Celebrating Athletics Mass
May 9, 2018
I cannot imagine any greater metaphor for life and faith than sports…and not just a metaphor, playing team sports not only allows you an opportunity to improve as an athlete but develop skills that are necessary to be a heroically self-sacrificing person on and off the field…which is precisely what the life of Jesus Christ and all our lives of faith are meant to be.
When Peter makes the statement that he is a human being just like Cornelius, that statement needs to be qualified a bit. Because of what Christ accomplished by way of His Passion, death and resurrection are we not now more than just mere mortals…are we not in fact divine?
As much as a proper diet and vitamins and supplements enhance an athlete’s performing power, that is nothing compared to the Holy Eucharist we receive which is the ultimate nourishment because we are receiving the power of God…the body of Christ Himself into our body that enables us to be more physically fit and more importantly feeds our spirit so that we can be more faith and love fit.
And we need to be fit on all levels because like any athlete playing for any team, the goal remains ever the same…victory. As we heard the Psalmist today in fan cheering like style say…sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done wondrous deeds…his right hand has won victory for him, his holy arm…the Lord has made his salvation known.
What is salvation if not the ultimate victory…to fail to achieve salvation is to fail period and forever. Disciples are fiercely trained competitors who must be the most dedicated, motivated and focused of all competitors knowing what is at stake for themselves and those they compete with and for.
We are created for victory and there is no more formidable and more vicious and more win at all costs opponent than evil. As Saint Peter like any good coach instructs us:
Be sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour.f 9Resist him, steadfast in faith. The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ [Jesus] will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little.
Called to eternal glory is being called to eternal victory as the final book in Scripture Revelation reminds us:
After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches* in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation comes from* our God, who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.”
13Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress;* they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.d
As any committed athlete and coach will tell you…failure to prepare is to prepare for failure. We just heard today that God sent his only son into the world so that we might have life through him. And not just any life…a super abundance of life. And Jesus says as much:
10A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. 11I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.c 12A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them.d
Wolves, demons, Satan, murderers, deceivers, thieves, destroyers certainly a sad, terrifying and accurate description of the very dangerous world we live in. That being the case, when a team sizes up the coming opponent for the next game who is the toughest and fiercest yet confronted...is not the training and preparing more intense not less.
One of my favorite sports quotes comes from a movie about the sport of boxing...Rocky Balboa addressing his adult son...as a Saint Peter might address us as disciples:
The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.
But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!
But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!
Or closer to someone who is not a fictitious person in a movie:
About playing football the great Coach Vince Lombardi had this to say: “Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” And there is no more worthwhile goal than salvation.
Sports then is more than being a fanatic. It is all about passion...being passionate about life and what is life if not other people because what makes life so significant and so worth living is love: that is what drives and inspires us.
Saint John says today…God is love and nowhere did God demonstrate how intense and how passionate that love is then when He endured His Passion and wrestles to the ground not one but four of man’s greatest opponents: Hell, Sin, suffering and death.
Wrestled to and through the ground and three days later rose from that field of combat forever victorious…placing the crown of victory where He most desired it to be…on our heads and upon our hearts.
What is in a person's heart is what drives one to compete, sacrifice, confront, endure, battle, overcome and at last succeed.
The spirit, the will to win and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur. These qualities define who we are and the legacy we leave for others.
But in order to have these qualities we must receive the training…and this begins the moment our parents decide to have us baptized…but how many coaches would dare prepare their players to compete for the championship by having only one or two practices a year…more than preparing for failure…that is preparing for irreparable harm and injury.
Listen to this prayer from the Baptism ceremony that should be read by families every day as a coach would sit with his notes and game films every day:
You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith.
It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God's commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor.
Who after all aspires to be a loser? Should we not then aspire to be Christian Hall of Fame Champions called Saints?
Recently the sports world was all abuzz with the NFL Draft…especially in New York. And what is the purpose of a draft? To choose players who you believe will improve the quality of the team and the team’s chances of winning a championship…to perform, contribute and succeed on the absolute highest level.
Did we not hear Jesus say today: It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain? By the very nature of our baptism, we are first round draft picks chosen by Christ Himself, unleashed upon the world to save it. Greater love has no one than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Is this not the Athlete’s mentality when considering who he is playing for and the people who cheer his team on? Is there not this in the trenches bond that is formed between teammates who agreeing on that common goal of victory, perform at their highest level in support of each other?
Who of us remember the opening credits of the Wide World of Sports? That ever enduring voice of Sports TV Jim McKay saying: Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports... the thrill of victory... and the agony of defeat... the human drama of athletic competition... This is "ABC's Wide World of Sports!"
We love sports…our spirits are drawn to the fierce competitive nature of athletes not only in spectator fashion. Do we not wish that we too could be on that field of competition, draining our bodies and souls of every last drop of blood, sweat and tears…not just for an individual accolade or award but for the benefit of one’s entire team and the many who root and cheer for that team?
As Christians, we are the ultimate athletes engaged in the ultimate contest of salvation…and as long as we maintain our faith and our commitment to living and loving it, especially each Sunday, the thrill of victory will be ours forever and the agony of defeat will be the conquered devil’s and death’s forever.