Jesse Owens was the African American who would win four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympic games. A movie tells the story of Jesse’s life was released in 2016 called Race. One scene in the movie recalls his coach Larry Snyder giving him and his teammates a lesson on staying focused and alert.
The track team of both black and white athletes were in the locker room just finishing getting dressed. The camera focuses on Larry giving Jesse a reprimand about loosing his concentration during the meet telling him: “You can’t get distracted, you understand?” As this is happening, the football team arrives looking to use the locker room.
The football coach says to Larry: “All right, Larry. Finish up now. I got boys who need to shower.” Larry replies: “Yeah, one second coach. I’m not quite through yet.” The football coach then says: “Larry, hustle these n-word out of here. You hear me?” Larry ignores him and continues to speak to his team saying: “If you get your head turned up by a few gorillas in warm-up pads here at home, how are you going to hold up in Michigan?” The football coach responds: “Who’s he calling gorillas?” Larry doesn’t miss a beat but keeps talking to his team saying: “Hey, look at me! A lot of people show up for the Big Ten meet. Not all of them are going to be on our side. You understand?… Do you?”
The football coach and team continue the verbal abuse and get even louder. The camera scans the team and they shift focus from their coach to the football team and back. Larry continues: “You gotta learn to block it all out! It’s just noise! That’s all it is! All it is, is noise. You hear me? They will love you, or they will hate you. It does not matter. ‘Cause either way, when you’re out there, you’re on your own.” Then looking at Owens says: “Jesse! Do you hear me?” Jesse is silent as he ponders the situation and the coach’s words. Then he replies: “Yeah, yeah, Coach. I hear you.”
Coach Synder was teaching his team how to stay alert and focused. Emotions heated by the racist remarks could easily explode. The coach himself showed the team how to remain focused in a tense and trying situation. The lesson is not just for athletics but for life.
Keeping focused and alert is part of our journey in life. The demands of life and its pressures come from all sorts of directions. Focus is needed to keep on the Way, to keep to the path and to get where we long to go. The observance of Advent helps keep us focused, awake and alert.
Jesus, using apocalyptic images, urges vigilance. He speaks of the “end times” but that is not his focus. His focus is on the “now.” He urges his disciples, us, to live in the present while not loosing sight of the prize that awaits the faithful. He urges us to “Stay awake!….For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”
Advent is a season of hope and longing. We long for the Lord’s return. His return is a source of hope. We trust he will come and deliver us. He will bring this world to perfection and His Kingdom will be fully realized. Living today with that expectation helps us to keep focus and to “stay awake.”
Isaiah points to the future where the coming Kingdom will be manifest. This Kingdom will unite all peoples and nations into one. He uses a mountain as an image of this Kingdom. “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raise above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it.” There on that mountain God will instruct them in His ways. His justice will be made manifest and peace shall replace brokenness. This prophecy has been fulfilled in Jesus who comes to establish the Kingdom. He has done this. Today we wait for His return to bring it to perfection. This is the hope we celebrate in Advent.
At another time in the public ministry, some of the Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come. Jesus replied: “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or , ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21) Recognizing that the Kingdom is here, that Christ is our King, and living that life helps to make the Kingdom visible or manifest.
Saint Paul’s encouragement to the Romans to “awake from sleep” is likewise an encouragement to keep vigilance by living in the Kingdom (even though he does not use these words) by living in the Way of the King. He writes: Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”
Coach Snyder helped Jesse Owens achieve victory. One of the lessons he taught him was to stay focused. Jesus teaches us a similar lesson today. “Stay awake… for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103