Thursday, January 26, 2012

Winners Want the Ball

It started yesterday over lunch with a priest friend of mine.  We were talking about the blessings and stresses of ministry when the question came up: how does one thrive, not merely survive, in the crunch-time, the hard time, of ministry?  You know, when pressure and anxiety are running highest and hope is on the run.  My friend smiled and made what seemed like a gesture toward the television behind me, on which was playing a repeat of yesterday's basketball game.  He told me about a scene in The Replacements (a movie I haven't seen about B-league football guys getting their shot during a labor dispute) in which Keanu Reeves' character (the quarterback) hands off at a pivotal moment of the game.  The coach tells him afterwards: "Winners always want the ball... when the game is on the line."

Winners always want the ball when the game is on the line.

My friend finds uncommon focus and energy when his team's back is against the wall.

Then today over coffee another friend was telling me about his son's recent spelling bee victory.  My friend would like to say that Eli studied for weeks before his triumph, but that wasn't the case at all - he decided the night before he would like to win the contest, and he did.  While my friend talked openly about the need for a developed study ethic (something time will no doubt teach), he admired what he recognizes as "the killer instinct" in his son.  Whether on the baseball diamond or in the auditorium, he wants the ball at the end.  Winners always want the ball when the game is on the line.

This repeating theme has got me thinking:

What does winning look like for a Christian?  What does it mean to want the ball among the community of believers?  And when is the game on the line for the people called Church?

Two thoughts have ordered my reflections on these questions.

The first thought comes from my mentor, Father Timothy, which he shared during my time as a seminarian at Church of the Holy Family.  He shared with me once that the Commission on Ministry had asked him during his own time of discernment why a person of his intelligence and gifting was considering a life spent ("wasted" was the insinuated meaning) as a priest?  Timothy answered that his understanding was that no matter how rural or tiny the placement, the promise of the Gospel was that where two or more were gathered, Christ would be fully present in the Eucharistic moment, the blessed bread and wine.  "That's right," they said.  "Then for what else would I want?"

This thought reminds me what crunch-time really is.  Crunch-time, by definition, is the time that matters most.  "Alleluia!  Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us."

As often as I celebrate the Eucharist, I remind myself of (and pray for) this: that I have no earthly longing beyond this moment.  That the game is played for this.

The second thought that orders my reflection to the question of wanting the ball (and winning) with the game on the line as a Christian is slightly more intuitive.  Shuffled in among the many ordinary exchanges that constitute a day, there are a handful each day that rise up and seem to demand: "Here!  Here, the truth must be spoken."  These are moments when my soul realizes that holy listening will not be enough this time, that this moment is crucial and crying not just for some version of politeness or social order but for the Gospel itself.  Moments when forgiveness must win over tolerance; justice must win over cowardice; grace must overcome guilt and self-hate.

In these moments, I often don't know what the truthful words are in advance, but the sense of the need for Gospel truth is palpable.  These are moments when the Spirit stays true to the promise: the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.  [Luke 12:12]

These two moments - the reception of Christ's Body and, together as the Church, the becoming of Christ's Body - are moments I live for, when the game's on the line.  What are yours?


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