A Not-So Photo Finish

by Kevin Duffy

There’s a meme that’s made its way through the internet called the “Ridiculously Photogenic Guy”. It depicts a man crossing the finishing line after running a marathon, looking straight at the camera, and flashing a smile worthy of a Gap catalog model. It went viral because this guy, after running for 26 straight miles, looks like he was just out for a casual morning jog after rolling out of bed and throwing some mousse in his hair.

Leading up to last year’s mini-marathon, whether consciously or not, my goal was to finish the Race for Vocations feelin’ good and lookin’ good, just like that guy

Not so much.

This was my first mini-marathon, and my inexperience showed. My training was sporadic at best and my 13 minute mile pace was not going to break any records.

Here’s the ugly truth: my race was messy. My shirt was two sizes too big, my headphones always seemed to be in the way, and I was sweating more than I’m willing to admit in a publicly posted reflection. After the race, my aching knees plagued me for weeks and I was utterly devoid of energy.

There’s good news, though: Success is not measured by how good you feel or how good you look afterward.

Christ, during his passion, neither looked nor felt good. When he agonized in the garden, lying prostrate before the Father, he literally sweat blood. He was beaten, scourged, stripped. At the end, he was naked and bloody, nailed to the cross.

Our faith is not pretty. Every part of it is a struggle, and it does no good to romanticize it. Even if we pray daily, it is often hard to see the fruit of that commitment. I don’t know about anyone else, but adoration does not end in me levitating a few inches above my pew. Our faith calls us to face silence, pain, discomfort, and even death.

God allows us to experience these things because of the power they have in drawing us closer to Him.

“We are subjected to every kind of hardship, but never distressed; we see no way out but we never despair; we are pursued but never cut off; knocked down, but still have some life in us; always we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our body. Indeed, while we are still alive, we are continually being handed over to death, for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too may be visible in our mortal flesh.” -2 Corinthians 4:8-11

In Genesis, Jacob wrestled with God. Mother Teresa experienced decades of spiritual darkness and silence from God. Pope John Paul II was debilitated near the end of his life with various health problems that rendered him almost unrecognizable from his former charismatic, athletic self.

They may not have seen the fruits of their suffering at the time, but all things are fulfilled through Christ on the Cross. Jacob fathered God’s chosen people. Mother Teresa created an order that brought God’s light to impoverished people, spiritually and materially, across the world. Pope John Paul II, regardless of his handicaps, was a warrior and an evangelist for the Church to the very end, and is set to be canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday this year.

So if you find yourself struggling to keep up with your training regimen, to pray every day, or resist a certain sin, do as St. Paul says and “never despair”, and recognize that “always we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our body.”

I remember this as I am preparing to enter into my own vocation (I am engaged to be married November 15 of this year). While I hope for a happy life and joy with my future wife, marriage is not a light, early morning jog. It is not easy. It’s not always pretty. And the fruits of marriage are not always apparent!

So why do it? Wouldn’t it be easier just to forgo marriage and do what brings comfort and satisfaction?

When love bonds two into one, it requires sacrifice. In fact, love cannot exist without sacrifice. Yet we are called to love. With that in mind, recall the goals of marriage. St. Thomas Aquinas gives two: 1. The procreation and raising of children in the faith, and 2. The mutual support of your spouse in the journey toward holiness.

Neither of those goals are easy, and they aren’t always picturesque. But the ultimate fruition of those goals far surpasses anything that the “easy” road has to offer. That makes my decision much easier.

I will fail many times in this calling, I readily admit that right now. But I take solace in that there has only ever been one perfect sacrifice to God in the history of mankind. It was not “ridiculously photogenic”. It was real, and its grace is free for all.

Kevin Duffy is a graduating senior from IU School of Journalism at Indianapolis, and a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Indianapolis. He is engaged to be married to his fiancée, Mary, in November of this year. He ran his first mini-marathon in 2013, finishing in the top 35,000.