Have you ever had to explain the rules of football to someone who was watching the game with you? It is an interesting experience.
How do you explain, for example, 1st and 10? Well, the offense gets four chances (plays or “downs”) to move the football forward 10 yards. The defense’s goal is to tackle, or bring to the ground, the man with the ball. Where that man falls with the ball, the ball is placed there for the next play, and the teams line up and do it again. If the man throwing the football, the “quarterback” throws the ball forward to one of his teammates, and that man doesn’t catch it, then the ball is placed back where the play started. If after 4 chances, the offensive team moves 10 yards, then they get 4 more plays to go 10 yards, until they are either stopped, or cross a certain line into a place called the “endzone”. When the offensive team crosses the endzone, they get six points. After something called the “extra point”, the ball is kicked off to the other team, who then goes on offense.
Should I go into talking about punts and field goals? How about holding penalties? Horse collar tackles? I will spare you…..
These are the basic rules of football. If you know these rules, then you know about 75% of the game. If you know 75% of the game, then you can be an effective watcher of the game. But what if you are a player? Would it be enough to know only 75% of the rules? Of course not! Not only must a player know all the rules of the game, he must be a master of executing the game’s plays. Furthermore, his coaches must be masterful at designing a plan to play the game well. All of this is founded on an unquestioning acceptance of the rules of the game, however.
Now, this is in regards to a game. No one questions the rules of football. People pay thousands of dollars to watch players play football. How does this compare to the attitude of people towards the Faith? With regards to the moral and church disciplines of the Faith, there are many basic rules, and many obscure rules. There are consequences to not following these rules. Success in the moral life and in church life depend not only on an acceptance of these rules, but also on a masterful strategy in living a moral and faithful life. We are called to use our gifts, talents, strengths, and creativity to have a masterful gameplan for moral and church life. But this gameplan, this performance depends on acceptance of the basic rules.
We know that it is only through Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection that we are even given the skill and opportunity to play this game. We cannot put ourselves out on the field. However, once we have received this Grace, we are out on the field of morality and religion. We are on the Catholic team, so to speak. How will our team do if the teammates reject the rules of the game? What will happen if we do not work hard to live a masterful life of morality and religious discipline? Will we be winners?
I was in Detroit for the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors last month. I stayed on the 31st floor of a 75 story building, called the Renaissance Center. It overlooked the home field of the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions (both at the top of their games, for once!). As I looked out at the skyline of this major American city (having come from a small city of 200,000 people) I marveled at the construction of great buildings. But then, I looked up at the sky at sunset. And I remembered all the times that I had flown in planes, and looked down at the tiny buildings that hugged the distant ground below. And I thought to myself, “who is the greater architect, the one who built these little buildings, or the one who built the sky?”
The one who built the skies has written the rules of our game. Who are we to ignore them? And who are we to doubt that, if we live by them, will we be victorious?
We are encouraged that this is a game of love and life, and not a game of absurdity and chance. We are moving towards an eternal crown that does not fade.
So may we run the race well and finish it, and discover at the end of the contest, unfathomable joy.