Just a few weeks ago, golf nuts around the world rejoiced. Tiger Woods put a date on his long-awaited return to professional golf, this time to really make a run at the World No. 1 ranking he once held.
It didn’t take long, however, for those hopes to be somewhat dashed, as Woods withdrew from the Safeway Open, the planned site of his return. The reason?
“After a lot of soul searching, and honest reflection, I know that I am not yet ready to play on the PGA TOUR or compete in Turkey. My health is good and I feel strong, but my game is vulnerable and not where it needs to be. It’s not up to my standards, and I don’t think it would be up to yours.”
He went on:
“When I announced last week I was going to Safeway, I had every intention of playing, or I wouldn’t have committed … I practiced this past weekend at Stanford, but after a lot of hours, I knew I wasn’t ready to compete against the best golfers in the world.”
Upon reading his words, the discerning golf fan ought to have been encouraged. A man who seems to have been made for the game of golf (to make no endorsement of his personal life) and to compete at its highest level understands the level of preparation necessary to put himself back in the game — to fulfill his vocation, in a manner of speaking, to the fullest possible potential.
At the risk of sounding too contrived, there’s a valuable lesson to be gleaned here on the pursuit of the Christian vocation. Whether to marriage or the religious life, or even to the “call within a call,” as St. Teresa of Calcutta dubbed it, the Christian must prepare him or herself adequately before entering a vocation in earnest.
There’s the famous line by St. Catherine of Siena, “If you are what you should be, then you will set the world on fire.” The good Doctor was onto something — two things, actually — that God has a purpose for us, and that we each have a duty to pursue that call with as much zeal as we can muster.
The answer to the question of how one prepares can be found in Tiger’s testimony, as well. The name of the game, when preparing for anything, is a commitment of time (even a radical one, perhaps) and a dedication to practice. Though mundane, it’s persistence and the steady growth found through practice that allows a player to become prepared.
For the Catholic Christian, that means simply devoting time each day to prayer, to studying the Scriptures, and actively seeking the sacraments. Starting out, it could be as little as 10 minutes of prayer in the morning or evening, coupled with weekly Mass and a monthly confession. But over time, that constant commitment to the Lord is bound — small though it was, at first — to grow, perhaps to an extent that one never expected.
Granted, Tiger Woods could have walked onto the course at the Safeway Open, despite not being sufficiently prepared for competition. Would he have hit many great shots? Definitely. Would he have generated excitement from spectators — those he was serving? Without a doubt. But would he have won? Even placed in the Top 10 among a field of the world’s best? Highly unlikely.
An ill-prepared competitor has no place on the course, and Tiger knew it.
So too is it for us as we pursue our vocations as Christians. As St. Paul tells us, we must not be shadowboxers, milling about with no purpose. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)
We must “run so as to win,” for only the prepared will emerge victorious.