Saints on Ice

My first love was figure skating. By the time I was 2 and a half, I knew the names of all the world-famous figure skaters, even the hard Russian names. My all-time favorite was Kristi Yamaguchi. I even posed like her for pictures.

My mom taped the 1991 World Figure Skating Championships for me and I watched it over and over again. The competition was memorial in many aspects, but one episode that I especially remember was with Surya Bonaly. This world figure skating competitor was a young lady from France. Her mom, who later became her coach, had adopted her from Africa. She was more of a powerhouse than the graceful image people have of figure skaters. In one of her routines, she perfectly landed a triple axle, one of the hardest jumps to nail. However, she got so excited about her feat that she tripped while jumping for joy. Obviously, she didn’t win.

This episode can make us think of something that happens to us in real life: when we do something good, we start to pat ourselves on the back right away. We get so proud of ourselves, that we end up falling into the worst defect possible: pride. Two signs of pride are looking down on other people or getting discouraged (because we learn through experience that we´re not as awesome as we thought). St. Paul warns: “Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” (1 Cor 10:12)

What can we do to be more humble? First of all, we can calmly accept our mistakes. When life teaches us to not put so much trust in ourselves, our strength, our success, our good looks, etc. we need to find a new reason or inspiration to build up our lives. People need to put their trust in something. Just like when there is no one in power, a “political vacuum” is created, meaning that someone, without fail, is going to come and fill in that seat in the government. In the same way, our hearts need to be full of trust. The best thing we can do is trust in God and Our Lady. St. Paul continues: “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor 10:13) Why is it cool to have a “wild abandonment” to your passions and yet it's looked down on or misunderstood to have that same "wild abandonment" when giving yourself to God and trusting in Him completely? “Your strength lies in complete trust”. (Isaiah 30:15)

Another thing I learned from figure skating was to see how I need to let go of my fears in life. I can’t let them stop me. There’s a good kind of fear that makes you stop and think before you act, asking yourself if what you want to do is a good idea or not and if it is the best way of getting what we really want in life. However, there's a type of fear  that paralyzes. God doesn’t want that for us. He is a good Father and He wants what is best. Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and have it in abundance.” (John 10)

I learned about how fear can paralyze you and rob you of many opportunities in life when I tried to learn how to ice skate for the first time. I must have been about 4 years old. My parents took me to a local skating rink and I remember there were a bunch of people of all ages. The people in charge asked us all to form smaller circles and then to skate around in a circular motion. I started, but kept falling, so I went back to the boards and held on for dear life. One of the young trainers came over and offered to help me. However, I was so afraid, I wouldn’t let the young man help me. In the end, my parents had to take me home before my first lesson was over, and my brilliant figure skating career ended before it even started.

Life works in a similar way. God calls us to great things. It’s just like St. Paul said, athletes suffer all kinds of pain in order to reach their goal ("No pain, no gain" sound familiar to anyone?), overcoming obstacles and fears. He said: “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one." (1 Cor 9:24) We have to do the same thing in God’s plan for us, in becoming saints, listening to His voice in our lives and doing what He asks of us. Greatness, great love, is demanding. St. John Paul II said it straight-out to young people:

Real love is demanding. I would fail in my mission if I did not clearly tell you so. For it was Jesus—our Jesus himself—who said : "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (Jn 15 :14). Love demands effort and a personal commitment to the will of God. It means discipline and sacrifice, but it also means joy and human fulfillment.

Dear young people: do not be afraid of honest effort and honest work; do not be afraid of the truth. With Christ's help, and through prayer, you can answer his call, resisting temptations and fads, and every form of mass manipulation. Open your hearts to the Christ of the Gospels—to his love and his truth and his joy. Do not go away sad! And do not go away afraid, a coward!

We have to learn to have a bold heart. Many times, we don’t know where to go or who to turn to for help. Our Lady is always there, ready to stretch out her hand and help us in learning how to live. We just have to let go of our fears, take her hand, and walk on. Just like Mother Teresa’s mother told her when she left Albania for India: Put your hand in His, and walk alone with Him. When we learn we’re never alone, that’s when we will start to lose fear or at least to calmly overcome it. “Holy Mary is the Queen of peace…When your soul or your family are troubled, or things go wrong at work, in society or between nations, cry out to her without ceasing. Invoke her saying, ‘Queen of peace, pray for us.’ Have you at least tried it when you have lost your calm? You will be surprised at its immediate effect.” (Saint Josemaría Escriva)