Always first and goal

If losing the AFC title to the Colts teaches us anything, it’s that the overwhelming majority of people would rather be in the game than out of it. Watching the Superbowl is always fun, but it isn’t the same when your team isn’t on the field. Something is lost when there’s nothing at stake.

Imagine for a moment, though, if there weren’t any playoffs, if no players or teams were eliminated from the big game. Imagine too, that each player had his own set--(or no set!)--of rules, and that referees were each free to apply whatever set of standards they chose. The field would be in utter chaos, and it would be impossible for anyone to play a game at all.

That image is not unlike the world in which our kids are struggling to grow up. Wonder why so many of them seem directionless? The explanation is simple. Without a mutually agreed upon definition of what constitutes a goal, no one can score one. Money, pleasure, fame, are all that’s left to look like goals. If all we ever do is squabble about what the rules are or whether to use any at all, the playing field of our lives is never defined, and few of us ever actually get to play the game. Instead, we are reduced to powerless spectators in our own lives, too distant and disconnected to participate in the great contest that is human life. It’s easy to understand why so many people seem to be experiencing a crisis meaning in life when you realize just how difficult our world has made it to have a stake in the game. Fewer and fewer of us feel like we have a team on the field. Perhaps that’s why the commercials have become as interesting to watch as the game.

As Christians, we need to teach our kids and remind one another that life in Christ is never like that. Jesus calls His disciples, one by one and each by name, to join Him on the field of human life. The lines are clearly marked, the rules are well-defined, the refs are in place, and the goal is both visible and attainable. We need both a strong offense and an invincible defense. We move the ball down the field with small handoffs and long throws alike, but the key to moving it at all is perseverance. We need to know that the “Hail Mary” prayer is generally more valuable to us than the “Hail Mary” pass. We discover along the way that some plays work better than others. And though we do everything in our power to avoid them, we cannot completely eliminate fumbles and interceptions. Still, no matter what happens on the field, every player, every member of the team knows that for him personally, it is always first and goal. With God we never run out of chances, and we never lose the ball. The end zone for every one of us is always within reach. It is never picked up and moved beyond the edge of the field on which we’re playing.

Together, we ought to let the whole world know that every Sunday is Superbowl Sunday. Evangelization is simply inviting others to come out of the stands and join the game. The half-time show might be entertaining, but it isn’t the main event. Sure there are rules and all, and sometimes injuries too, but human life the way God designed it is a joyous contest meant to be played hard by all. We won’t all be great spiritual athletes, and not all of us will be voted the team’s Most Valuable Player. But to take the field is joy. To make the play is exhiliarating. To have a stake in the greatest game there is as a member of the greatest team there ever was is ours if we want it.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.