By Deacon Gregory Webster
I love this season of the year. I love the crispness in the air and the colors of the leaves changing. While I don’t like the shortening of our days, I like how nature is telling us that time and change stop for no one.
The Church is in accord with this changing of the seasons. As we see “death” in the green foliage of summer fading away, our Sunday Gospels have also returned to the theme of our final destination. In this, the shortening of days becomes a “holy darkness.” Jesus reminds us that we know not the time or the hour that our earthly experience will end.
Fall is also my favorite time of the year because it is the time for college football. Football season is an opportunity to ride the “highs” of success and the “lows” of losing. For late in the season, we start tracking whether our team will reach the minimum of six wins for “bowl eligibility.” This is a time when teams at 4-6 have the pressure to win out and teams at 5-5 run with a little less pressure knowing they have to only win one of their next two games. The door to bowl eligibility is quickly closing.
As we prepare and fight to reach bowls, Jesus reminds us it is a time to prepare and fight our diluted notions of life to reach heaven. Teams will prepare for hours to master a game plan for victory. Athletes train on regular schedules to have the endurance to execute at their best. St. Ignatius reminds us to see God in all things. Paul tells us to “run so as to win…” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) So how can bowl eligibility influence our faith lives?
First, we must discern how much effort we place in trying to get to “6 wins” or how our minds are focused on this goal. Do we put that effort into our faith? Do we remind ourselves of what it takes to reach heaven and work to minimize the disparity of our actions and those called for in the Gospels?
I know when bowl eligibility ends. However, I am not promised to see the end of the season. In football or in life.
All my life I have been taught to target goals. I wanted to “run with the starters” for my vocation’s team. I trained to run. I pushed for the trophies in my career and while knowing that I needed to prepare for when my time in the game would come to an end. Hours of meetings, papers to be written, business plans executed. Put some of my check in the 401K and the 529….
How much effort has been spent in prayer and gratitude? Are we bowl eligible in life? Are we bowl eligible in death?
God has given us today to focus on the “six wins” needed for heaven’s bowl eligibility. Our game plan needs to change. Perhaps we’ve been playing the wrong game. Maybe our focus needs to change from the materialistic goals we’ve been focused on to living righteous lives, repenting of our sins, and living lives Jesus encourages us to live. People are the only values that matter. We need to track the score of our game. We only reach the end zone with lives lived in humility and gratitude. We give up touchdowns to the other team when we focus on ourselves. We must live knowing that we don’t decide when the game is over.
Bowl eligibility in college football leads to recognition, exposure, and potential financial benefits to the team and university. For me, I’ve focused on achievements for my chosen field of play. However, salvation in the Heavenly bowl does not come from these achievements. Answering how we have loved His creation and used our God-given talents to build His Kingdom is what will be expected of us.
In high school, my Mondays could be a day of anticipation or stress. On Saturday we played and on the following Monday afternoon, the team would gather with our coaches and review the film. I knew when a “good play” would be shown for me. I also knew when the unfortunate ones would be highlighted as well. I sat tall for one and slouched in my chair for the other. After each loss, Coach Sneddon reminded us that “the sun will still come up on Monday.” Depending on the game I played, preparing for some of those Mondays was tough.
God will review the game films of our lives. In my heart I know there are plays in the film that will not be particularly proud moments for me. I will be running a few laps around heaven for those. Yet, Coach wants us in His heavenly bowl. We can’t earn the right to be in that game. He has gifted us the tickets. I don’t care if I am in the last row of the upper deck. I just want to be in the stadium.
Like our autumn weather and colors, bowl eligibility in College football follows a yearly cycle. Each season, teams start anew for their quest of victories. Last season is in the record books and that trophy received is now gathering dust. For each of us, there is only one season. We can clear the slate of losses through Reconciliation, but only if that is our true intent.
There is only one “bowl “ in life that matters and we know when bowl eligibility ends. How we focus and prepare is up to us. Hopefully, when the clock runs out, we will be ready for that final whistle.
REVEREND DR. GREGORY WEBSTER is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate by Francis Cardinal George in May 2014. Besides degrees in Chemistry, he has an M.A. in Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary and a D.Bioethics degree in Catholic/Research Ethics from Loyola University of Chicago.