The other day I watched a Canadian film with my wife and her parents called Saint Ralph. The story is about a 14-year-old boy named Ralph who, hoping for a miracle to bring his mother out of a coma, attempts to win the 1954 Boston Marathon. After months of training under the tutelage of a former all-Canadian marathoner turned Catholic priest named Fr. Hibbert, Ralph nearly wins the race, coming in a very close second place. The movie touched us. We laughed and we cried; mostly we cried.
The next day my father-in-law, Roger, and I were sitting in a café when he asked me if I had any philosophical thoughts about the film. I told him I thought it was about hope, but now that I’ve reflected on this some more, I think the movie is about faith, hope, and love—a concept St. Paul highlighted in his first letter to the Corinthians: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
Love in this case means charity, or grace, a one-way and unconditional kind of love. Ralph’s mother was in a coma when he decided to love her with a one-directional grace that she could not reciprocate since she was unconscious. This is the ultimate kind of love, the type of grace Mark Darcy bestowed on Bridgette Jones:
Mark Darcy: I like you, very much.
Bridget: Ah, apart from the smoking and the drinking, the vulgar mother and… ah, the verbal diarrhea.
Mark Darcy: No, I like you very much. Just as you are.
Who doesn’t want to be on the receiving end of this kind of love—love that we don’t need to earn? God loves us like this: just as we are despite our lack of preceding merit. He sent his incarnate Word in the form of Jesus Christ to love humanity when we didn’t deserve it, and as a result He continually bestows us with the free gift of his divine grace despite all our hang-ups.
This gives us hope. At least it should. It gives me hope since for those in Christ there is no condemnation, not now, not later, nor in the end.
But what of faith? Ralph struggled with faith the most. He had hope and love. He hoped to win and that in winning against all odds he would become a saint, and saints are supposed to cause miracles. He wanted his miracle to be his mother’s release from her coma. But he needed faith in God to become a saint. He had faith in himself to perform this miracle by winning the race, but Ralph didn’t realize that saints don’t perform miracles. God does.
And the greatest of miracles is love, or one-way, unconditional grace. Love someone like this, the way God does, and hope and faith will follow, maybe for them, but definitely for you. It has for me.
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