In All You Do, The Challenge Is To Play Like A Champion
The golden helmet rests on my desk. The “Play Like a Champion Today” sign hangs above my office door. The lock screen on my phone is a picture of the Golden Dome with my wife and me smiling in the foreground. Like my inherited love for the Chicago Cubs, being a Notre Dame Football fan feels like a genetic predisposition, something I couldn’t change if I wanted to (and there were times in the 2000s I wish I could have).
Recently I read a story about Notre Dame’s award-winning linebacker, Manti T’eo. If you haven’t read about this young man, do yourself a favor and look him up. Don’t just read about his on-the-field performance; read about his character. He is a class act, a young man who truly lives out his faith.
Although he represents the country’s most famous Catholic university, T’eo is not Catholic. He is a Mormon, and a young man who lives out his faith in a way that has garnered the attention of everyone from sports fanatics to those who despise competition, and from Catholics to non-Christians. The “real deal” tends to do that, and this kid is the real deal.
A life-long Catholic, I have always respected the evangelical zeal of the Mormon faith, and my personal experience with the Mormons I’ve known has been more frequently positive than negative. I tend to invite Mormon missionaries to visit me, and I’ve always enjoyed the discussions that ensue. At times I do wonder what it is about certain faiths, like the Mormon religion, that inspires adherents to live virtuously and with such energy when many of us confirmed in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ tend to drop the ball.
As a weak man, too aware of my own failings, I would never condemn another person for failing to live their faith with zeal. But facts do suggest that we Catholics fall short from time to time when it comes to living out our faith. The National Study of Youth and Religion (NYSR) reported that Mormon youth were the group best able to articulate their faith beliefs and practices; Catholics were second-to-last on the list. In other words, the study suggests that Catholics and Mormons are at opposite ends of the faith field.
The NSYR noted another key finding: “Contrary to popular opinion, teenagers tend to go along with the religious beliefs and level of commitment of their parents….” Practice makes perfect: Strong, faith-based families produce strong, faith-based youth. Why are Mormon teens better able to articulate (and thus practice) their faith? More than likely because that faith is mirrored and reinforced at home.
When was the last time you and your family read the Catechism together? If your children asked you what is entailed in the “Year of Faith,” could you answer? Does your family pray at any time other than over meals? Again, this is not an attack; one of the hardest practices in my marriage has been learning to pray with my wife. Yet the reality is that if my wife and I don’t practice our faith, we can never coach children into heaven. If we do not dedicate ourselves to prepare for obstacles, we will miss the end zone of our faith.
Catholic high schools were present in all but one division of the Indiana football finals this year. In fact, one game matched two Catholic schools against one another. How many hours of preparation did those young athletes put into that game? In contrast, how many hours would you estimate their families spent in prayer together? Even if we included Mass, would the numbers even be close? Yet which accomplishment is more important for a family: To produce state champions or to produce saved souls?
As an old wrestling and speech coach, I know that beginning a training regimen can be daunting, so here are a few drills you might try to strengthen your family team:
- Pray before meals.
- Read the Sunday Gospel together sometime before Mass. Even if Mom merely reads the Gospel on the way to Mass on Sunday, it will get the whole team warmed up for the main event.
- Expect greatness. Your family was never meant to be third string. Each person was given a particular gift of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation, so help your spouse and children to identify and utilize their gift.
- Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Many don’t realize that the Catechism is divided up into small snippets, some no more than a sentence or two. Perhaps you could merely read a passage as part of one of the prayers you’ll be making as a family over meals, or you could plan a short, five-minute family faith practice one night a week.
- Do not quit. Whatever you do, even if it’s just something small, don’t get discouraged and don’t let the hustle and bustle of the world crowd out whatever good work you begin. The old adage is true of faith as it is in sports: “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”
Your family may discover other practices that are better for your training regimen. The point of practice is to prepare, so find what works. Your priest and pastoral staff at your home parish are professionals in this area; they’re at the top of their game, so ask them to assist you in building your team.
Most of us will never run out of the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium, but we’re all called to play like a champion in our daily lives. Each of us has been put into the game of life to win. It takes hard work, intense practice and constant effort, but the Bible assures us that the battle has already been won. We simply need to make sure we’re prepared.
Oh, and GO IRISH!!!! [Sorry, couldn’t help myself.]