This summer Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Mary Teresa Bettag is preparing for Final Vows. As we pray with and for her we share a Diocese of Tucson New Outlook on-line Newsletter article on Sister Mary Teresa Bettag after she ran the Yuma, Arizona Marathon. Sister shares comments here on sports and faith. She is a high school Theology teacher and coaches Cross Country. Read the whole article here: God calls us by what we love, says Sister Mary Teresa after Yuma Marathon :: Home | New Outlook (diocesetucson.org)
Growing up with seven siblings, Sr. Mary Teresa always loved sports and playing games outside. “But,” she admits, “I’ve never really been all that athletic.” When all the students at her grade school were required to participate in a track meet, a parent volunteer noticed that Sr. Mary Teresa wasn’t winded after the warm-up laps around the city block. “Mrs. Bayliss remains the best and most influential coach I’ve ever had. She encouraged me to run the 800 meter (the furthest distance in the meet). Nobody wanted to do it because of how far it was (two whole laps!), but she was so positive and encouraging that she made me want to try it. Ever since then, running has been a part of my life – I ran in high school and in college. When we made it to nationals for the first time in college – the first person I wanted to get in touch with was that grade school coach. I think of her often as I coach now. She taught me that faith is more important than the physical training – her faith in me that I could do it inspired me to not only believe it, but to actually want it. I’ve loved running ever since.
“One of the things that athletics teaches us is not only faith in God, but God’s faith in us! I really believe that God never calls us to be average, mediocre, or ordinary – God calls us to greatness. Much like a coach who sees higher potential in the athlete, it can be scary because it demands more effort and more sacrifice to draw that out, but it’s also so wonderful when somebody believes in you like that. I’ve had coaches like that in my life, and it really makes me look differently at God’s faith in me and God’s call to me.
“Saint Paul often uses the analogy of running when speaking of faith. I think that sports are a great bridge to faith – especially in our culture which cares so much about athletics and fitness, I really believe that this can be a doorway to faith or at least opening the conversation, because many of the same attitudes and actions are required for both – discipline, commitment, goals, etc.
“In addition, I think that sports require a great deal of self-discipline and sacrifice, and running definitely requires suffering – none of that is easy or desirable in itself. But we do it for the sake of improvement, getting a better time, or winning a race or a game. I’ve found that it helps me in those hard moments to offer that sacrifice to the Lord so that it’s not wasted, or vain – just for my own sake. I think of my students who I know are in need, family members, people who ask us for prayers. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts of athletics is that it teaches us that we are always a part of something greater – a team: what I do is never for me alone.”
While Sr. Mary Teresa is running a 26-mile marathon, she makes good use of the time. “I usually pray my rosary for the first part of the race – until about mile 6.5,” she said, “then I offer each of the next 20 miles for someone, and I run that mile with them. I think about them and their needs, and I talk to the Lord about them, and I find that those miles just kind of tick off. To be honest, I am somewhat strategic and put the biggest intentions at the hardest miles, so that I really have strength to draw on when I need it most. I was in a lot of pain for the last 10 miles or so – but it never got to the point that I didn’t think I could go on. I think that having something greater than myself to run for is huge. That’s why I like doing this one for our parish, Immaculate Conception, and also why I like having intentions for each mile.”
“I was pretty happy with the run this year,” said Sr. Mary Teresa. “I always try to remember that I am not running this for myself, but I do still tend to put a lot of pressure on, because I don’t want to give less than my best. Fortunately – and probably thanks to the prayers of so many – I was able to finish in 3:42 – so 8:29 splits. I was really pleased with the effort… but I was also happy to be done!”