17 Jan Gymnastics Was My Life
by Catherine Mercugliano, a Cana kid*
About three years ago, a few months before I started high school, I got really into gymnastics. And I mean really into gymnastics. I only had classes once a week for an hour, but I was doing gymnastics 24/7 at home.
I was either practicing gymnastics, drawing gymnastic pictures, reading books about gymnastics, or doing something like that. The thing was, the more I loved gymnastics and the more time I put into it, the better I got at it so that, whereas it normally might take at least a year to move up a level, I had moved up two levels in less than a year.
At that point, I was daydreaming about future gymnastic goals, competitions, winning, and all that.
But what I didn’t realize was that as gymnastics kept growing in my heart, I had begun to push God away. It wasn’t that I was deliberately rejecting God; it was just that I loved gymnastics more. So yeah, that was a very big problem, but it happened so subtly that I didn’t even notice it for a long time.
Fast forward a bit to the spring of 2018. My coaches wanted to put me on the team and I couldn’t have been happier since competitive gymnastics had been my goal all along. So that summer, I was put on the team and started training with them twice a week for two and a half hours.
That July, the day before my family left for our week at Cana Colony*, I was chosen as “gymnast of the week” out of about 40 girls in my level and the level above me. O-o-oh yeah, I was feeling good: gymnastics was going great and now we were off to Cana.
Our Cana week of 2018 was amazing, and we made great friends and memories that week. But when my family and I came home, something was off and I felt restless: I cried easily, couldn’t sleep, and I honestly thought I was sick.
Part of it was that I missed my friends that I had made on our Cana week and just everything about Cana. But there was something more, and I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
Meanwhile, I tried my best to suppress those feelings and continued on with gymnastics. Even though I told myself and others that I was fine, I wasn’t, and I still hadn’t figured out what was going on with me.
A few weeks later, my mom took me to gymnastics like usual. A little while into practice though, I started to cry. I didn’t exactly know why, but I just didn’t want to be there; I wanted to go home. It wasn’t really a longing for my house 15 minutes away though, but for home and for peace and rest. That was really what I longed for.
So, I left that day. When I got home, I desperately tried to figure out what was going on with me. I was tired, though not physically, and I wanted rest.
I couldn’t figure out much that night, but suddenly, the thought of stopping gymnastics was a peaceful and appealing thought. This also created a sort of war within me though, because, while one half of me began to like the thought of stopping gymnastics, the other half was telling me, “Don’t be ridiculous! You love gymnastics.”
Two days later, I again went to gymnastics and on the way, my mom and I prayed the rosary. It was a Thursday, so we prayed the Luminous Mysteries. And all of the sudden, this theme of listening to Jesus became so clear to me throughout the mysteries, especially in the second decade when Our Lady says to the servants, Do whatever he tells you (John 2:5).
I started to cry and asked the Lord, “What do you want to tell me?” I so strongly desired to know because I somehow knew that his answer was what I had been searching for so desperately. That longing for his answer was why I had been restless.
By that time, we had arrived at gymnastics, but gymnastics wasn’t what was on my mind. I wanted—no, needed—to know what Christ wanted to tell me, but something was still blocking me from hearing him.
A little while into practice, as hard as I tried to hold it back in public, I started crying. And again, I went home.
That night, I sat down with my mom and dad and poured out everything I had been going through. And as I spoke with them, God kept revealing more and more to me, and I finally saw how disordered my love for gymnastics in relation to my love for God had been.
The next day or two later, I quit gymnastics.
Then, finally having it out of the way, I heard what Christ wanted to tell me: He wanted to tell me that he loves me!
“Well, duh,” you might say, “of course he loves you!” But for me, gymnastics was like a huge concrete wall where I was on one side and the sun was on the other.
In the same way that I knew that the sun was on the other side and knew of its warmth and light though I couldn’t actually see it or feel it, I knew of God’s love for me, but couldn’t really know it or experience it.
But once I tore down that wall, I was free, free to know the love God has for me, not because I had been told of it, but because I was finally able to stand in front of it, with nothing in the way, and really experience his incredible love.
Now, all that being said, gymnastics is not a bad thing. What was bad was my disordered love for gymnastics in relation to God. There are many people who can love God and follow him and do gymnastics. In fact, now three years after my encounter with Jesus, I’m still able to do some of the cool skills I had learned and even teach others.
It’s like when the disciples left their nets to follow Jesus: they didn’t quit fishing forever, but they were ready to drop those nets when Jesus called them.
*Cana kids are children or teenagers who spent time with their families at Cana Colony, Madonna House’s retreat/vacation for families. The Mercuglianos have been a host family at Cana for years