The Olympics concluded last week and amid the myriad of events, there is one that has a rather intriguing origin: the steeplechase. In track and field, the steeplechase involves running 3000 meters (just under two miles) and navigating hurdles along the way. On the other side of the hurdles are trenches of water. To successfully complete the race, one must overcome these barriers, remain focused on the goal, and cross the finish line.
The steeplechase's origins come from a tradition in the United Kingdom. Runners would choose a church steeple off in the distance and race each other to that church. Keeping focused on the steeple, they would overcome whatever barriers came along. Among the barriers would be stone walls and small rivers. When the race was converted to the track, the walls were replaced with hurdles and the rivers and creeks were replaced with the water pit.
In our lives, we are called to keep our eyes fixed on the church steeple – Jesus Himself. He is not only our life goal, but He runs with us to help us cross the finish line to have eternal life with Him. There may be barriers and challenges, yet we strive to overcome all of them.
In the New Testament there are several references to running as an image of our faith journey. In Hebrews, we read: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1)
The “cloud of witnesses” refers to the angels and saints who surround and encourage us. The race becomes easier when we seek His mercy, let go of sin and run the race with freedom.
Last weekend, I was with some local Polish pilgrims who put into practice the “steeplechase” of faith. Our diocese was blessed with the 34th Annual Pilgrimage to the Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine in Merrillville at the Salvatorian Monastery, with an overnight stop at the Carmelite Monastery in Munster. This pilgrimage is longer than a marathon (over 33 miles) and begins in Chicago, with thousands of pilgrims journeying to these two steeples of faith.
The pilgrims invite the Blessed Mother to accompany them along the way and go to Shrines to receive her very son Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. About four thousand pilgrims were at the evening outdoor Mass in Munster and perhaps twice that number came together for Mass on Sunday in Merrillville.
The fidelity of the pilgrims to remain steadfast on this long trek is a witness to the fidelity we need as we journey through life. We are accompanied by a community of faith in our journey, surrounded by the angels and saints, and have Jesus and his Mother Mary with us along the way. Our life may have challenges and obstacles, but the Lord is with us. As we walk, we reach out to others and invite them in, with our love and support. Whatever obstacles may come our way, may we remain faithful in the steeplechase that lies before us.
Let’s encourage and help each other to complete the “steeplechase” and reach our eternal destiny. May we run the race faithfully and be blessed one day to offer the same valedictory words as St. Paul: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” (2 Tim 4:7-8)
The Most Reverend Robert J. McClory
Diocese of Gary