Getting Our Priorities in Order for the Ultimate Prize
As a big sports fan, I’ve always loved a good sports movie. Among my favorites are “Hoosiers,” “Field of Dreams” and “The Natural,” but to this list I’d have to add “American Underdog.”
The DVD recently arrived from Netflix and I put it in after Mass last week; my friend, Fr. Mark, saw it in the theater and incorporated it a bit into his homily. The movie tells the true story of Kurt Warner, a Hall of Fame quarterback who took over as quarterback for the Saint Louis Rams, and had an amazing career, all when everyone told him to forget about his dream.
As my friend noted though, the film isn’t just about football. In fact, football takes up a part of the story, but the deeper story is Kurt Warner the man himself, and where his priorities are. The movie is a story of relationships; Warner and his wife Brenda, and his love for his stepchildren and family, and, of course God. Warner chases his dreams, but does so not so much for his own glory, but because he discerns God has called him and given him the tools to be a quarterback, but even more so a husband and a father. He finally realizes his hard-fought dream, but his true joy stems from being able to share this with his family who he sees as instrumental in helping him to get it. And as much joy as being on an NFL team gave him, it’s clear he has deeper joy from just being a husband and a father.
“American Underdog” was one of the better movies I’ve seen recently; it’s an uplifting tug-at-your heart movie, but is a great story of the human spirit, and how God has great plans for us all. On our part, we chase our dreams, and in so doing, have the power to make so many people better.
This past Thursday, we honored Saint John Vianney, who is the patron saint of parish priests. If there is a Kurt Warner of the clergy, it would definitely be him.
Like Warner, Vianney was essentially “undrafted.” He wanted to be a priest, but the higher ups felt he wasn’t smart enough to pass his classes; people dismissed him when he couldn’t learn Latin. But with some tutoring and persistence, he was finally admitted. He makes it through, and the bishop decides he’d best be in some small out of the way place that no one had ever heard of save for the small population living there, so he’s sent to Ars in France. Getting there to be the parish priest, he sees people who aren’t going to Mass, who are making poor moral choices, and who have become detached from their faith. And so with the example of his life, with his preaching, and getting to know the people, he turns things around. People start returning to Mass and there’s a spiritual renewal, not only in the small town but throughout France as people start flocking to Ars to meet with the future saint. He would hear confessions for hours a day, and helped countless people get back on track with their lives.
In all of our lives, our priority should be winning the crown of eternal life; namely growing in holiness and becoming a saint. But to do this takes a bit of work. So how do we chase that ultimate prize?
For one, we listen. In “American Underdog,” one of the things Warner learns is how to trust his coach and offensive line to protect him, which makes him a better quarterback. But more importantly than that, he listens to God who he feels gave him the talent to become a quarterback, and even more, a husband and father. He listens to his heart which leads him to Brenda. And for the thousands who met with Saint John Vianney, they listened to his counsel to become better. In life it can be tempting to do it “our way,” but when we pray, when we listen to the guidance of the Church, and to people who know us well, we can find the right path.
Second, we look at where our energy is going. Remember last week, when we heard the parable of the rich man who builds more barns for all his grain, not realizing there was something more important he should have been focused on? One of the things Warner in real life would do when asked about the Super Bowl or a big win or his career is often say first and foremost he wanted to thank Jesus Christ. He realized that as much as he loved football, there were even higher priorities. How about us? Is all our energy going to our hobbies or material things? Are we thinking long term with the choices we make and how they impact others? Do we realize what matters is making time for God and from that the important human relationships that flow from it with our families and friends?
Third, we work – day after day. A theme in “American Underdog” is never giving up. There are moments when Warner has next to nothing; in one instance he’s out of gas walking a few miles in cold winter weather to get gas for the car his family is in. There are people telling him to give up. But he doesn’t. Vianney’s job was just as hard too, trying to change minds and hearts, working so hard day after day. If you’re a parent you know that job never ends too. Whether we are talking about becoming a better person or helping others, living out the commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us and loving God with our whole heart, mind and soul takes a lifetime.
Lastly, we teach others. Warner wasn’t a coach, but as quarterback he was a leader. But what I found very moving in the film was his relationship with his stepchildren; he became a great father to them, and to the five children he and Brenda would have. Our words, our actions do so much to teach others what matters most, especially kids, which is why it’s so important to center our lives around God and family, doing all we can through how we lead our lives to be people of hope who make this world a better place.
What an incredible gift we each are given in being given the gift of life. May we never forget while few of us play professional sports, all of us can make such a difference in this world when we use God’s gifts for His glory, and every day grow in faith, hope and love.
Have a blessed week,
Download a PDF copy of this post here