Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Basketball, Faith and Living in Communion

I don't know much about the game of basketball, but my girls do. One of my children loves the game. So, when a basketball camp form arrived that included all my girl's age groups, I signed them up. Who knew it would turn out to be a lesson in faith.

You know that net -- the one the ball has to go through from all angles and distances on the court? Well, it can be a daunting objective. It's tiny, compared to the size of the court, and not much larger than the ball. It's a difficult skill to master, getting that ball in the net. And to be successful at the game -- to win the prize -- it requires extensive help from teammates to reach the basket, score and celebrate a victory.

Often times, things that we long for are set high above our reach. This can be disconcerting to those who lack motivation and like to take the path of least resistance. The effort it takes to be successful may require more than one feels they can muster.

It's very much like the life of faith.

We can say we believe, but it requires practice and commitment to bolster belief. Getting to heaven isn't as simple as just making a statement, we have to live in this big world and try our best to deserve something that we can never deserve, that very special reward, eternal happiness. Many things can get in our way, in basketball it might be lack of skill or an opposing team. In the spiritual life, an example might be the temptation to pride, which can erode belief. Any time we give in to temptation, it's a sure way to slide down that slippery slope of sin -- to think we know it all and don't need the help of anyone else to guide our steps. And just like the team player who hogs the ball and thinks he knows enough about what they're doing to do it all alone, he typically finds out the hard way that he's mistaken.

The point is, there are very few people who can just pick up a basketball and sink a three pointer. It takes patience and perseverance. And there are very few people, who, like St. Paul, will be hit by lightening and receive infused knowledge. It takes effort -- spiritual and physical,  faith and works -- to live a life pleasing to God. And we can't do it without His supernatural grace. From there we get the strength to live different lives.

Eventually, we will sink the three pointers from the outside, but not until we have worked hard to develop an active faith life that is fed and nurtured by the Word of God, obedience to the Magisterium, frequent reception of the sacraments and the passion to learn and grow in knowledge and love of God and of Christ in His Church. Practice, practice, practice -- pray, learn and persevere in hope and love.

And just like players won't hit every basket they shoot, we will sometimes falter and sin.

Do we give up?

Do we stop trying to get better, or help others improve?

Of course not!

Instead, we get back to our position (living our vocation well, praying, making small sacrifices); we regroup and get ready for the next play (we get to the sacraments and begin anew). It's a wonderful gift to not be alone, to know that there are others who are working off the same playbook you are. It's comforting to know that your team is ready to start the next play with you. And that they don't expect you to sink that three point shot every time you get the ball. But, they do expect you to work with them, in communion, to win the game.

This week of basketball camp has opened a whole new way to talk about the spiritual life with my kids.  All four girls attended the camp together, all four girls have heard the same coaching about how to get better at particular individual skills, but also, how to be a member of a team. I can what they have learned as an analogy, as a way to try to describe how we have to have both personal spiritual lives while still needing to live in communion with the Church -- a communion that incorporates both heaven and earth.

Now, I think I'll take a shot at it.

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