Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

The heart of Christian faith

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

It was heartbreaking to see the great champion Simone Biles withdraw from competition at the Olympics. She has made America proud, and we can only imagine how difficult it was for her to make this decision, particularly after years of training and hard work.

Yet, she bravely faced the fact that her well-being needed attention and accepted that going forward could be disastrous for her safety and could harm her team’s chances for victory.

What was more distressing, however, was the cruel criticism she received from some cable-news commentators. One of them went so far as to suggest she had brought it on herself, claiming that she should have dealt with the trauma of being abused by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar before deciding to participate in the Olympics.

We are talking about a young woman who was adopted by her grandparents because her mother suffered from addictions. Abused in her teens by a trusted person assigned to her by the adult world, she nonetheless pressed on, daily putting herself at risk every time she attempted to perfect her unique moves, including one from the vault that up to now had been performed only by male gymnasts.

What Simone Biles did was very Christian. She recognized the limitations of her humanity.

Christians believe in a God who chooses the weak things of the world, who sent his Son to assume a human body, which was tortured and killed. Jesus, in turn, chose to extend his presence among us in bread that can be broken and wine that can be poured out. This is the heart of our Christian faith, which we celebrate each time we come together for the Eucharist.

It is in the Eucharist that Jesus makes present a victory the Father gives him in response to offering his total human weakness, the human poverty of our limitations, including our mortality. Jesus does not offer his human accomplishments or successes. In fact, by human standards, Jesus was a failure. No one stood by him, including his trusted apostles. He was a convicted criminal sentenced to death. His claim to be sent by his father into the world was met with derision, and even caused him to ask why he was abandoned. 

This is why Jesus tells us that he offers us his flesh, which can only be offered if he dies. In doing so, he gives meaning to all human suffering, all our limitations, all our weakness, to the point that in the Eucharist he invites us to do the same by joining our humanity with all of its flaws to his sacrifice for the salvation of the world.

This is why we can say that all are welcome, as we all have the gift of human limitation to offer. If we are willing to make this offering, we receive the grace of the Eucharist and can go into the world and proclaim God’s kingdom.

By accepting and offering to God our frail human existence, we are empowered to proclaim the kingdom of God in our midst, inspired to reach out to all our neighbors with empathy and hope.

The kingdom of this world values human accomplishments and successes, victories on our own terms. Those who proclaim this worldly kingdom have no time for human weakness, and in fact do everything to distance themselves from it, masking their own weaknesses.

Some years ago, a great spiritual director asked a group of young men discerning a vocation if they were weak enough to be a priest. What he meant was that unless they accepted their human, limited existence as a gift to be offered, they would never appreciate the meaning of the Eucharist they might one day offer to the people of God, where Jesus offers us his flesh for the salvation of the world.

A similar question might be posed to help us understand what it means to participate in the Mass. Are we weak enough to go to Mass? Do we value our human weakness and the sufferings of others to the point that we are ready to join them to the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the world? Do we understand that the measure of our openness to receive the grace of the Eucharist is how it moves us towards embracing human suffering in our world more fully? Does the Eucharist so transform us and empower us to once again proclaim Jesus’ victory and triumph over death, gained not by human accomplishment but as a total grace from the Father?

This reality of faith stands over and against the culture of hypercriticism that characterizes so much of our public discourse. This way of treating men, women and even children is both cruel and dishonest.

The callous dismissal of the suffering of Simone Biles is typical of a mindset that pounces on the weaknesses of others, which in our day is corroding society and, unfortunately, seems to be bleeding into the life of the church. This young, brave athlete has honored our nation and the world in the field of sport. The dedication and personal sacrifice that got her to this level merits the admiration of all.

But she has contributed even more to humanity by reminding us, as Jesus did, that we become more human when we embrace and value our human condition. And for Christians, she reminds us of the value of joining our human sufferings to the sacrifice of Christ, for when we do so, by the Father’s saving grace, we become champions in the kingdom of God.


  • olympics