By Gene Zannetti
It is not difficult to see that our world is facing a crisis of faith; people are poorly catechized and spiritually weak. And it is not all their fault; there are very few leaders who present the truth in a strong direct way. This is interesting because people generally admire personal trainers and sports coaches who are blunt and direct with their feedback. A part of us likes getting yelled at and chewed out by a coach because we know they are making us dig down deep to reach new levels of improvement. We might grow in physical strength, but as a society, we are weak in spiritual strength. People get soft and complain when they are confronted by orthodox teachers of Catholicism. We have learned how to become physical athletes, but have not yet become spiritual athletes, as the saints have always aspired to become.
Whether or not you ever played a sport, you are an athlete! In fact, everyone is. Our society holds sports and competition in very high regard. We love to watch and participate in the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Everyone wants to win. Most athletes put a tremendous amount of pressure on themselves to succeed in competition. But there is a bigger competition we are all participating in, and many of us are not even aware we are competing. The competition is for eternal life; the field of play is our soul. Our opponents are the world, the flesh, and the devil.
St. Paul tells us about our role as athletes, our opponents, and the importance of winning: For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens (Eph. vi. 12). Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour (I Pt. v. 8). This is a real competition! St. Paul tells us, I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing (I Cor. ix. 26). This is not practice, someone else is punching us back!
St. Paul taught Timothy how to fight the good fight (I Tim. vi. 12). Train yourself for devotion, for, while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future (I Tim. iv. 8). There are many parallels between spiritual training and physical training for a competition.
As spiritual athletes we fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Our opponent, the world, includes all false ideologies of the world, all the “isms,” and especially Modernism which Pope St. Pius X called the “synthesis of all heresies.” We defeat our opponent, the world, by having a solid foundation of traditional Catholic teachings. This will require a tremendous amount of studying, especially from the spiritual classics and official Church documents written before 1958.
Our opponent, the devil and demons are fought by understanding the demonic from Church teachings as well as expert advice from exorcists, who stand on the front line, fighting the demonic. To be victorious, we ultimately must be docile to the movements of the Holy Spirit, pray for grace, and become completely consecrated to the three hearts of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
St. Paul makes many sports analogies for us, using them interchangeably. We are runners, wrestlers, boxers and more. We are athletes for Christ. He wants us to understand the battle and the importance of training for it. Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil (Eph. vi. 10). For we know the victory is guaranteed in Christ. If we fight the good fight, we will attain a crown of unfading glory .
St. Paul reminds us of several important lessons:
- You are in the middle of an ultimate competition, whether you like it or not, against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
- The devil and demons come to steal, kill, and destroy everyone and everything, including the people you love.
- You are called to TRAIN and WRESTLE.
- If you train and wrestle God’s way, you will WIN!
Gene Zannetti owns Winning Mindset, a sport-performance mental training program. He has two Masters Degrees in Exercise Science and Sport Psychology and is a certified School Psychologist. He was a Nationally Ranked All-Ivy League wrestler at the University of Pennsylvania. After a strong “reversion” following the 33-day consecration to Jesus through Mary in 2015, he founded Spiritual Strength, conducting retreats, presentations, and an online apostolate spreading devotion to the three hearts and fighting against the world, flesh, and devil. His book Spiritual Strength: Building the Total Athlete for Christ was reviewed and endorsed by Cardinal Burke and bears an Imprimatur. He lives with his wife and son (with another son on the way) in New York City. Follow him @SpiritualStren1