Two other figure skaters, Chris and Alexa Knierim, call to mind more specifically as husband and wife how all Christian spouses areeach other’s primary partners on this path, for better or worse. Both Olympic pairs helped Team U.S.A. take bronze, and both show us how anatural bond not only strengthens two companions in the fight for victory, but is itself strengthened by the shared struggle.
Finally, Simon Kreuger can remind us that great sin in the beginning does not preclude great sanctity at the end. The Norwegian cross-country skier, after crashing just 200 yards into the 30 kilometer race, worked his way back to the front of the pack and ended up finishing first! In this astounding turnaround, Krueger resembles St. Augustine of Hippo. Both fell early and impressively: Krueger went down in a tumble of poles and rival Russian skiers; Augustine in a tumble of fleshpots and Manicheans. Both could lament their delayed starts, although St. Augustine more eloquently (“Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new …”). And both in the end, with astonishing perseverance to recover from their past failings, achieved the highest honors. Indeed, this is the type of road to sanctity that St. Paul himself took too.
Now none of this should be taken too seriously. To do so would be a gross irreverence. Obviously, the saints to whom I have compared these Olympic athletes sacrificed far more and achieved something far greater, infinitely greater, than winning medals in PyeongChang. As St. Paul would say, the saints have won imperishable rather than perishable crowns. That is what we ought to aim for too. For what is bronze, silver, or even gold compared to eternal life and perfect happiness in union with Almighty God? We ought to lay up our treasures in heaven, not on earth.
But still, all creation glorifies God. These athletes can remind us of the spiritual battle by placing an image of it before our eyes. This image, however dim next to the original, moves our spirits nonetheless. And at this time of year especially, all of us could benefit from any additional inspiration to the athletic practice that St. Paul highlights in his First Letter to the Corinthians — bodily mortification.
So this Lent, let us pray that we may have the grace to imitate the Olympic athletes in this one aspect at least — to “pummel” and “subdue” our bodies, that we may gain an everlasting reward.