For Love of the Game

Yesterday’s second reading at Mass really speaks to those of us who relate to sports. St. Paul tells Timothy–and us–to “compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life . . .” In other words, let’s get after it!

Even more, St. Paul tells us the qualities, or “keys to victory,” of those who will compete well for the faith: “But you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.”

Each one of these characteristcs carries into the world of sports. Righteousness implies good sportsmanship. Despite rampant cheating in some sports circles, the Christian plays fairly and conducts himself honorably on and off the field. Devotion not only implies a fierce loyalty to one’s team, but also a certain reverence and respect for the game, including its history and traditions. Surely we can’t compete well if we don’t have faith in our abilities and in our teammates and coaches.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends–or in a sports context, for our teammates. Sometimes we just have to “take one for the team,” sacrificing our comfort, our stats, or even our body for the sake of victory. Patience is an absolute must if we are going to successfully play with and through pain, disappointment, and setbacks. Meekness, which is often used interchangeably in Scripture with gentleness, is often misunderstood as a virtue for wimps or losers. In reality, meekness is what makes us coachable and able to channel our efforts toward the goal.

If these qualities apply to a mere game, certainly they apply to our Christian discipleship.

Next spring here in Kansas City we will be given a special opportunity to apply these principles at Kauffman Stadium, home of Major League Baseball’s Kansas City Royals, where tens of thousands of people will gather for a Family Rosary rally. Similar events are happening all over the country.

Big events, such as Rosary rallies, Eucharistic congresses, parish missions, apologetics conferences, and the like, are great, but they require preparation. Similarly, football players don’t just show up for the Super Bowl and expect to be able to give a maximum performance. Rather, at the Super Bowl the players draw upon the fruits of a daily training and practice regimen. Their motivation (besides a new contract!) is love for the game and the desire to win the Lombardi Trophy.

May we–especially husbands and fathers–likewise be challenged to “bring it” every day, to foster righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness in our own households as we strive for an eternal prize. Let’s go out and do it for love of the game. Or should I say, for love of the Name.

For those of you men who need a good spiritual workout, I recommend Boys to Men by Tim Gray and Curtis Martin. This dynamic Bible study is geared to help men grow in virtue. It’s available at CUF members receive a 10% discount.

3 responses

  1. You know Leon I was just thinking. Baseball might be like the spiritual life in more ways than one. The best hitters only get about 2-3 more hits per week than the average ones. And so as our mind perceives it, superstars look virtally indistiguishable from scrubs on any given day. I wonder if that is true in the spiritual life also where even saints fall into bad slumps and may only do marginally better than mediocre on most days. But in a baseball career these small differences perhaps translate into membership in the hall of fame versus near oblivion for the average. Do small incremental differences add up this way in the spiritual life too?

  2. That’s a great point for reflection, Pete. I think the mark of a champion in sports as well as in the spiritual life is the ability to persevere in times of adversity–like the Yankees earlier this season, or Bl. Teresa of Calcutta and others who experience “dark nights of the soul” or other types of challenges, hurdles, and temptations in the spiritual realm.

    The fact that we may well be talking about “small, incremental differences” also points to the fact that holiness is not hopelessly beyond us. It is something that everyone can and should strive for with God’s grace.

    It seems particularly fitting to be talking about these things on the feast of St. Therese, who made a “hall of fame career” out of doing the little things exceptionally well.

  3. I think this is an interesting point, especially since we’re told in both our spiritual life to take things one day/game at a time, forget about yesterday and just focus on what we can do today. I’m reminded of Orel Hershiser’s comments in George Will’s Men at Work when he said (paraphrasing): “I strive for perfection to the degree it’s achievable. If I give up a hit, it’s the last hit I’m going to give up. If I give up a run, it’s the last run I’m going to give up. What’s past is past, I need to focus on what’s in front of me now.” In either baseball or our life, if we focus too much on our mistakes and failings in the past, we’re likely to fall pray to more in the future. Move on from the past and do the best we can in the future.

    Leon makes a good point in bringing up Saint Therese’s “Little Way.” The same is true in baseball: it’s often true that baseball players trying to hit a home run swing through a pitch because they were trying to do something big, but home runs often come when they take their normal swing. Swinging for the fences leads to strikeouts, but “staying within yourself” leads to success. And so the great saints tell us about the spiritual life.

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