Now that the lazy summer days of August have given way to the September crackling of shoulder pads and helmets as football launches into full swing, pastors once again find themselves in their own competition for the time, attention and participation of their parishioners on Sundays.
For me, Mass and football have never conflicted. Not because I am some ultra-pious soul who has never been tempted to choose watching a football game over attending Mass, but rather because I am a college football fan. See, college football plays on Saturdays, so while most wives have come to grips with the fact that they lose their husbands on Sundays from September through January, my wife has always relished my Sunday freedom, while simultaneously cursing the fact that Saturday afternoons and evenings are held hostage because of my college football fandom.
Actually, she has come to love college football. I have helped my wife through two conversions in her life – one to Catholicism and the other from pro football to college football. We’re from Illinois originally, so she’s still a Bears fan at heart, but once she met me and realized how fanatical of a Notre Dame football fan I was, she knew pretty quickly that if she wanted to talk to me on Saturday’s in the fall, she’d have to watch Notre Dame football.
Now, she’s almost as big of a Fighting Irish football fan as I am. By the way, did I mention that Notre Dame is off to a 3-0 start this season and is currently ranked No. 11 in the country??
Sorry, I digress…got a little excited there for a moment.
Watching football again reminds me of how much of a team sport it really is. Eleven men working together to either move the ball down the field or stop the other team from moving the ball down the field. Every player is giving his all for a common goal – the good of the team. Each has a responsibility to himself and his teammates and if he does his job well, there’s a good chance success will follow.
In this way, it struck me while watching football last weekend how much football teams are like our families. Every family member has a role to play for the well-being of his or her self and for the family unit as a whole. Without one family member working and looking out for the good of all, the entire family suffers.
And as we all know in football, it is the quarterback that runs the show. He calls the play in the huddle, calls the signals at the line of scrimmage, makes sure everyone is in the right position and either hands the ball off to the running back or throws it downfield to a receiver. He’s the chief, the physical and spiritual leader of the offense.
Successful teams often have great quarterbacks who lead. Bad teams often do not.
When it comes to walking onto the gridiron of life each day, Jesus is our quarterback. Football quarterbacks are often equated with gods, but we know there’s only one quarterback in the game of life. Jesus is there for every battle, every struggle. He calls the plays, shows us the way to success and happiness. He challenges us to be the best we can be, puts us in position to succeed by honoring him with our thoughts, words and deeds and expects us to work for the common good of the team – our families, friends and the greater community of believers
Our family has put Jesus in the quarterback position, most especially in recent months. We’ve asked him to lead us, show us the way and to place us in positions and situations that he desires for us and that give him glory. He’s been our spiritual leader while I’ve been in between jobs searching for work, while our children prepared to head back to school and while my wife went back to work full-time for the first time in seven years.
Our family team needed Jesus the Quarterback at the helm to lead us, to give us courage. As usual, he didn’t disappoint.
On the campus of Notre Dame, the Hesburgh Library has a wall that contains a mosaic which stands 14 stories high and depicts Jesus as teacher. His hands are raised high above his head as he is surrounded by disciples. The mosaic has affectionately become known as “Touchdown Jesus” because it can be seen from inside Notre Dame Stadium and on sunny football Saturdays, it looks as if Jesus is signaling “Touchdown!” after another Fighting Irish score.
“Touchdown Jesus” is with us every day. He is the quarterback of our lives and the leader of our families. He encourages us to work together for the good of all and to trust him with our lives, fully believing in faith that he will guide, protect and sustain us through all of life’s battles.