in the present.
Perhaps we’ve suffered the failure of a marriage, and we feel shamed by the demands of the Catholic Church. Well-meaning Catholics sometimes misunderstand what the Church asks, and become bad coaches pushing us in wrong directions. So I want you to hear this from the lips of a priest in the pulpit: There is no shame in walking away from an unsafe relationship where your partner refuses to take your needs seriously. There is no shame in obtaining a legal divorce when you’ve tried your best to make the relationship work and you need to manage the financial reality of being separate. And there is no shame in asking the question, “Was my marriage a binding covenant made by both of us in the way required to create a sacred and lifelong bond?” – which is the question the Catholic Church’s tribunals ask when considering an annulment.
We are all pilgrims on the journey of holiness. Today’s Gospel opens with the words “Jesus was setting out on a journey.” Indeed, the whole of Mark’s Gospel is a journey to Jerusalem, filled with news about the things Jesus did “on the way”. The journey of life includes many beginnings, and today we start anew – if we are willing to start at all. For the young man in today’s Gospel, his possessions were holding him back. Jesus recognised that for others, it might be attachment to land or family relationships. He asks, “Will you let go, and come and follow me?”
How can we let go? Nothing is impossible to God. The Word of God has the power to cut the strongest bonds and enlighten the darkest places.
Forgiveness is a decision. It starts with saying the words “I forgive you.” If you can’t do that on your own, use the mighty power of God. “In Jesus Name, I forgive you.” Note what you are NOT saying. You’re not saying “I excuse you.” You’re not saying “That’s OK.” You are only saying, “I choose not to punish you for the hurt you have done to me.”
Letting go is also a decision. Our parents, our husbands, our wives, our children – each are given to us for a season, but ultimately they belong to God. If we are acutely aware of the absence of a loved one, we might try this prayer, which comes from St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuit Order:
Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.St Ignatius of Loyola
No-one looks for a coach who will give them an easy ride; a coach who doesn’t push you will never make you a winner. Emma Raducanu is still looking for a new coach. The rich young man found Jesus, but wasn’t ready to accept the challenge. There is no hiding place in Jesus for he is the Word of God who uncovers secret thoughts, and knows our innermost guilt and shame. He is the Wisdom of God, whom you are seeking. Taking Jesus as your coach will be painful, but rewarding. You will experience tough challenges and extraordinary blessings. You will discover new relationships, with God and with other members of the Church as your family. If you are willing to begin again, say yes to Jesus, whatever challenges you fear he will place before you. He is the one you are looking for, and he is Good, for he is God-with-us. Jesus, I trust in you.