More people should know the story of Eric Liddell.
With the 1924 Olympic games approaching, Liddell was looking like the world’s fastest 100 meter runner. But the preliminary heats were to be held on a Sunday, and he refused to run. He considered it a day separated for God, period. He wasn’t willing to compromise his conviction, not even for Olympic glory.
Liddell’s sacrifice raises a question for us — and not only about Sunday. The question is sharpened by two things Jesus tells us this week.
First, He says: “”If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.” We have to admit that, as a culture, we aren’t very good at keeping His commandments. That means we step outside of His love by our own free choice.
For example, we don’t always do a good job keeping the Lord’s Day holy. What are we more likely to shape our Sunday around, Mass or sporting activities? It isn’t a question of whether sports are allowed on Sunday. They are. It’s a question of what comes first. Do we really set aside the day for the Lord, and schedule everything else around Him, or do we set our schedule of activities for the weekend, and then see where we can squeeze in the Lord? People readily devote three or more hours to a professional sports game on Sunday and schedule everything around that. But heaven forbid that Mass go longer than an hour. In many ways, we’ve built a culture that doesn’t keep the third commandment.
For another example, we don’t do a very good job with Jesus’ commandment about divorce. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’re even worse with his commandment about looking at men and women with lust. Contraception and pornography — both violations of the sixth commandment according to the Catechism — have become mainstream. In many ways, we’ve built a culture that doesn’t keep the sixth commandment.
And it’s not just a matter of pointing fingers at others. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), or the Catechism’s treatment of the 10 commandments (paragraphs 2083-2557), or consider Jesus’ one-line summary: “This I command you: Love one another as I have loved you.” All of us have stepped outside His commandments, and therefore outside of Jesus’ love, on some count or other.
This is where the second key thing comes in. Jesus told us to remain in His commandments — and therefore inside His love — so that our joy would be complete. He gave us our freedom. But He told us that if we use our freedom to step outside of His love it won’t make us happier, it decreases our joy.
Statistics seem to confirm this point. Reports indicate that rates of depression and anxiety have risen sharply in the last several decades. Surely there are many causes for that. And medication and therapy are part of the answer. But there’s a Gospel-based diagnosis that’s a key dimension of the problem, too: as our culture has increasingly overridden the commandments we’ve stepped outside of His love, and our joy has been depleted.
Maybe Eric Liddell had it right. And maybe we need to recover that kind of obedience to all the commandments in our own lives. Whether it’s something dramatic — as it was with Liddell — or something small, what step is God asking you to take this week to keep His commandments, remain in His love, and increase your joy?