The Theology of Football: Weekly Message for 09-10-2019

Dear Fellow Digital Pilgrim, Pax Christi:

Okay, I realize I am going out on a limb here.  I have never written to our digital pilgrims about sports – except maybe when I shared some stories from childhood.  But one of the world’s most popular ingredients in an increasingly globalized popular culture – the NFL – is once again taking center stage with the start of a new season, and it has some theological significance, so humor me.

A sporting event, as well as a season of sporting events, is a parallel world.  This is why it is so entertaining and enjoyable. When we watch a game or follow a team, we plug into something that has its own rules, parameters, personalities, conflicts, and potential.  To plug into that world, we need to unplug from our everyday world – and that gives us a respite (at least partially) from the mundane and emotionally demanding parameters, personalities, and conflicts of our day-to-day lives.  Any healthy recreation allows us such a respite. Of course, any activity that we enjoy recreationally also has the potential to become a distraction – when the vicarious world of entertainment becomes more important or more absorbing than our real world, we lose our balance and our direction (so let’s not let that happen).

But we can’t stop our examination of the value of recreation and entertainment there.  A key element is missing. This is where the theological dimension comes into play (so to speak).

The Whole Story

In a game or a season of football, the entire story is played out.  A game or a season has a very concrete beginning, middle, and end.  All the drama that makes it so enjoyable starts, unfolds, and finishes.  Nothing is left unresolved. This is one of the main reasons it gives us such enjoyment.  As human beings created in time but created for eternity, we enjoy the journey of life, but our enjoyment is always incomplete – we are always, existentially and constitutionally, waiting for the journey’s fulfillment, for its completion, for the final score.

In life on earth, we get to finish chapters now and again, but we don’t get to finish the whole story.  That only ends when Our Lord sees fit to call us back to the Father’s House.  Only then will everything that happened in our lives, everything we did and suffered, take on its complete meaning.  Only then will we have the satisfaction we yearn for in the deepest core of our being – the satisfaction that comes (God-willing) from finally entering into the embrace of God, knowing him fully, and knowing ourselves known fully by him.  Only with that embrace can the story of our lives reach its eternal conclusion: And they lived happily ever after…

But when we watch a game or follow a team through a season – like the new NFL season that has just begun – we get to experience the whole story even here on earth.  The endings aren’t always happy (especially if you happen to be a Cleveland Browns fan, as I am), but they happen. And that gives our souls a rest. It gives us a miniature, vicarious experience of what we are looking forward to experiencing at the end of our lives: the resolution of all conflicts, reparation of all injustice, and illumination of all meaning.

So, as we launch into another autumn, let’s stir up hope in the bigger story of our lives, and renew our commitment to living each day with that horizon in mind.

God bless you!

Yours sincerely in Christ,
Fr John Bartunek, LC

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