As an archery coach in a Catholic high school I like to use archery as an analogy to the spiritual life. Since archery is rich in connections to real life it helps immensely when I try to get some point across to my students. One point in particular is that no matter who we are, or where we live, or what stage of life we’re at, we all aim for one thing: happiness. That’s what we’re aiming for, but are we hitting the target?
The word ‘sin’ originates from the Hebrew word meaning ‘missing the mark’. Sin, really, is missing what you’re aiming for, namely happiness. Now happiness is a sense of contentment or satisfaction that is achieved when the human ‘will’ comes into possession of some good as determined by the intellect. I want a car and through my reasoning process I decide to buy this particular car, and I’m happy … until I realize that the car is a lemon, or the payments are beyond my means, or that it is impractical for my needs, etc. How many times has someone (usually our exasperated wives) said to us: “WHAT were you thinking!!!!” Yeah, I know … it seemed like a good idea at the time.
The philosopher Aristotle said that happiness comes from within and is achieved by the apprehending of some good. The problem is that we often times fail to distinguish between the ‘real good’ and the ‘perceived good’, what seems to be good but isn’t. When we shoot at the perceived good, that is when we miss the mark, that is when we sin. The first rule of hunting is ‘don’t shoot at something unless you absolutely know what it is’. Same with the moral life: don’t do something unless you’re absolutely know that it is good.
When the school year starts and I get a whole gaggle of new, fresh faced, Grade 9 Green Arrow or Katniss wannabes I teach them the basics and then line them up real close to the targets, so they don’t miss (which they still do). Shot after shot I work on their form, trying to get the basics right and developing consistency. I tell them “don’t worry about where on the target the arrow goes, just hit the target in the same spot all the time, we’ll work on hitting the centre later.” Little by little their shots become consistent with the arrows hitting the target in pretty much the same spot, what is called ‘grouping’. When the grouping is tight and consistent we then begin working, through small adjustments, on hitting the bulls-eye. Then, when they are consistently hitting the bulls-eye I start moving them back farther, and the process begins again. The adjustment, however, doesn’t take long and we move back even farther.
As men we are constantly aiming for happiness, for what we think is good. When we are young, or not anchored in our faith, we are all over the target, often aiming for things that are not really good or important. Time, experience and practice will help us to group our shots so they hit on what is truly good.
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