My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Nearly 4 billion people are estimated to have watched the Summer Olympics in London the past couple of weeks. That is an astounding number of people, considering there are 7 billion people in the world. Of these, 1.6 billion have no access to electricity. A further 300 million may have access to electricity, but are under 5 years old. So why do so many people watch?
Watching the Olympics is exciting and inspiring, not only for athletes, but obviously for a lot of other people as well. We draw inspiration from their personal stories that describe the hardships they had to overcome, the discipline, dedication and sacrifices they needed to make to achieve their goals.
A great example of this is South African runner Oscar Pistorius. Since he came in dead last in the 400-meter final last Sunday, some might say that he was a failure. However, that assessment changes if you realize that he was the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics. Born without the large bones that extend from knee to ankle, Pistorius' lower legs were amputated below the knee before he turned 1 year old. He grew up playing rugby and succeeded almost immediately as a sprinter running on two L-shaped carbon blades. Pistorius explained last week, "I didn't grow up thinking I had a disability, I grew up thinking I had different shoes."
It is also very striking to see the huge smiles on the athletes when they win a gold medal, which leads to the question: are they smiling because they won a gold medal, or did they win a gold medal because they're smiling?
If you've been watching the games like so many other people have, the smiles are contagious on the faces of athletes such as Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin, Gabby Douglas and Usain Bolt. You might say, sure, they're smiling because swimmer Michael Phelps holds the all-time record with 22 Olympic medals, Missy Franklin has won four gold medals in swimming, gymnast Gabby Douglas won gold medals in both the individual and team all-around competition, and sprinter Usain Bolt holds the world record and Olympic record in the 100 meter, the 200 meter and the 4×100 meter relay. They will all probably make millions of dollars in endorsements. So why shouldn't they be smiling?
Well, I believe that there is more to it than that. Does success breed a positive attitude, or does a positive attitude breed success? My answer is that one feeds off the other, but it also depends on how a person defines success. Oscar Pistorius is an outstanding example of how a person's attitude affects a person's life for better or for worse. Is Pistorius a failure or a success? Is he sulking because he came in last? Not exactly. He has already set his sights on his next goal. The 25-year-old Pistorius said, "The goal is Rio," site of the 2016 Olympics. "I'm super excited for that. I should be at my peak then."
God has given all of us certain gifts and talents. He has also given us challenges and crosses to bear. We can look at the talents and success of others with envy, or we can use the gifts that God gave us to the best of our ability. We can look at our challenges and limitations and ask, "Why me, Lord?" Or we can pick up our crosses and say, as Jesus said to his Father, "Thy will be done."
Our attitude affects not only our achievements in sports, but in everyday life. Jesus showed us that prayer is the way to prepare for the cross, and the cross is the path to glory.
In his homily at the Mass for the Jubilee for Sports People celebrated in Rome's Olympic Stadium on Oct. 29, 2000, Blessed Pope John Paul II said, "Every Christian is called to become a strong athlete of Christ, that is, a faithful and courageous witness to his Gospel. But to succeed in this, he must persevere in prayer, be trained in virtue and follow the divine Master in everything. He, in fact, is God's true athlete: Christ is the 'more powerful' Man (cf. Mk 1: 7), who for our sake confronted and defeated the 'opponent,' Satan, by the power of the Holy Spirit, thus inaugurating the kingdom of God. He teaches us that, to enter into glory, we must undergo suffering (cf. Lk 24: 26, 46); He has gone before us on this path, so that we might follow in His footsteps."
May God give us this grace. Amen.