Growing up I hated spinach. Raw, sautéed, or steamed… all of them were gross. Then my parents played a card I couldn’t resist. They told me that if I ate spinach I’d be big and strong like Popeye! Suddenly, the second grossest vegetable (Brussel sprouts were definitely worse) tasted much better. Since then I’ve like spinach and will eat it in any form (especially spinach artichoke dip or saag paneer, for my friends who know Indian food!) However, my physique is far from intimidating.
So what happened?!? Why didn’t the spinach work? The answer seems kind of simple. Yes, I ate the stuff, but there was more to it than just downing a can of spinach. Yet, we take this “just eat spinach” attitude with our faith sometimes. We want one simple prayer or one easy habit to make us merciful and strong like Jesus.
This desire for ease is not new, but counting on ease can be a great source of discouragement. That first time that Jesus captivated our attention and revolutionized our lives it all seemed so easy, just like Popeye downing a can of spinach to save Olive Oil. At some point, though, we encounter a side of our faith that requires perseverance. When interviewing Chris Padgett, I asked him what a day in his spiritual life looked like. He candidly answered, “It is a grind.” Paul described it this way, “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. Thus, I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it” (1 Cor 9:24-27).
Hebrews then expands on this analogy but also helps give us a solution for what to do. In Hebrews we find, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). This is the beauty of events like Encounter Cincinnati. We gather together as witnesses, Reconciliation is made available to us, and our Eucharistic Lord is placed before our eyes to help us persevere in running the faith. So this Lent, let us make a great effort to come together on March 12.
Additionally, we should not forget that Christ took the form of bread because He is not just the object of our worship, He is also our nourishment. We have something far greater than Popeye’s spinach here, we are nourished and strengthened by the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. He is our viaticum, our food for the way.
(Written for the Encounter Blog)