Saturday, November 05, 2016

Lessons from Football

It was a fine summer day in Maine's lake region. I was just about ready to exit the pulpit after having given an invitation to the parishioners to visit our book fair. The pastor spoke up: "Sister forgot something!" I made a quick mental fact check. Father continued: "All you men who sit on the couch watching football, there's book downstairs [in th eparish hall where our display was set up] for you." I smiled when the priest reminded me of the "football book." I think it is now out-of-print, The Spiritual Lessons of Football. Since at that time I was not a New England Patriots fan, nor did I follow any other football team, I had not even leafed through the book Father pointed out. Of course, we sold out all the copies of the "spiritual football book." Today I read an article in the Boston Globe about the New England Patriots, who so far have only lost one game in this season. Tomorrow they will face one of their strongest foes. To prepare themselves, New England's coach and all the team members watched videos of their own plays, highlighting their own mistakes. Their goal is to avoid the mistakes they made, or to execute plays they had not tried so as to win tomorrow. St. Ignatius would be glad to see how they are making a football examination of conscience. No doubt coach Bill acknowledged what each player did well, and encouraged his men to keep up the good. St. Ignatius taught that the daily examination of conscience is a "non-negotiable" element of the spiritual life. The daily examen starts with praise and thanksgiving to our God for the graces received in the last 24 hours. Then one looks over the day and checks his or her response to God's grace: You may see that you had the opportunity to practice patience with one of your kids. Did you control your immediate reaction to scold him? Or, did you let loose with a "not again" complaint? Did you show your love for your spouse, or were you too busy to give that little rub to his shoulder, or kiss or when you walked in the door? Whatever your position, married or single, lay person or vowed religious or priest, the daily review helps us to be more aware of God's efforts to draw us closer to him. When we notice our failings, our sins, we don't hang on to them like a weight to be dragged around. We admit our mistakes, we tell God "I am really sorry." And as we might say to our children, "We resolve to do better the next time" we are faced with similar challenges. After we express our contrition, then we pray for the grace to continue on our spiritual journey. We tell Jesus we trust in him to provide the strength we need to overcome our habits of sin: our impatience, our reliance on alcohol or pain killers, our cover-ups for our own shortcomings. Maybe we have fallen into gossip. We plan to change the subject the next time we are tempted to take down somebody we really don't like. Whatever the sin, we admit it. We don't white wash it. We allow Jesus to dissolve our spiritual stains, better than any "oxy" soap. Prayer gives us the power to overcome bad habits, or to do a good deed for someone we may not like; to go the extra ile for soomeone who may not be able to repay us. Blessed James Alberione practiced this Ignatian examination of conscience every day. Alberione gave his Pauline Family members a short prayer that sums up the goal of the examen. It goes like this: "By myself, I can do nothing. But, with God, I can do all things. To God the honor and glory, to me the heavenly reward." The Divine Mercy devotion reminds us to pray often, "Jesus, I trust in You." With the daily awareness prayer, we can face our daily challenges with confidence.
Like Coach Bill and his players, we can go out on the field and score our spiritual touch downs and field goals with confidence and the spiritual skills we learned in our prayer time. November brings not only football and falling leaves here in New England and elsewhere. In November the Church reminds us to remember to pray for all of our deceased family, friends and for folks we have never met--all those who have gone before us. We believe that before we can fully enjoy the presence of God in heaven, our souls need to be purified of stains of sin. The poor souls, as we call our deceased, realize how now how important is every second of our life. They realize what habits of sin, or habits of spiritual neglect kept them from fully allowing Jesus to live in them. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians: "I live no longer I, but it is Christ who lives in me." The Poor Souls wait to be completely purified of all that kept them from fully enjoying the Blessed Trinity. They can no longer adjust their spiritual lives. They rely on our prayers and sacrifices to help them move on to that total bliss of the Presence of God. The Psalm says, "My soul is thirsting for the Lord. When shall I see him face-to-face?" May we perform the work of mercy to pray for the living and the dead especially during this Month of the Poor Souls. Then these souls who thirsted for the Lord will be satisfied for all eternity.

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