Thursday, July 18, 2013

Don't Be A Big Cry Baby

I remember that when I was a boy, a common thing to say to your brother or your friend--if you wanted to aggravate them--was, "Don't be a big  cry baby."  No one wanted to be a big cry baby.  Cry babies, as you probably know, complained that things were too hard and looked for an easy way out.

Since arriving at Boston University a little over a month ago, I've been trying to walk for a few miles each day along the Charles River Esplanade which is located only a few steps from my office.  As you walk along the Esplanade, you cannot help but notice the variety of persons who are there.  It is filled with cyclists, joggers, walkers, and roller bladers.  Besides the difference in activities, there is also a wide variety of ages, physical conditions, and nationalities.  Many of the people there are young college students who are in excellent physical condition, elderly folks who are shuffling along, and those of us who are in between--forties and flabby.

Yesterday as I was walking, I had the sense that all of these people, individually trying to grow in strength and unknown to each other, somehow feel connected to all of the others there.  I suspect that the young and fit do not look disdainfully on the elderly or the unfit.  Instead, I bet they admire their tenacity. The flabby don't look at the young and fit and think, "Well, they shouldn't work so hard.  They should be more like me." Those who are physically fit do not provoke resentment, but are rather a sign of hope.  Similarly, those who fill the ranks of the "unfit" may do so for any number of reasons.  Some probably were lazy. Some perhaps are ill.  Maybe some have been so overwhelmed by life's challenges that they were not able to get out and exercise.  But, nobody really cares.  Nobody is standing around saying, "You are not fit so you cannot be here."

I think of this because it somehow relates to the spiritual life.  It's an odd thing that when it comes to physical training, we admire the strong, encourage the weak, expect slow progress, and are patient with the failures of others.  But, when it comes to the spiritual life, we sometimes dismiss the strong, judge the weak, expect immediate perfection, and in the face of failure, surrender.  What are some examples?

"Why Do I Have To Go To Mass, Go to Confession and Forgive Others?"
When people include exercise in their daily regimen, we applaud them.  But, when it comes to the demands of the spiritual life--daily prayer, Sunday Mass, Confession, living purely--instead of striving for excellence and admiring those who do so, we sometimes hear people say things like, "Well, the Catholic Church ought to be less demanding."  When doctors say we should get so much exercise each day, we might say, "I'm too lazy," but few of us are dumb enough to say, "I think the medical profession is wrong about the whole exercise thing."  We should all be striving for spiritual perfection.  The answer is not to say, "Yeah, let's all become spiritual flabby."  We shouldn't be big spiritual babies.

Similarly, many people do not come to church because they feel like they are not living as well as the other people there. But, church ought to be like the Esplanade.  Everybody there is growing in one way or another. Everybody is working hard.  Those who are strong in the spiritual life know the pain and struggle that is involved in it. They don't resent the presence of the weak, but rather are delighted to see other brothers and sisters joining the struggle.  If someone walks around church eyeing disdainfully those who are weak, he isn't spiritually strong.  He is a spiritual bully.  Whether one is strong or weak, the spiritual life still requires tough training.  The person who hasn't been to confession in twenty years finds it embarrassing to go to confession.  The person who went last week also finds it embarrassing.  The person who runs a half mile after ten years of not exercising finds it difficult.  The person who runs ten miles today after running eight miles yesterday finds it difficult.

So often in the spiritual life, we see each failure as going back to ground zero.  But this is not the case!  If on a particular day an athlete quits after half of his usual workout, it is not like he goes back to five years ago when he was completely out of shape.  In the spiritual life, however, very often once somebody falls, he becomes discouraged because it feels as though he goes back to the very beginning.  I remember one spiritual writer saying something like this: "When we climb a mountain and trip, it is unlikely we fall down the entire mountain.  Similarly, in the spiritual life, when we fall, it is not as though we have to start from the very beginning."

People become physically unfit for any number of reasons.  So too, people become spiritually unfit for many reasons.  Some have given themselves over to sin, laziness, lust, gluttony, and worldly pride.  Others perhaps were never really given the necessary formation.  Some are overwhelmed by life, some are weak, and some are obstinate.  Whatever the reason(s), when the weak try to live the spiritual life, the strong ought to encourage them. Maybe it will be stop and go for a while.  Those who are truly spiritually strong will not chase the weak away, but will rather know the right way to encourage them.

Those who are committed to exercise never seem to arrive at a moment when they decide, "I'm physically fit enough.  Now, I think I will stop exercising."  Similarly, in the spiritual life, we are always called to be growing stronger.  There is always room for growth.  In the life of the Church, we are all in the arena and are being formed in the image of the perfect man, Christ Jesus.  We should never be overwhelmed or discouraged by our failures.  We ought never to think that the "bar is too high."  The bar is Jesus Christ. What an awesome privilege it is that we are being perfected in Christ!

 The Christian path is demanding and requires patient endurance.  Many would like to be physically fit athletes without the work that is involved!  Similarly, many are duped into believing that they are spiritually fine even though they do nothing to grow in the spiritual life. Saying, "I don't need to eat well and exercise in order to be healthy" is foolish.  So too is saying, "I don't really need to pray, go to Mass, go to confession, and live virtuously to be close to God."  Instead of thinking and saying such silly things, we ought to man up.

"Besides this, you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand.  Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" Romans:13-11-14).


  1. This is interesting; I like it and think I can get a homily out of it. Thanks!

    One time I was walking with two other guys who also needed to drop some weight around an area not too different from the Esplanade. A passenger in a car hung out the window, pointed at us, and laughed at the sight.

    Following your analogy, he could stand for the Devil who tries to make us feel unworthy of trying or hopeless in following Christ.


  2. I was picturing myself sitting on a bench watching everyone go by.