1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22b-27
I love baseball. I have fond memories of playing short-stop on my little league team. I remember how our coach made us practice the double-play over and over and over. Ground ball to the third baseman who throws to second, out one; second baseman throws to first, out two. Then, it was my turn. Ground ball to me at short-stop, I toss to second, who throws to first. Next, a grounder to second, while I run to cover second and take the toss, then I throw to first. We did this over and over until we grew tired and cranky of repeating the drill. By game time, however, we were ready. We didn’t have to think about what to do when a grounder came our way. We moved quickly, almost automatically. It’s called muscle memory. And, of course, muscle memory is what all athletes must build up if they are to support the team.
That is what Paul is talking about in his letter to the Corinthians. He urges them to condition their spiritual muscle memory. They are to live their faith just as intensely as the athletes in an arena. He warns against easy shadowboxing or aimless running. Rather, he encourages them to follow his coach-like example in pursing their faith lives with the commitment of a true athlete. They are urged to work on their game – their spiritual skills, their strengths, and weaknesses, if they expect to contribute to the team effort in building up the Body of Christ.
Jesus warns in today’s gospel that our failure to condition and discipline our spiritual muscle memory is like the blind leading the blind, or like an athlete criticizing a teammate’s weakness, but blind to his or her own failures. This spiritual muscle memory is not something we can do solely on our own, any more than my little league team could learn without our coach. We need God’s grace to overcome our failings through the sacraments and daily prayer. In the Eucharist we take Christ’s body and blood into our own body to strengthen us and nourish us for the race we are running – or completing that double play.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.