Today is All Saints Day, a day when the Catholic Church honors all saints — those who are known and those who are unknown.
Just days before All Saints Day, here in the nation’s capital, some 30,000 people take part in the Marine Corps Marathon. There’s a lot of similarity between the two: Most saints and most of those who run the 26.2-mile marathon course are unknown. None started out what they became. Many runners were once couch potatoes. Many saints were world-class sinners, as they themselves freely acknowledge.
But at some point they had a flash of light and entered upon a quest to become a marathoner — or a saint. They began a rigorous training program. Experts say the key to running a marathon is to have a reason for running. We also have a reason for developing sanctity: To reach heaven, to be with Jesus, to avoid the fires of hell.
A marathon runner has to have a plan. “Once you find out where you want to go, you have to figure out how to get there,” one runner says. Same thing for you and I: To become a saint, we have to have a plan. Religious thinkers call the plan a “plan of life.” Do you have one? We’ll examine several in the next few days as we get ready for Advent and, of course, Christmas. If you don’t have a plan, why not develop one now with the idea of being ready on the first day of Advent.
And most of all, the marathoner — and the saint — has to have perseverance. George S. Patton is known as an Army general. But in 1912, he was an Olympian. What he had to say applies to marathons and to war — whether it’s a shooting war or a spiritual war:
“Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”
It takes effort — sometimes it seems almost super-human effort — to get out of bed the moment the alarm goes off, to say a morning offering, to go to Daily Mass (especially if it means leaving for work early or skipping lunch), to say the Divine Office every day, to say five decades of the Rosary every day, to do an examination of conscience every day or to go to Confession at least once a month.
But those are the sort of things we have to do if we’re going to be in the marathon toward sainthood. And we’d do well to remember what Patton said: “Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up.”