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Back in 1990 and 1991 my family and I lived in Liberal, Kansas, a small city in far southwest Kansas.  Liberal has a sister city in Olney, England.  Residents from both cities have been competing since 1950 in what they call the “International Pancake Day Race”.  It is held every year on Shrove Tuesday (also known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday.  Female participants race approximately 400 yards wearing aprons and carrying frying pans while flipping pancakes in the pan.  They are timed and the times are shared between the two cities and a winner is declared.  

There is also a children’s race of about 20 yards for youngsters to get involved in the festivities.  Well, in 1990, my three young daughters, ages 4, 5 and 6, decided they wanted to run the race.  To prepare, we practiced sprinting in the small park behind our house.  I would mark a starting line where they would line up, and a finish line where I would stand.  I would yell, “On your mark, get set, GO!”, and they would sprint the sixty feet, and I would declare a winner.  We practiced for weeks.

The day of the race came and the girls lined up at the starting line on the city street where the race was to be run.  People were lined up on the sidewalks on both sides of the course ready to cheer on the two or three dozen young competitors.  The race official announced, “On your mark, get set….” and then he fired a starting pistol.  It scared the bejeebies out of the girls.  By the time they got their wits about them most of the other kids were crossing the finish line.  

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  But, then, as if nothing happened, the girls decided to head for the finish line – not at a sprint pace, but casually, stopping along the way to talk to a policeman and a neighbor.  When they finally crossed the finish line I asked the five year old (the fastest of the three) why she didn’t run fast.  She replied, “Well, Dad, I wasn’t going to win and I was going to get a medal anyway!”

I remembered this event this morning as I was meditating on today’s first Scripture reading, Hebrews 12:1-4.  In it, we are encouraged to persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, and rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us.  

In our quest for holiness, to become saints, and reside with Jesus in heaven for eternity, there are many things that will frighten us, distract us, slow us down, and cause us to lose sight of the ultimate goal.  When the going gets tough, we will occasionally feel like giving up.  But, like Jesus, we need to endure those circumstances, our crosses, for the sake of the joy that lies before us.  We have to persevere and not be discouraged because someone else is running faster than us.  And, we need to hear and be energized by the cheers from all the saints in heaven who are lining the course before us, urging us on.

The only way we will not receive that medal at life’s finish line is if we fail to persevere in the race for holiness.

“Dear Jesus, when the race gets tough and seems all uphill, let me remember, please, that you are here with me.  You, Lord, are both my strength and my goal.  You are waiting for me at the finish line.  I know I will stumble, I will get distracted, and obstacles will get in my way.  Let nothing keep me from pursuing You.  Amen.” 

(Run the Race was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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