The ponies were uncharacteristically accommodating to my Sweetie and me during yesterday’s running of the Kentucky Derby.
We managed to collect a tidy bonus on the very modest wagers placed during our dear friends’ Derby party – picking two of the top three steeds to “show” in the horse race. (Neither of us chose Mage, the actual champ, so in essence our top-finishing Losers had somehow become Winners when all the bets had been sorted afterwards.)
This was a new sensation for both of us. We are the “sports book” equivalent of Christmas-and-Easter Catholics – only ever betting on Super Bowl Sunday and Derby Day. And when we do plunk our money down, neither of us ever expects to win.
It’s a liberating perspective, I’ve found: Since I don’t fancy myself a pony-picker, I can watch the race with a fair amount of disinterest. I couldn’t begin to tell you the number assigned to “my” horse yesterday, for example – or the color of the silks its jockey wore.
Instead, my mind tends to wander toward different topics – like, just how deep is that well-groomed dirt on the track at Churchill Downs? And how did horse-racing on an oval track ever get to become a “thing,” anyway?
It’s an odd artifice, if you think about it: Would a horse choose on its own to make left-turns-only when showing off its speed? Wouldn’t it much prefer to run in a straight line…or maybe even zig-and-zag, in a demonstration of unbridled spirit, towards the finish line?
Admittedly, the artifice fuels quite a spectacle – the bonnets and bow-ties, the mint juleps and red-rose blankets. But it got me thinking about how often “tradition” can bog us down. There’s one way, and only one way, to achieve the goal.
That’s not what Jesus seems to have in mind, when he identifies himself as the Way in the gospel passage we hear on the Fifth Sunday of Easter. He tells us, “in my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” And yet we tend to insist on a model of church that looks a lot like a horse race – a pack of believers all headed in one direction, and all released from the gate at a designated post-time.
At the moment, the archdiocese in which I live is hurtling toward the launch of “All Things New.” While our leaders fashion it as a call to re-energize evangelization across our communities, most people I encounter tend to call the program something more like “parish consolidation” or “reorganization.” They – we – experience “All Things New” as a harbinger of loss: Many traditional ways of “doing” parish are about to be scratched.
Perhaps there’s a kernel of truth in that assessment. Maybe we will be called to shed some of the traditions and accoutrements we hold dear. But really, that makes us no different than disciples have always been: Following Jesus has always meant taking a disruptive and unpredictable path toward the finish line.
And more to the point: When we bet on Jesus, he promises that we will come out winners in the end, does he not?
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me…[for] I am the Way.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.
Thank you, John. Very comforting to me.