Monday, March 12, 2007

St. Paul on the agon

Last week in a post entitled The point and purpose of obediance, it was observed that we "engage in the struggle so that we are ever more conformed, by God's grace, given us in and through the sacraments, to Christ. Struggling with certain clear teachings, either to accept or to live these freeing truths, may be a life-long process. The point, however, is not to drive ourselves crazy by futilely trying to adhere to a list of dos and donts that we perceive as being externally imposed on us. In his first encyclical, our Holy Father wrote, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (Deus Caritas Est, 1). The point and the mode of life that arises from being a Christian, therefore, is to become ever more like God, who is fully revealed in Jesus Christ, and who is love- agapé (1 Jn 4,8.16). In a word, through the struggle, with the undeserved help of God, we become divinized. It is for no other reason that we engage in the agon, knowing that we need God's help, which He freely gives us, especially through the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist. Put simply, we must always keep in mind that the only good reason for obedience can be nothing other than love of God and neighbor. Such an understanding should immunize us against the sin of self-righteousness."

I was reminded of the scriptural basis of engaging in the agon while praying Evening Prayer for the Third Sunday of Lent, the reading for which was 1 Corinthians 9,24-27, in which the apostle writes:

"All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it. Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified."

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