Archbishop William E. Lori
Editor’s Note: This article is part four in a special series on men’s spirituality.
Paul Assaiante knows something about winning. As coach for the Trinity College squash team in Hartford, Conn., Assaiante has won 13 consecutive national championships and a record 252 consecutive matches since 1998. Four years ago, he teamed up with James Zug, an award-winning writer and widely recognized authority on squash, to write the book, Run to the Roar: Coaching to Overcome Fear (2010).
As the authors explain, the roar of the lion strikes fear in the heart, and the instinct of other animals is to turn away from the lion, a strategy that often leads to their demise. Even after a lion is past his prime, his mighty roar keeps prey on the run. And when it comes to lions, human beings don’t fare much better than antelopes. If a roaring lion confronted me, I would be seized with fear and run away and would probably become the lion’s mid-afternoon snack.
The roaring lion is a symbol of our fears, especially the fears that threaten to consume us, that keep us up at night. It represents aspects of our lives that keep us on the run from God, our spouses, our families, our friends and even ourselves.
Successful coaches and business leaders tell us we should run to the roar, that we should confront our opponent’s strengths while overcoming our fears. Instead of running from the roaring lion, only to be caught and devoured, we should face the lion head-on with a fearless roar of our own.
CONFRONTING OUR SINS
As we head into the season of Lent, I suggest that all of us “run to the roar” as soon as possible. This means confronting the things that most threaten our spiritual lives and facing up to what is most likely to impede our growth as human beings, as followers of Christ, as Knights, and as husbands and fathers.
In fact, all sin especially serious sin has a way of keeping us on the run and hiding behind excuses, alibis and pretexts that damage our relationships with God and others. Sin and sinful habits also have a way of consuming us, of becoming the most important thing in our lives, even more important than God and our loved ones. As followers of Christ, it is through the sacrament of reconciliation that we “run to the roar” and confront these barriers between us and God.
Running to the roar is a counterintuitive idea, like jousting without a shield or playing football without a helmet. So what gives us the courage to run to the roar in our spiritual lives? What makes us think that admitting our weakness leads to strength? What makes us think that confessing our sins gives us the home-field advantage? Let us look to Scripture to answer these questions.
With Jesus’ powerful enemies lining up against him, we read in the Gospel how the chief priests and Pharisees ask the guards surrounding Jesus, “Why didn’t you arrest him?” They answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this man” (cf. Jn 7:45-46). No one has ever spoken to us as Jesus has; no one has ever told us the truth about God and about ourselves as he has. Jesus speaks to us words of spirit and life in Scripture, in Mass and in our private prayer. There’s not a coach in the land that can speak to us more powerfully than Jesus.
THE WAY OF CHRIST
The prophets offered a foretaste of Jesus’ admonition “to repent and believe” (Mk 1:15) to run to the roar. Jeremiah, for example, foreshadowed how Jesus would lead the way “like a trusting lamb led to slaughter” (Jer 11:19). In the Garden of Olives and on the Cross, Jesus went ahead of us. Though sinless, the Lamb of God took upon himself the full fury of human sinfulness and weakness. It wasn’t the scourges that pained him as much as our sins. It wasn’t the heavy cross that caused him to fall, but the weight of our sins. Yet by his wounds we were healed; by his falling we were lifted up; and by his dying we now have in us an imperishable life. In a word, Jesus ran to the roar so that we could do the same.
We also have the example of the saints and of our Holy Father Pope Francis. Here is a man who regularly runs to the roar. In his long experience as a priest, as a Jesuit provincial and as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, one of the world’s most complex dioceses, he has had to face many tough problems and shoulder many difficult responsibilities. And now, he has the most demanding responsibility of all: to shepherd as successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ the Church universal at a time when the Church faces challenges on many fronts.
The pope’s simplicity and spirit of poverty is not a public relations front, a style contrived to charm his followers and disarm his critics. It is really who he is. He runs to the roar armed with a powerful spiritual life, with the knowledge and love of Christ, bolstered by the prayers of those he serves and strengthened by his love of the poor and needy.
As we go about our lives and work as Catholic men dedicated to our founding principles of charity, unity and fraternity, we do so united with our Holy Father and strengthened by the Eucharist to share a love that is stronger than sin and more powerful than death. With this kind of support, we can indeed “run to the roar”!