Sunday, September 28, 2008

Faith, Hope, and Football

Through a wonderful string of good luck, I managed to go to the Purdue game on Saturday, a game which, without a doubt, turned out to be one of the best I have ever seen in Notre Dame Stadium. I saw a team that was excited to play, a team that could play, with a quarterback who took command of the field with poise and with swagger. I saw a dominating defense who played excellently in the secondary and who smashed up the middle, crushing the run. We saw only a couple of the long bombs that Clausen became famous for in previous games, but Allen notably made up for the lack of yardage via the air by blasting through holes and making his way confidently down field for a total of 137 yard, according the stadium scoreboard stats. Despite all this, there is one noticeable, most important factor that defined this game: the boys' didn't just have a desire to "play like champions," they knew that they already were.

For all those who play a sport, I don't have to remind you of the difference a swing in momentum can make in yourself. Whereas at one time, you never thought that you could ever overcome the opposition, a few good plays and a roaring audience and you start to believe that you can do great things, perhaps even win, and you do. When playing on a team, this phenomenon becomes even more pronounced. A confident team is a devastating force on the field of play. I also don't have to remind you of what happens when doubt starts to creep in, when you start to question everything and attribute your present success to coincidence and good luck. Team sports, once again, emphasize this phenomenon. No matter how hard you try to play with a positive mind, seeing your fellow teammates mope on the field, visibly loaded with the weight of impending defeat, is a crushing blow to your spirit.

I don't have to try hard to extend these observations to everyday events. Students tend to write better papers when they are confident about their success and the issues at hand. Relationships tend to succeed when the couple is more focused on being together in a more fulfilling way rather than "making things work," for it is this latter mentality which inherently supplies connotations of "defeat" into a supposedly constructive conversation.

More pertinently, however, this phenomenon takes on particular shape in our faith life. Because of the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ, and because of the continuous action of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the faithful, we have hope of our salvation. This hope, however, does not mean to "become something one wasn't before" but, because of faith, to know that we already are--saved. This hope is essential to the life of the Christian, without which it is impossible to persevere.

Of course, just like a sporting event, this hope is not automatic. Just because we have hoped does not mean that we will definitely win the race, as Paul puts it. It requires constant effort and the working out of our faith in our daily lives. I am continuously drawn to the phrase, "victors in the midst of strife," which was sung recently at the Basilica. Yes, we are victors, but we are constantly battered and bloodied. In fact, this is a necessary consequence of, as John puts it, being "in the world, but not of the world." As long as this world remains apart from the will of God, as long as Christianity is counter-cultural--which, save Divine Intervention, it always will be--we will have to face these seemingly insurmountable trials.

But let us not be afraid. For our hope does not originate in ourselves--we are not solely responsible for our longing for God. God himself gives us the grace to live our lives of hope. He is like the great sports coach, who at half-time, despite the obstacles and the odds and the score, convinces us that we already won.

And so, with blood, sweat and tears, we do.

A lesson well learned for Notre Dame: "Play Like a Champion" does not mean "to become something you weren't before," but "to be who you really are."

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