There's a sign in the Notre Dame locker room that says, “Play Like a Champion Today.” As part of its football team's pre-game ritual, each player hits the sign on the way out to the field.
The Fighting Irish have had many storied teams and illustrious players over the year, including Johnny Lujack, George Gipp and Joe Montana. An untested 18-year-old freshman would never be mentioned in the same breath with such luminaries. Yet it's his turn to try. He may not be a Lujack or a Montana, but just maybe he can play like a champion today. And so he hits the sign as his way of saying “Amen” to this proposition.
A few years ago, I asked myself how I could apply this motivational tool to my spiritual life. Then I realized that we had an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe hanging at the base of the stairs leading from my bedroom to the rest of the house. And so now every day, as I descend the stairs and prepare to meet the world, I strike the wall near the image and say to myself, “Live like a saint today.”
As I do this, I realize that God had a lousy recruiting year. Surely, I don't deserve to be thought of in the same breath as the many great saints who have gone before me. Yet I also realize that today it's my turn — our turn — to take the field and try. It's not too much for the Church, our mother and teacher (or, in this context, our coach and trainer) to expect us to do our best to “live like a saint today.” Otherwise, why bother taking the field at all?
The Catechism reminds us that the saints are the ones who have made the difference at pivotal moments in Church history (No. 828). Many were martyred; their very blood has been the seed of renewal in the Church. We may not be called to that level of sacrifice, but we have to understand that right here, right now, all of us are in the game.
Through the communion of saints, Christianity is truly a team sport. But it assuredly is not a spectator sport, as it's not enough to talk a good game. The call to holiness must be lived.
I find it heartening to have my active 4-year-old son Samuel run down ahead of me in the morning and hit the wall like his daddy. He even reminds me when I forget. Of course, he doesn't understand this ritual very well. But I hope that, one day, the little ritual will provide me an occasion to explain to him the call to become a follower of Christ in terms he can understand and explain to his little brother Raymond.
Athletics provides many vivid analogies for teaching the faith. This wasn't lost on St. Paul, who frequently used expressions such as “running the race,” “disciplining the body,” “winning” and “shadowboxing” to communicate sublime spiritual truths.
“Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).
We may not be Catholic superstars like Pope John Paul II or Bl. Teresa of Calcutta — but we're still called to bring our “A game,” such as it is. When we do, God can do remarkable things in us and through us.
Leon Suprenant Jr. is president of Catholics United for the Faith, based in Steubenville, Ohio.
- August 21-27, 2005