By Fr. Joseph Sia
For The Catholic Messenger
The moment the horn sounded on Aug. 11 to signal the start of the Paavo Nurmi half-marathon, the first thing that came to my mind was, “What did I get myself into?” God right away reminded me through a voice that I heard in my mind, “This is not about you — this is for the priesthood.” I had undertaken this challenge to raise funds for vocation promotion.
As I grudgingly took my first few steps, another thought came into my mind: “Joseph, there are 13.1 miles in this race … you have 13 seminarians in your care … why not offer prayers for each seminarian for every mile that you run the course?”
Those were only the first few of what would be a treasure chest of spiritual gifts I would receive running my first half-marathon. Another amazing gift I received was the accompaniment of one of my parishioners from Columbus Junction, Jose Estrada. Jose is an avid runner, and when I was still pastor of St. Joseph in Columbus Junction I told him that I would be running the half-marathon and asked for advice.
Not only did he share some good advice, he also said that he would run the marathon with me. I thought he was joking, but a week before the race I got in touch with him and he confirmed that he would drive to Wisconsin with his children to meet up with me. Our understanding was that we would run the first half together and then he would finish the rest.
However, the day before the race, I found out that the full marathon would start at 7:30 a.m., and the half-marathon at 8 a.m., so we couldn’t do what we planned. I called him and right away he said that he would just run the half-marathon (even if he had registered and paid for the full marathon). True to his word, Jose literally ran beside me the entire race. He even had bottles of water and Gatorade and packets of sugar and candy which he shared with me. Toward the last few miles, when I wanted to give up, Jose was there to encourage me and keep me going. The only time we broke ranks was when we got to the finish line — he dashed across a few seconds before me!
Also a spiritual gift was the deeper bonds I formed with my seminary classmates, Father Dave and Father Dan. We had been meeting as a support group for the last 10 years, but this experience really helped us get to know each other and appreciate our fraternity as brother priests. Before the race, they were coaching me and giving me tips. On the day of the race, we prayed an Angelus together as we drove to the starting point. After the race, we gave each other high fives; and yes, they were very patient with me as I limped back to the rectory where we were staying.
I’m now back in my office in Davenport, and I continue to experience the “runner’s high” — but more importantly, I am also feeling a spiritual high, the kind that one gets after attending a good retreat or a well-celebrated Mass. While the Paavo Nurmi half-marathon wasn’t a liturgy, it was certainly an experience of God’s grace which I hope to be able to share with others for a long time.
Thank you for your support. It’s not too late to contribute to the fundraising effort for vocation promotion. Visit the website: www.davenportdiocese.org/vocations to make your donation.
(Fr. Joseph Sia is vocation director for the Diocese of Davenport and sacramental minister for St. Mary Parish in Davenport.)