Sinners among us

Like a lot of Catholics, every October growing up I was assigned a project related to the saints in preparation for All Saints’ Day. I listened to friends speak with excitement about the saint they’d chosen to study, often referring to their “patron saint” – one they felt a sacred bond with.

While I went through the motions every year, I don’t ever remember feeling such a connection. As a kid I didn’t really relate to the saints; they seemed like spiritual superheroes who were more like cartoon characters than human beings. As an adult, I simply found them too holy for the likes of me. After all, I struggle daily to live out the Gospel and to follow God’s Will for me, and these were people who struck me as living their lives as the faithful big-guns of moral and theological virtue.

But then I met St. Augustine. Talk about hitting the reset button.

This central figure in Christianity was a giant in loose living. Stealing, drunkenness, having a child out of wedlock, participating in a heretical sect, and engaging with mistresses are some of the things that mark Augustine’s journey into sainthood.

A few years ago someone suggested I read his Confessions, Augustine’s autobiographical work. In it, he candidly details his struggle with sin and regret. He writes that during his sinful period he prayed to God, “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.”

But not yet.

 And there it was. This saint from the 4th Century and I were connected in just three words.

How many times had I too prayed for God to change me, later on. In those three words I saw myself: My fractional faithfulness. My partial trust.

I bonded with St. Augustine in this common struggle: our unreadiness to change. Our fear to surrender.

Augustine’s struggle was aided by a moment of Grace. It came under a Fig tree. “Tolle Lege,” he heard a nearby child sing, meaning “take and read.” He opened a book of St. Paul’s letters at random and came to Romans 13:13-14:

“Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

It was this moment of Grace that prompted Augustine’s conversion, resulting in his Baptism. He later became a priest and bishop, founded a religious order, and was a giant in defending the faith. An active preacher and writer, his letters circulated throughout the world to address the problems of his day.

In coming to know St. Augustine, I discovered that I hadn’t connected with a saint before because I thought sainthood was just about holiness. But that’s not it at all. Sainthood is about cooperating with God’s Grace in spite of my sinfulness so that I can follow God’s call to holiness.

Today, St. Augustine is my model for this. When I struggle, I look to his courage and willingness and it gives me hope. I ask him to intercede for me.

And it’s his own words that offer me the most practical assurance: “There is no saint without a past. There is no sinner without a future.”

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.