This weekend, something very British took place. Seven young people, not famous, were chosen to light the Olympic cauldron, acting together. Those who had power – the organising committee – empowered those who had fame – seven British Olympians – to choose those who had potential to be the torchbearers of a new generation.
A long time ago, God did something similar. The one who bore God’s power – Jesus Christ – empowered those who had fame – his chosen disciples – to collect seven morsels of food from a small boy in a crowd of thousands. The lesson was twofold: for the boy, that the little he had to offer could make an incredible contribution to God’s work; and for the disciples, that they must be humble enough to accept assistance from anyone who had even a little to offer.
The Olympic organisers are seeking to “inspire a generation” because they believe it is good to be involved in sport – and of course, physical exercise is good for the body. We in the Church are also called to inspire a generation – to inspire a generation to follow Jesus Christ as active and fervent members of the church. If exercise is good for the body, then the graces received through being active members of the Catholic Church are good for the soul. Exercise might make us tired in the short term, but we feel the health benefits later on. In the same way, though our faith is demanding at times, choosing to devote time to prayer and to follow the moral teaching of the church makes us stronger in soul. And our soul is inextricably connected to our body; every moral action we perform, we perform through our body. The way we use our bodies reflects the choices we make in the depths of our soul, and therefore St Paul, in one of his letters, urges us to use our bodies for the glory of God.
In today’s newsletter you will find an extended reflection on what it means to use our bodies for God’s glory, but in brief:
- Through our bodies, we express loving care for one another, through words and deeds of affection and acts of service.
- By restraining the urges we experience in our bodies, we honour God’s intention that intimate relationships should only take place between a man and a woman who have pledged themselves to each other for life in marriage.
- Realising that our bodies are made from the materials of the world around us, we should be concerned for our environment and seek to live simply, sustainably and in solidarity with the poor.
But instead of using our bodies in a way pleasing to God, we can be tempted to use our bodies for our own pleasure, or for that of other people.We can give far too much weight to the opinions of others. We stagger under a burden of impossible examples offered to us by the fashion industry and the entertainment business. This results in a battle inside each one of us. The voice of temptation says: “What do I think will impress other people?” But there’s a quieter voice which says “What impresses me most about others?” – and that one is the voice worth listening to.
- Am I impressed more by those who spend their wealth on designer goods, or by those who live simply and offer the balance of their wealth to good causes?
- Am I impressed when others inflate the truth about themselves, or do I prefer it when they are balanced or a little self-deprecating?
- Am I impressed more by those who work a 70-hour week, or those who put their family life ahead of the hope of being tipped for promotion?
- Am I more impressed by a person who asks for help when they are struggling, or one who toughs it out alone and so gets into difficulties?
If I am less than impressed by those who pursue unrealistic ideals, why should I fall into the trap of chasing them myself?
I am impressed that the Olympic organisers had the courage to choose seven unknowns to light the cauldron. I won’t be impressed if those seven youngsters become famous precisely because of their fifteen minutes of fame. If they go on to achieve sporting glory in the future, that’s a different and hard-earned kind of fame, and the best of British to them!
Our task, as Catholic Christians, is to inspire a generation not to chase what sounds good, but what is good.
We rightly celebrate the achievement of elite athletes, but every wise athlete knows that their body will soon pass out of the peak of physical perfection. Few tennis players will match Roger Federer or Venus Williams in winning tournaments into their 30s; even David Beckham no longer makes the cut for the national football team. Athletes are more acutely aware than most of us of our own mortality. True immortality is achieved not by getting our name into a book of world records – for most records will be surpassed sooner or later- but into heaven’s record book of those who have lived their lives with love for God and for others: such records are never blotted out.
We in St Dyfrig’s must learn a lesson from the seven Olympians who nominated the young athletes. Our young people need to be given more encouragement and more opportunities to serve in this parish. But this can only happen when we raise our expectations that they should be involved, and when there is a large enough team of coaches in place to make it possible. We must not be like St Andrew, unready to receive the gifts which the young have to offer. But being ready these days means being CRB-cleared and authorised as catechists, youth eladers and senior altar servers, and willing to invest time in the ministries of the church. We do not need to believe that the Church will continue to decline – but decline it will unless we inspire the next generation.
Inspiring a generation starts with each one of us making a serious personal decision to put God’s call at the centre of our lives – perhaps by thinking again about the suggestion I made last week to do something extra for God in the holiday season, rather than brushing aside the idea. This is not a nice idea – it’s a serious point of spiritual direction offered to every member of the parish by its pastor.
Inspiring a generation continues by passing on the flame. We are still actively seeking catechists for next year’s programmes. They will not come from anywhere except the congregations of St Dyfrig’s – and that means, from among us here in this church this weekend.
The boy who gave his seven morsels to Jesus, and the seven young athletes who lit the Olympic flame, in their turn inspire us with hope for the future, a future in which our youngsters are elite examples of faith, the saints of the new millennium for which Blessed John Paul II so often called. Let us not rest until we have found ways to inspire the next generation to inspire us. You may not have much to give, but if the Lord can feed 5,000 people with seven morsels, what will he do with your meagre offering? More than you imagine – but only if you offer it!