The Big Game

I'm not sure there were many people at the 6 p.m. Mass on Super Bowl Sunday. Actually, I think I can say without too much reservation that the congregation was most assuredly smaller than usual. Hopefully, the regular crowd changed their weekly routine and went to a vigil or morning Mass. I'm convinced that most of them probably did.

The Super Bowl is an inescapable American cultural phenomenon. Even for those who don't care much about football, the Big Game is still a big deal. If defense and downs aren't your thing, the ads might be more up your alley. Or the half-time show. Or the buffalo chicken wings and seven layer "Mexican" dip. Or just the rush of competition at its highest levels. I know if somebody ever offered me a ticket to the game, I'd go in a flash. Who wouldn't?

But if someone offered me a chance to actually play in the Super Bowl, I'd run as fast and as far away as I could. That's because I know I'm not in any condition to meet one-tenth of what is out on that field. Frankly, I don't grasp the most basic rules well enough to understand how to survive the game, let alone play it.

When it comes to sports, there are those who play, those who watch, and those who don't care enough to do either. I think the same can be said about how people approach the spiritual life. The greatest number of us are those in the stands or watching from a distance. The fewest are those are actually passionate enough about it to give their lives to it. And then there are those who always have something else to think about or better to do.

Spectators get a glimpse of the glory, but never a real taste of it. Those who don't bother to participate at all often disparage those who do. Some even ridicule the brave few who give themselves totally to the game. But those who train and work and dream, who see themselves as part of a team and play by the rules? They are the only ones who really know what the game is all about, why it matters, and even how to win. They also know that what makes or breaks an athlete isn't necessarily the talent he or she was born with, but the dedication that eventually grows into a complete investment of self. The Big Game, after all, demands everything we've got. As the saying goes, "leave it all on the field."

This year's Super Bowl showed us that it is possible to overcome almost any deficiency and snatch victory from all-but-certain defeat. It also showed us that the game isn't over until it's over, and that a lead does not guarantee a win. Those lessons are readily apparent to the millions of people who paid any attention whatsoever to the game (even those who didn't actually watch it) but they are lost by all who didn't consider the game worth a few minutes of their time.

I guess what I'm left with is the idea that every one of us is engaged in a Big Game of our own. It may be standing against a temptation, or struggling with a health crisis or a disability. It may be finding the resolve to grant or ask for forgiveness, or striving to prioritize what's truly good over what is merely comfortable.

Like football, human life has rules and referees -- and a playbook written by those who've played the game in seasons past. Whether we choose to play or not, the line of scrimmage is in every human heart, but for those brave enough to take the field, so are the goal posts and the end zone. For those who choose to watch, there is some share in the victory, but it will always belong only to those who take the risk to suit up and play. Today's score doesn't matter. What counts is whether you play at all before the clock runs out. In life, there is no overtime.

- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.