Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Facing the Opponent Within

Readings: 2 Kings 17:5-8, 13-15a, 18; Psalms 60:3, 4-5, 12-13; Matthew 7:1-5
Picture: CC malakins

Most of us are familiar with the name Maria Sharapova. But probably not so many will know who Robert Lansdorp is. I myself only found the second name by googling. Lansdorp is the coach of the famous women’s tennis champion. But why, we may wonder, does an ace like Sharapova need a coach at all? At this point in her career, wouldn’t she already know all there is to know about the game? We can all probably answer the question quite easily. Being a good player doesn’t necessary mean that one knows everything about the game. There’s always more to learn. Also, a coach can help to assess and exploit the strength and weaknesses of one’s opponent, something that is not easy to do when the player is in the thick of the action. And, perhaps even more importantly, the person on other side of the net is not the only opponent that the player has to face. A more formidable foe than the one across the court is the one who resides within the player’s own mind and heart. Isn’t this, in large part, what the coach is for – to help the player to face and to overcome this inner opponent?

The situation in the first reading is similar but far more serious. Here we find not the intensity of a tennis match but the violent clamor of war. At this point in their history, the people of Israel are divided not only into twelve tribes but also two nations, Israel and Judah. And the first reading tells of the defeat of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians. The capital city is sacked and the people taken into exile. Of two nations only one is left standing. Of twelve tribes only one survives. But who, we may ask, is the one responsible for this terrible defeat? Who is the enemy in this war? Is it the Assyrians? Or is it God who has forsaken the people? The reading lays the blame primarily on another foe: This happened because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God… They worshipped other gods…

The reading also gives the reason for the shameful defeat at the hands of this interior opponent. Too preoccupied with the external situations and challenges facing them, they lost sight of the foe within. They forgot the very thing that Jesus speaks about in the gospel today, that one needs to take the plank out of one’s own eye first in order to see more clearly and deal more effectively with the splinters without. And although the Lord had warned the people repeatedly through all the prophets and all the seers… they would not listen, they were more stubborn than their ancestors had been… Refusing to heed the advice of their Coach and his assistants, they were made to taste the bitter agonies of defeat.

Probably few of us who read this blog have to face the exertions of professional tennis, let alone the brutalities of war. But don’t we all encounter various difficult challenges and formidable opponents on the tennis courts and battlefields of daily human living? And in our efforts to train ourselves to meet and defeat our foes, don’t we need to give attention to the most formidable foe of all, the one who resides between our ears and within our breasts? And, in this effort, don’t we all need to rely on the help and guidance of those who love and care for us, those who serve to communicate to us the warnings of our heavenly Father?

Today, how willing are we heed the Coach’s advice?

How ready are we to face the foe within?


  1. Yes, we all need to face the foe within, possibly through the guidance of those who love and care for us. My questions are:

    1. How do we find good coaches (or advisors) and recognize them? I've received some really bad advice from people who love me.

    2. What do we do if and when our coaches set goals that seem too difficult for us? Dare we tell our coaches to set easier goals so that we can take baby steps towards greater well-being?

  2. In line with the pattern of my non-intelligent and non-insightful comments, I do not have much to say in comment to the homily other than:
    Thank you.
    Today's reading and the homilies, coincidentally, resonate very much with my life and current situation.
    But then again, I guess nobody can really believe in both God and coincidence.

    In response to anonymous' comment, an I must have a disclaimer here to state that I really am nobody to respond to such big questions,

    1. Perhaps the best coach is the One who knows all there is to know about us, things even we don't know ourselves. The One who not only knows our thoughts and feelings and words and actions but above all, loves us infinitely and unconditionally that He so willingly gave Himself for our sakes and souls. Perhaps He is the best coach of all.

    2. If we pick the right coach, then what may seem too difficult may really only seem so because our judgement is clouded by fear and insecurities. If the coach is right, then He wouldn't test us beyond our abilities. And He who knows all would know what our abilities are. And He who loves us would also want what is best for us.

    Just humble thoughts of mine, =)

  3. The rage in the corporate world today is coaching. Just what does a coach do? Allow me to share a few thoughts, themselves gleaned from various sources.

    A coach is someone who is not only an expert on the subject s/he coaches, but someone who knows the individual being coached very well; his/her strengths and limitations, even his/her emotional and psychological states. A coach is therefore different from a trainer who sets goals that s/he thinks the trainee can achieve - and then technically helps him/her do that. In coaching, the one being coached learns from doing, profiting from both successes and failures. This experiential learning is supposedly more cogent and more enduring. This, to me, has been how my Divine Coach operates.

    O Divine Coach, consider not our fears and shortcomings, but guide, encourage, and console us until the finals are over. Amen.


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