One of the great loves of my life is biking. I truly enjoy being outdoors, feeling the wind in my hair, and pushing myself to my personal best. From late spring to early fall, I try to get out on my bike as often as I can. I know I am not some super cyclist, but when I take to the roads, I enter a world of peace that is all my own. These rigorous daily rides give me plenty of time to think about things: family and faith, life lessons and future goals, and what it means to be a man in the world. I thought I would share a few of the insights that have come to this “Roamin’ Catholic” along the way.
My rides tend to be a mixture of familiar routes and occasional treks in new directions. Every once in a while, I feel compelled to take a turn down a new street and see where the journey takes me. My objective is always the same: to explore the road, to take in the world around me, and to enjoy the ride. This is such a perfect metaphor for my Catholic faith. Most of the time I live in the routine of daily living; but there are times when I am prompted by the Spirit to go where I have never been before to see what God has in store for me. It is in these places of new beginnings that I must make the choice to see the journey through to whatever end God has purposed for me. When I let go and step out in faith, I find I enjoy the ride much more.
Hills Before Me, Challenges Within Me
It is in the challenge of change that our character is built. When I ride I often come to a fork in the road where I am faced with two directions: one easy and one hard. I need to decide, will I continue the regular route or push myself up the harder path? Taking a steep hill requires effort and brings pain, but the long-term benefits to my muscles and the experience of the adventure make it worth the challenge. Still the fear of failure hangs in the air. Will I make it up the hill under my own steam or will I be forced to take a side road back to where I was before? I have found that the more I accept these trials and tests of my stamina, the stronger and more confident I become in the end.
While familiar roads may make us feel safe, they rarely lead to real growth in our faith. Being Catholic is certainly grounded in the rock-solid teachings of the Apostles and the well-developed rituals of our traditions; but it is in venturing out to the new destinations to which those teachings and traditions call us that the real fun begins. Like the hills I face on my rides, we face steep climbs up Calvary’s hill throughout our faith lives. The road to heaven is often a struggle, and we may fear losing our way. But God knows our limits and brings us these times of testing to strengthen our spiritual muscles and bring us the inner growth we need.
Running the Race and Daily Training
Riding, like life, involves discipline. I would like to believe I am a serious biking enthusiast, but this deadly delusion is often shaken when a younger, stronger, hard-core biker breezes past me, donning professional biking gear and riding a $2000 racing machine. Those times leave me feeling less manly, as I come face to face with the fact I am not the true competitor I think I am. These moments of painful truth remind me that I need to maintain the daily discipline of a good diet and daily exercise in order to compete, not with the big dogs, but with the one person who matters the most – myself.
Our Catholic faith is a participation in the heavenly Olympics, a race we run to win. Meeting the challenge of this personal competition requires the kind of training that our Holy Spirit supplies. Consider what God’s Word says:
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. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
In the end, the challenge is an individual one. Though we are united in our faith, the discipline and daily struggles we face are unique to the faith that has been given to us (See Romans 12:3) and the goals that God has for our lives. As physical training is to the body, so spiritual training is to our spirits. It is crucial for leading us to win the race and the prize of heaven.
Waiting, Rest, and Refreshment
Another reason I know I am not a true cyclist is that I obey traffic laws in order to avoid accidents or possible tickets. I admit I have been envious of those who shoot through stop signs and red lights in order to maintain their pace. In truth, I hate having to wait when I am on the move; but I know that there is a purpose to waiting. It keeps me safe and allows my muscles to recuperate. God has that same purpose when He fails to meet our immediate desires and tells us to wait on Him. Waiting builds faith and strengthens us as we learn to trust in God alone for our needs. It also gives us time to pull back from our striving in order to seek God in prayer, fasting, Bible reading, sacramental worship, and meditation. God knows when we need our rest.
Along the way of my rides there are also opportunities for refreshment: a shady bench on the side of the road, or a sprinkler spraying cooling water right as I pass. There have been times I was so anxious to finish my workout that I neglected to take advantage of those little blessings along the way. I forget that the purpose in biking is not just to train my body, but to experience the liberating peace that comes from getting away from the daily grind. Because I sometimes compare myself to other cyclists, I find myself forgetting to stop and reflect on the beauty of the ride. As Catholics we can sometimes be so caught up in the call to faithful living that we forget to take time out for rest and refreshment and fail to see the beauty of our relationship in Christ. But those times are as necessary as all the faithful work we do.
Treasures Along the Way and the Happiness of Heading Home
One day while on my usual ride I began to pick up objects I found along the road. I was giving a talk at church that Sunday and was looking for a good illustration to share. I decided to stop whenever the Spirit moved me to collect whatever was lying around. I picked up an old pair of broken glasses, some rubber tubing, a crushed soda can, and many other “useless” items. When I got home, I took those pieces of trash and turned them into a sculpture. My creation was nothing that would lead to fortune or fame but it spoke a word to my soul and gave me a powerful illustration to share. I realized that, just as I could take up these worthless objects and form them into something new and meaningful, so too could God pick up any discarded soul on the road of life and mold that person into a new creation and a worthy testimony to the world. While the world may look at each of us as useless or undeserving, God sees exactly how to frame us to fit into His vast eternal plan!
That is the magic and mystery of my daily ride. No matter how much I travel on these same roads, when my heart is open to God’s leadings, the journey is ever new! It has taught me to take that same approach to my daily walk with the Lord, seeing each new day as another small journey, full of opportunities for excitement and learning, with no day like any other and none ever worth throwing away.
Perhaps the best part of these rides was when I found I had completed the bulk of the journey and was only a mile or two from my house. It always felt wonderful to be heading into the homestretch. There was that “good tired” that told me I had tested the limits of my endurance. There was also the joy of knowing I had a home and a prize waiting for me – my beautiful wife and children and a cool drink on the back porch in the summer sun. There was an inexpressible peace that came from completing the journey and an overwhelming hope that washed over me as I cleaned up and continued my day knowing I was safe and sound in the place where I was loved and valued for who I am.
As Catholics we too have that same blessed hope and perfect peace that come from belonging to a family of faith in a church that offers us the refreshment of the sacraments and the security of a heavenly home to come. There is great joy in knowing that when we wander out onto the broad road of life, there is always the safety and solidarity of the Church to welcome us home once more.
As I ride away…
I will continue these daily adventures as long as my bike and my body will stand up to the rugged road. I will allow the rigors of the journey to shape my frame and my faith, and I will glory in the God who watches over me and always leads me home. My prayer for you is that you too will see your life as a daily journey of discipline, mystery, and majesty as you grow closer to the One who goes with you along for the ride. God bless!