When I first saw curling I was confused: what are they doing sweeping brooms in front of a giant hockey puck? Why do they start barking out calls as soon as it is released? What are they even trying to do? What is the goal?
A curling match usually settles into a predictable pattern. The teams trade off, placing the rock a few yards ahead of a circle and knocking the opponent’s away. They repeat these moves several times until, when the round is almost over, everything changes. The rock in front which before had been such a point of contention is left untouched as the teams begin aiming around it into the circle itself. But then almost all of the rocks are cleared out. It seems that something about the end is all-important.
One also sees this in the life of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a second-century bishop of Syria. Approaching his martyrdom, he exclaimed, “Now at last I am beginning to be a disciple.” This might seem surprising; surely a bishop is already a disciple! But as he drew near to his death through the teeth and claws of wild beasts, he repeated his goal: “to succeed”, “ to attain to Christ”, “to reach Christ,” or in the most literal translation of the rich Greek verb he uses, “to hit the mark of Christ.”
In curling, “to hit the mark” ultimately consists in getting more rocks closer to the center of the circle than the other team. All of the initial jockeying for position is merely preparatory, setting everything up for a final triumph.
Likewise, in Christian life the goal is to “hit the mark of Christ,” to be more and more conformed to Him by His grace. All the daily repetition of the Christian life done in grace—Mass, meals, work, prayers, chores—can accomplish this bit by bit, but often it shines through most clearly in the end.
As St. Paul put it, he desired nothing but “to know [Jesus Christ] and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death” (Phil. 3:10).
In the triumphant victories of the martyrs and in the slow sacrifice of someone like St. Therese of Lisieux on the altar of her bed, conformity to Jesus often shines most brilliantly in death. It is a death offered in love to the Father through Christ, as He offered His own life to the Father for our sake. After a life of preparation, like the final rock in a round of curling, we see Who the saints were aiming at all along.“Fire and cross and battles with wild beasts, mutilation, mangling, wrenching of bones, the hacking of limbs, the crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil—let these come upon me, only let me reach [hit the mark of] Jesus Christ” (St. Ignatius of Antioch). After the preparation of a life of virtue though His grace, may we too hit the mark of Christ by being conformed to Him in a holy death.
Photo by William D. Moss