So run that you may obtain

Brethren, know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that you may obtain. And every one that striveth for the mastery, refraineth himself from all things: and they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty; I so fight, not as one beating the air: but I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway. For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all in Moses were baptized; in the cloud and in the sea; and all did eat the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink; (and they drank of the same spiritual rock that followed them; and the rock was Christ). But with the most of them God was not well pleased.

Epistle for Septuagesima Sunday, 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 10:1-5; quoted from The Roman Missal (Fr. Lasance).

I have heard this reading a hundred times but its meaning finally became clear to me today at Mass. In short, St. Paul is saying that although we’re all members of Christ’s Church, that’s not enough. All of the Israelites walked through the Red Sea when it parted, nevertheless most of them were not pleasing to God. They were grumblers and complainers and turned to idolatry at the first opportunity. Most of us Catholics do not please God. We need to be not merely “in the race,” but run as if to win it. Not merely be in the Church, but be among the few in the Church with whom God is well pleased.

And how do we run as if to win the race? By chastising our bodies and bringing them into submission, just as an athlete disciplines his body by training hard and restricting his diet.

5 thoughts on “So run that you may obtain

  1. You think this passage implies works-righteousness? If, by “works-righteousness”, you mean that we earn or merit our way into heaven by our own efforts, I don’t think that is implied. I think it does imply that our conduct has some bearing on our eternal destiny, which most Christians have believed throughout history.

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    • I don’t believe that’s implied in the text because we believe, a priori, that Paul rejected works-righteousness. I’m just thinking about how I would present our need, to chastise ourselves and do good, to Catholics and non-Catholics alike without implying that kind of “righteousness”?

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      • People can misunderstand any part of the faith taken in isolation from the whole. To get them to understand the part, they need to be taught the whole. The way I would say it is that we are saved before we even reach the point that Paul is talking about. He is writing to baptized Christian converts. They have already repented of their sinful ways and in baptism, have died with Christ and also risen to new life in him. (Rom. 6:4.) Having reach this point, St. Paul now tells them, don’t be content just to bear the name of Christ and think you have it made, but so live as to be pleasing to God. Now this is not something he would say to people who were not already converted and saved from their former slavery to sin (Rom. 6:18-19); it would make no sense.

        Why must we do these things then? Shortly after the passage I quote St. Paul writes, “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; … We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did… These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor. 10:6-13.) So the answer is, we should chastise ourselves to keep from falling — not to be saved, since our salvation came through repentance and baptism — but to avoid forfeiting our salvation through sin.

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      • I love it! That is a terrific explanation. I appreciate it very much. Looking forward to reading more on this blog.

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