Saturday, January 31, 2015

(151) You're IN the Super Bowl.......the Real One: A Football Analogy of Life.........Vocation, Mission, & Confirmation

AMDG

            I’ve shared much of the following with two Confirmation classes and hope that the current class, sponsors, parents, and everyone else young and old will read this too.  So often sports simulate life and are great analogies for reality.  Danny Abramowicz, former All-Pro wide receiver and later coach (Offensive Coordinator) for the New Orleans Saints, does it all the time on his TV program on Men's Spirituality, "Crossing the Goal on EWTN and ewtn.com Thursdays 10:30 pm Eastern, Sundays 6:30 pm, and Mondays 6:30 am.  He speaks at Men’s Conferences all over the United States.  

The Communion of Saints (Longmans 1893): The Church Triumphant, Church Militant, & Church Expectant
             This Sunday, the eve of Candlemas Day when Simeon prophesized that the Christ child will be “a revelation of light to the gentiles” (Luke 2:32), most of us will be watching the Super Bowl at least for the ads.  You know what? YOU’RE IN THE SUPER BOWL…….not that Super Bowl, but the much bigger Super Bowl of life…..every one of us.  How much time is left on the clock?  You may still be toward the end of the 1st Quarter.  Or you may be in the 4th Quarter and not much time left.  What’s the score in your case?  Do you have a good lead?  Or are you behind, playing catch up in your preparation for eternity?

            In our Super Bowl, the real one, it’s Team Light against Team Darkness.  Which team are you on?  In this very serious game of life, the stakes are high…….Eternity…….eternal happiness with God in Heaven or……Hell.  The forces of evil, the demons of addiction, and the idols of power, prestige, money, and illicit pleasure play for Team Darkness.  We play by the rules…….the Ten Commandments and the teachings of the Church.  Team Darkness only plays by the rules when convenient and beneficial to them.  They play to win by any means……every dirty trick imaginable that they can get away with.  They’re clever and they’re mean.  They win when they get you to be on their side for eternity.  Since the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden, life has been a battle between the forces of good and evil........a struggle “with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits.......” (Ephesians 6:12). 
            We, the Church Militant are the players.  Our coach is the Church that Jesus Christ founded…….the word that He inspired (the Bible) and Church teaching on its application, its guidance.  Our fans are the saints in heaven (Church Triumphant) and the poor souls in Purgatory (Church Expectant or Church Suffering).  They pray for us and cheer us on.  When we join the team, we’re baptized with water and the Holy Spirit during pre-game warm-ups, usually as a baby, to get us ready with sanctifying grace, the divine life in our souls, as members of the Church.

          Before every play we say a quick prayer for God’s help.  The player, who fumbles the ball by committing a mortal sin, is relegated to the bench because he’s useless in that state.  But there’s Confession to clean our souls, to get up and keep going, and get back into the game for Team Light.  It’s for venial sins as well to examine how we’re doing, learn from our mistakes, and gain graces to become a better player.  During time-outs (at Mass), we receive the nutrition of the Eucharist, Christ Himself…….our sacramental Power Ade so to speak.  After a serious injury, especially during old age, we receive the Anointing of the Sick that gives us graces and often helps us recover and play a bigger role for the team. 

At half time we receive the sacrament of Confirmation, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, to come out stronger and tougher for the second half.  We may also receive the sacrament of Matrimony or Holy Orders to obtain special particular graces for the state of life or position we choose on the team.

Throughout this very real game of life, where the stakes are eternity, we take some hard hits and sometimes are thrown for a big loss.  Each time we offer it up to the Lord, keep trusting in His help and will, pick ourselves off the ground, and keep going, never giving up.  We block for each other through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  We help each other in a spirit of love and charity.  In striving for the trophy, eternal life, remember the words of the great coach, Vince Lombardi, a daily communicant:  “Winning isn’t everything; IT’S THE ONLY THING” since by winning this game of life, we gain everything and by losing we lose everything. LET’S  GO TEAM LIGHT!

            Sports in Developing Virtue. St. Paul used sports in one of his Epistles:  “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  In other words Life is like a race…..a struggle toward the finish line.

           Pope Francis and St. Pope John Paul II love sports.  The saint gave a homily on sports and saw its value for developing virtue, saying:  “St. Paul the Apostle proposed the image of the athlete to the Christians of Corinth in order to illustrate Christian life and as an example of effort and constancy.”  See


St. Pope John Paul II enters Rome's Olympic stadium October 29, 2000 to say a mass for the athletes' Jubilee for the Holy Year and later watched a friendly soccer match between the Italian national team and a selection of foreign players in Italy.

           Often sports develops virtue, especially under a good coach who teaches values (virtue).  Catholic athletes give their testimonies on www.blessed2play.org.  My daughter Naomi is on the Swim team of Franciscan University of Steubenville.  When the swimmers complain during a hard workout, the coach will say “Offer it up; let’s go.”  Training requires a lot of self-discipline.  Urban Meyer, coach of national champion Ohio State and Joe Lombardi, Offensive Coordinator for the Detroit Lions endorse SportsLeader.org  as  a virtue-based mentoring and motivation program for coaches. The  blog sportsleaderusa.blogspot.org shares stories from coaches all over the country on transforming lives.  For more information contact Lou Judd - ljudd@sportsleader.org

That’s what interscholastic and intercollegiate sports are all about…..to develop self-discipline in training; constancy; perseverance in not giving up; teamwork; charity in encouraging and helping others on the team; sacrifice in unselfishly playing for the team over self; humility in taking correction and guidance; servant leadership; courage to take hard hits and face difficult obstacles; mental toughness or focus; honesty in playing fair and doing what’s right, responsibility in accepting assignments and doing one’s part on the team with one’s best effort, sportsmanship with the opposing team, school spirit.  The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (naia.org) for smaller colleges has a program for its athletes called the “Champions of Character”.  See www.championsofcharacter.org and its core values of integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, and servant leadership.  The student athlete can learn even more virtue under adversity.     

Sports is often a practice for life.  Our game plan is the Bible and Church teaching handed down from the apostles.  What is the big prize for winning the very serious real game of life?  What are the six words that will tell you that you won the Super Bowl trophy after the clock ticks down to zero…..of course with God’s help and mercy.  It all boils down to SIX words.  “WELL DONE GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT.…….enter into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew:25:21).
   

            Vocation. These six words imply a VOCATION.  What’s that?  It comes from the Latin word, vocar, which means to call.  A vocation is then a CALLING from God, a mission from God.  You, each one of you have a special mission from God, a special mission which He gave to no other, unique to you.  And that is what Confirmation is all about…..to give you the strength and the grace to carry out that vocation or mission as soldiers of Christ.  Confirmation will help you tap the gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord) and grow in virtue as we reap the fruits of the Holy Spirit (charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity).  We must take advantage of the graces of Confirmation.  Dear Holy Spirit, set us on fire. 
           
            The gifts include GUTS, the courage (fortitude) to do what is right, to stand up for what is right despite the consequences.  You may be criticized.  They may call you names.  They may tear you apart.  You may lose fair weather friends.  You may lose your job.  But remember, no matter what happens, the Lord is at your side and trust that He will help you through it.  In the long run, you will win.  Things always work out for the best in the long run for those who do the Lord’s will.  Trust Him.  People will recognize you in the long run.  Are you going to let your peers or friends lead you as you follow the crowd like Mary’s little lamb in order to be popular or are you going to lead your peers?

            To Serve. “Well done good and faithful servant” implies two very important principles.  What are they?  #1) We are servants.  We are to SERVE.  Serve whom?  We are to serve God and His people.  “Whatever you do to the least of mine, you do it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).  So serving people means serving God.  You are not only to be servants, but also SERVANT LEADERS.  We are to be faithful to God, to His commandments, to the Church and its teachings, to our vocation and mission, to our families.

            Thy Will Be Done. If we are servants of God, that means we are called to do the master’s will.  Each one of us must always search for, i.e., discern #2) GOD’S WILL.  Each one of us must frequently pray that God will clearly show His will for our lives.  “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life?  Guide me to the area where I can serve you best.”  We must strive to be the Lord’s instruments.  As servants we do all for God.  St. Ignatius Loyola had a beautiful motto:  “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” (AMDG) …..which means “For the greater glory of God”.

            Actually, we should strive to do God’s will every day, every moment of our lives.  A good rule is to say a MORNING OFFERING every day:  “Lord, please give me a good day.  I offer this day to you.  Please help me to make this day pleasing to you.  Dear Holy Spirit, tell me what to do and what to say this day.  Don’t let me do or say anything dumb.”  Then during the day, consult the Lord with every decision, big or small.  Ask for His help.  Converse with Him briefly during the day as when walking, driving, or waiting.  In these ways, we are following St. Paul’s admonition; “PRAY ALWAYS”.

            In our careers, we’ll win some and we’ll lose some.   When you win, give the credit to God and those who helped you; when you lose, pick yourself off the ground, learn from your mistakes, renew your faith, and bounce back.  In any event, success belongs to God.  As Mother Theresa said, “God does not ask us to be successful, but to be faithful”.  Do your very best and let the Lord take care of the rest.  Success is His problem.  Learn from your mistakes.  Accept your limitations, handicaps, obstacles, and adverse circumstances.  Every saint has had to suffer.  Every saint sought His will and trusted.  Be grateful for adversity because that makes you more dependent upon God.  Recognize that your abilities and talents are gifts from God.  Then success, when it does come, won’t go to your head and lead to your downfall.  Trust Him.  The Lord will help you in an endeavor as far as He wants it to go.  The results are His.  God has used humble people with limited abilities to do great things under the most difficult circumstances.  TRUST!    

            Thy Kingdom Come. What is the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary?  THE PROCLAMATION OF THE KINGDOM.  You can also find it in the Our Father:  We already alluded to: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.  Each person has a position on the team.  That is a special role in the Communion of Saints and the Mystical Body of Christ (all of us with Christ as the head) in establishing the Lord’s Kingdom.  The Communion of Saints consists of the saints in heaven who serve as models, whom we ask to pray for us; the poor souls in Purgatory who ask for our prayers; and all of us on earth with Christ as the head. 

            What is that Kingdom we are aspiring to establish?  With the Lord’s help, we aspire to make the world a place that acknowledges Christ as King without forcing it on people…..to make the world a place of peace where people care about each other….to serve each other instead of taking each other…..instead of stomping upon each other to achieve our selfish ends.  That’s what love is…..people serving each other, people caring about each other.  We must do our parts in establishing a Civilization of Love, which Pope Paul VI promulgated and St. Pope John Paul II reiterated. 

            You can do your part in establishing the Kingdom.  Any job in the world can be an apostolate.  Money may be important, but more important is service……serving people with a good or service.  Establishing the Kingdom is to put Christ into the market place, to put Christ into Business, to put Christ into your profession by putting love into it, and serving people through your career.  God so often manifests His love to people through us…..the way we love, the way we treat people, the way we serve people in our jobs. 

            When Christ ascended into heaven, He commanded the apostles: “Teach ye all nations…..”.  Did He say that only to the apostles?  That command is for all of us.  We all have the duty to evangelize.  That is to establish the Kingdom.  We can establish the Kingdom in big ways or little ways…..by PRAYER, by our EXAMPLE, by WORD in speaking out, and by DEED or action.  Don’t just keep the faith; spread it!   Do your part with His help to establish the kingdom.    

            Can you change the world?  Everybody doing their part on the team or Communion of Saints, WE can change the world.  You alone can do little to change the world, but you can do something……a little today, a little tomorrow, a little the next day, and the accumulation of many little things done every day over a period of 20 or 30 years can add up to greatness…..as great as those so called great people who have one or two major accomplishments and what about all those little heroes out there who have done that little bit each day? 

            Soldiers of Christ.  Establishing the Kingdom involves a great cultural-spiritual war that is going on today in the world, in our country, and in our town…..an ongoing battle between good and evil.  It involves many great moral issues and evils that our Church has taken stands on…..the sacredness of life from conception to natural death, the tremendous dignity of the person, social justice…..the fight against the evils of abortion, contraception, euthanasia, premarital and extramarital sex, gay marriage, pornography, the breakdown of the family, secularism, racism, corruption in business, corruption in government, and many other ethical issues.  This is where you will all have a special role as soldiers of Christ……i.e., a special mission or vocation.  You’ll need all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fruits that flow from them to discern and accomplish your mission.  Pray every day for the discernment of God’s will for your life and trust.
 
            Life is all about becoming holy while discerning and carrying out your vocation to serve God and His people to the best of your ability each day with the Lord’s help and work with others in the Communion of Saints.  Each one of us has special gifts, talents, and skills to share. Working together as a team becomes a great force for good; we can’t do it alone.  Confirmation will give you the graces, the strength, and the courage to carry out that vocation/mission.  At the same time, don’t forget your quest for holiness.  No one can stand before the throne of God in Heaven unless s/he is holy.  We have a choice:  become holy here on earth or become holy in Purgatory which is much more difficult.

            Think about what God is calling you to do and at least consider the religious life as a priest, brother, or nun.  As a religious, one can devote him/herself more completely to God and serving His people without the distractions of a family.  Being a spouse and parent is a vocation in itself.  Make sure that whatever career path you choose, serves God according to His will.  Be alert to every little opportunity to serve, whether alone or working with others.  Through all of this the priorities of life must be #1- God; #2- Family; then #3 job and career. So often the parent is torn between family and job.

Discernment of Vocation

            How do you know what your vocation is?  God has given each of you a special mission that may evolve over time, but how does He tell us what it is?  

        1) You will feel an attraction to a certain field, occupation, endeavor, or way of life.  You are drawn toward it.  YOU LIKE IT.  You think you will enjoy the challenge of it.

        2) Abilities or Talents.  I would love to be a major league baseball player.  But I can’t hit a fast ball; nor do I field or throw well.  That attraction to a field must be backed up by ABILITY.  God gave each one of us special gifts. My gifts complement your gifts; your gifts complement mine; and in this way each of us makes a contribution in the Community and the Communion of Saints.  So go into a profession that will utilize your special gifts. 

         3) DESIRE.  Do you like that profession enough to do whatever it takes to do well in that profession…..perhaps years of study, blood, sacrifice, and tears.

Of course, the opportunity must be there as well.  The Lord will open doors to where He wants you to go.        

         4) Choose a profession where you feel that you can MAKE A DIFFERENCE, to make your profession, your town, or the world for that matter, just a little bit better because of you. 

            Pray every day for the discernment of God’s will for your lives.  At the same time, you must discern a vocation to the Married Life, the Single Life, or to the Religious Life. 

            Married Life.  How is the Married Life a vocation?  Dr. James Dobson wrote a book:  “Parenting Isn’t for Cowards”.  Married life involves the privilege of creating with God a family of beautiful human beings, preparing them to do their part in establishing the Kingdom and to prepare them for eternity.  Yes, each child has a free will, but parents have a grave responsibility for the salvation of their kids.  Married life presents joy and tears, highs and lows, conflict, frustration, you name it.  No marriage is perfect.  No family is perfect. It is the family that nurtures religious vocations.  The greatest gift and privilege that a family can have is to produce a holy priest.

            Is the single or celibate life a vocation?  In what way?  One can devote himself or herself more completely to God and serving His people without the distractions of a family.  Don’t forget the priorities in life:  #1 GOD; #2) FAMILY; and #3) JOB or profession. 

            The single lay person can serve as a single individual on his or her own.  Many, however, prefer the backing and mutual support of a community of like minded people, united to deepen their spirituality and to serve God and His people.  They may join a loose community as Opus Dei or a lay community which makes promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Others may join a religious community that is more permanent and profound.  They may wear a habit and make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  These religious communities serve the missions here and almost anywhere in the world.  Fr. Regis, the pastor of Sacred Heart Church, is a Capuchin/Franciscan priest.  Fr. Tom is a secular priest, supported by the parish and the diocese.  He took vows of chastity and obedience.  

            Each one of you has a vocation, a mission in life.  What do you think your vocation or mission in life is?  How do you think you can effectively accomplish that mission?  How do you think that you can effectively serve God and His people in your profession?

            Priestly Vocations.  I met a young priest at the Charleston Skating Rink, where he was on an outing with his altar servers.  This shepherd of God said that he just knew that he had a vocation to the priesthood.  His greatest joy is celebrating the Eucharist.  His greatest satisfaction is the people, especially the kids.  His greatest frustration is also the people.  There are all kinds, he says.   I guess the good, the bad, and the ugly.  

            He agrees that God calls as many people as ever to the priesthood, but today many of these priestly vocations are suffocated by the secular culture we are in and by dysfunctional families.  The shortage of vocations today is a real crisis in the Church.  Some parishes can no longer have a full time pastor, let alone two or three priests as in the past. 

            You may have a religious vocation.  Please think about it and pray about it.  It is sad that in the 150 year plus history of this parish, we have had only four religious vocations.  Pray for religious vocations and encourage your friends and siblings who may have a vocation.

            Ask priests, nuns, or lay professionals: “How did you know you had a vocation to the priesthood?  What are your greatest joys and satisfactions?  What are your greatest frustrations?” 

            What should you do if you think that you might have a religious vocation?  Go to your pastor, the vocations director of your diocese or religious order that interests you.  A visit or stay at a convent or seminary could be easily arranged.

            Think about what God is calling you to do.  Make sure that whatever career path you choose serves God according to His will.  Don’t just keep the faith; spread it every day in big ways or little ways by prayer, example, word, and deed as we do our part with His help to establish the kingdom.  Be alert to every little opportunity whether alone or working with others. 

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