Sunday, October 12, 2003 1:27 AM CDT
By: Gary DeVaul
It was June 20th. 2002. My friend Linda and I were wandering through Windsor Castle for the first time since the fire that destroyed one third of the building just a few years earlier. It was the Queen's Golden Jubilee Celebration, Her Majesties fiftieth year on the throne. We were excited to walk through the heart of history and share in the festivities. We turned from the foyer and entered the grandest room in the kingdom. St. Georges Hall spread before us. Our eyes were dragged from the bright banners of state to the new ceiling, which is covered with the coat of arms of all the great knights and heroes of days gone by. Then past the great windows that filled the room with light, to the eastern end of the hall. There perched on a great balcony high above the Monarch's Throne stood the King's Champion on a horse, covered with shining silver armor, a gleaming sword in hand.
St. George, the dragon killer is the patron saint of England and Russia as well. His legend is the stuff of ancient mythology. It's grounded in the story of the Archangel Michael in Revelation. Well there he was, resplendent in his armor, his great charger proudly bearing him. He was covered with silver, gold and precious stones. His gleaming sword proclaimed the champion of champions! The symbolism is powerful. Your mind is drawn back to the book of Revelation and the heavenly host in close battle with the Dragon, who was Satan and Michael beating and binding Satan in chains and throwing him into the pit for a thousand years! And then my minded turned to St. George, slaying his Dragon, and our Dragon, the Dragon within, that hoards the gold it cannot spend and the maiden it cannot ravish. Wow, as Mark would say, it is powerful stuff and it is part of our faith.
The word champion is derived from the Latin word campio. Campio translates gladiator, and is also the root of the word campus, where the champions compete even today. The one element that the great statue of St. George is missing is blood. There are no physical scars of battle here in the Great Hall of St. George. Yet every champion has scars somewhere. The Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen described the scars of Jesus as “the marks of love.” A poet once described Jesus on the cross as, “The uncaught captive of love”. A bit romantic you say? Yah, I guess so. But it works for me.
The whole idea of the champion is a romantic notion, and frankly the notion is lost today, and it is our loss. The champion bears his, or her, wounds with grace and even an element of pride; not pride in herself, or himself, but pride in the cause for which they battle. The champion is always the champion of another. A champion may be bloodied but never beaten. There is something sacred about the champion and the scars they bear. When we relinquish the romantic - for the purely rational - the bloom bleaches from the rose and we lose much more than the liver shiver of the moment. We lose the meaning as well. And what is the meaning carried in the breast of every champion? Sacrifice. And what is the root word in sacrifice? It is Sakre, or sacrament.
Our wounds can become powerful. Our scars can become sacred. They can call up healing powers to the forefront of our lives or they can routinely destroy us. If we chose, I am convinced that our wounds offer us the opportunity to sacramentalize, or make sacred, that which would normally be mundane yet deadly. Wounds need not be physical. Wounds come to us all in every shape and size. They need not be worn as braggadocios' badges of courage. Like St. George at Windsor, a real champion reveals the scars in his eyes and voice, and backs them up with action.
My friend Ron and I were escorted into the little waiting room near the recovery area of the Trauma Center where Mark was lying. The young plastic surgeon came to us with a look in his red-rimmed eyes that betrayed a champion's sacrifice. He was an experienced young man, but not jaded. He deeply regretted what circumstances had forced upon him. Yet, he was faithful to his calling to save. And save he did. He was a champion. You could see it in his eyes.
Sometimes you can recognize the voice of a champion. Mark asked me to call Officer Stubbs of the Maine State Police. Stubbs was the first officer on the scene after the crash. When I called to find out how to retrieve the accident report, he said, “I heard Mr. Thallander is a great organist. Is that true?” “Yes” I replied. Stubbs was quiet for a moment and one could sense that something was coming. Then he spoke the words of a champion. “You tell Mr. Thallander that if he's really great, I mean as great as they say that he is - he'll play again.” It takes a champion to know a champion, and Stubbs dragged one from the truck that night. In his own way he was calling Mark back. Back to the greatness that is his. He was a champion; you could hear it in his voice.
Some of us think we don't have what it takes to be a champion, because we suffer fear. Champions are brave, but one cannot truly be brave unless one is truly frightened. We have a Champion who faced scars, and torture, and humiliation. He prayed in the garden and trembled with fear as the Author of Life faced death. His comrades neglected Him and slept the heinous hours away. Three times He begged His Father to spare Him the cup. In that litany of three prayers we are saved. For He drank the cup for a greater cause than He measured in his own skin, and saved the sleeping, tardy knights in the garden - and us as well. He taught us in that dark night in Gethsemane that our courage need only outweigh our fear by a drop of blood and an once of faith and, we too become champions. He is our Champion because He acted. He took up the cross and the cross became His sword.
We have an opportunity to relearn and recapture the precious lesson taught in the garden and on the cross. In His last words Jesus said, “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” In those last words found in Luke 23:46 our Champion gives over His scars, His wounds, His pain, the very sting of death. He “sacramentalized” the moment by giving it to God, and resurrection was His lot. We can do the same thing with our wounds. We, too, can consecrate our sorrow and grief. The injustices done, the abuse received, the insults felt, the anger and psychological pain endured. In doing so, we, too, can live the life of the Champion.
There was another champion in the hospital that dark and rainy night. His horse was a gurney. He was dazed but not beaten. I saw it in his eyes and heard it in his voice. There was blood in his hair and on his face. Yet calm resignation claimed his heart. The brutality done him could not measure up to the faith within him. There was in that recovery room a sacred prayer like quality that harkened back to Gethsemane, where Jesus prepared himself for battle. When the carnage of the night was confirmed, Mark said, “Oh, Wow…” and closed his eyes. Behind those eyes, he put on his helmet, strapped on his armor, and in his strong right hand there appeared - the champions gleaming sword...
There is one more essential concept related to champions. They are often prone to hang out together. They have their fraternity, their round tables, be they in Camelot, Windsor, on Web Sites, or The Upper Room. They tend to gather and support one another's cause, champions all for One.