Over the years I have found sports can offer meaningful metaphors to help illustrate aspects or issues of our faith. A recent discussion with a lifelong practicing Catholic over what it means to be Catholic provided “food for thought”; I realized that once again a sports analogy is an excellent tool to help people understand and live out the fullness our Catholic faith
During our conversation, my friend emphasized that going to Mass, confession, helping the poor and less fortunate, and praying were important elements of our faith. He expressed little concern or interest over the teaching or lack of teaching of Church doctrine, of “Church rules” regarding sexual matters such as abortion, contraception, homosexuality or same-sex marriage. Basically, he professed a faith where one should practice the Golden Rule especially in regard to tolerance and inclusion of others. In turn, he expressed a continuum from disregard to a disdain for some elements of Catholic absolute dogma as being too rigid. He thought the Church should practice a “live and let live” approach to our culture and the larger world around us and adapt to changing times and viewpoints. My friend is a good person and probably reflects the views of many Catholics.
Football’s Offensive and Defensive Strategy
That conversation made me think of two aspects of living our faith that can be analogous to one’s approach to football strategy. In football, there is an offensive and defensive approach. Each has its place in attempting to win the game and both are necessary for victory.
Playing and practicing offense in football is about running plays to score points to win a game. The term offense is applied because the team initiates the plays that the other team has to react to. In turn, most experts who follow the NFL adhere to the adage that “Super Bowls are won by the defense”. For the offense to be successful requires the necessity of a strong defense that creates the conditions for an offense to do its work. It is more reactive in that defensive play is in response to what the other team initiates.
In terms of my friend’s viewpoint of what practicing the faith is all about, it appears to be only an offensive approach.
Practicing a Faith-based Offense
From a faith perspective, the football analogy can be viewed as originating personal actions in following the model of Jesus to live out a Christian based life to obtain the victory of salvation. It can be considered as an offensive approach because the individual initiates his/her actions to live out the faith. We are challenged, as believers, with taking the initiative to live out an “offense” to practice a faith-based life. When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees which is the greatest commandment he summarized such an approach in Matthew 22: 37-38:
Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.
Acting on his answer could involve following the tenants of the faith as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Part 3 – Life in Christ. Examples would include practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and the cardinal and spiritual virtues.
Practicing a Faith-Based Defense
From an analogous faith perspective, defense can relate to how one chooses to respond to the culture and world around us. It is especially relevant in light of the assaults against our faith and faith followers. All one has to do is read the headlines to know that assaults on the Church and the Christian faith are numerous, universal and never-ending. There are many cultural and governmental attacks against Christianity and more specifically the Catholic Church that require a defensive response. We need to react to protect against the multitude of pressures to secularize our Church, to make it adapt to cultural norms.
That defense can be comprised of many elements. First, is to confront inherent evils to defend the culture of life against the cultural push for abortion and euthanasia. Second, is to protect against physical threats and attacks against fellow Christians such as now seen in the Middle East. A third effort is to defend against cultural pressures to undermine the tenants and the authority of the Church on a variety of issues such as same-sex marriage and the promotion of transgenderism. Finally, is to defend against and correct false teaching within the Church which has been a problem in various forms for over 2000 years. Paul alludes to this in 2 Timothy 4:2:
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season, correct, rebuke and encourage- with great patience and careful instruction.
The last two efforts require adhering to proven and accepted doctrines and practices passed down over the centuries from Jesus to the Apostles until today which can serve as an ongoing defense by our faith community. If Church structure and moral dogma break down then the offense will be incapable of mounting any sustained effort to meet its mission to build the kingdom of God here on earth. Likewise, at a personal level, it is important to not be trapped into accepting the false narrative that changing times require the Church to “modernize” moral doctrine.
A common and misleading view being expressed is that the coming of Jesus Christ represented a faith revolution whereby following the rules of faith are minimized and are to be superseded by just practicing the attributes of mercy and tolerance. However, Holy Scripture refutes this view in that Jesus preached on the necessity of both in Matthew 5:17-20.
Do you not think that I have come to abolish the law… I have come to fulfill them…. Not a dot will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”