Blessed in the Battle
Gospel Reflection for All Saints Day
My mind and heart have been stretched like a sore calf muscle. With loved ones being physically sick and the world being spiritually sick, I have felt burdened and scattered. I'm grateful for the feasts of All Saints and All Souls that have shed light in the darkness and remind us of the sacredness of the battle we are all in.
This world often distracts us from the reality that we are in a battle in this life. We want the glory of the victor without the mud on our armor. When I played baseball growing up, I remember how my male teammates loved getting their uniforms dirty because it proved that they competed and possibly attempted to slide into a base. If life were a baseball game, the goal is to cross home plate into Heaven and maybe even slide in! The Saints are those who rounded the bases and slid into heaven in their unique, creative ways.
There are no time-outs in this game of life, just transitions between innings or seasons of life. At times we are more aware of our wins than our wounds. At times we don't feel like we're winning at all, because we feel the pain and are just trying to push through. Either way, we can still be a part of a good game!
On the battlefield of life, we are not alone. We are surrounded by teammates that are working with us to accomplish the same goal. We are given the responsibility to play our position well because no one else can take our place. We are made exactly who we are called to be. We are not called to wait until we are a pro to start talking to the coach. The coach is there to help us from the first time we put on the cleats. He is the one who we can trust with the strategy of how to win. A play such as a sacrifice fly may not make sense to us at first but serves the entire team in the end if executed well.
The cheers in the stands remind us that there are people watching and supporting us as we compete. We may even have loved ones in the stands who are excited about surprising us with a delicious meal after the game. Our bodies will begin to breakdown and we will grow tired on the field. Crowds in the stands draw attention to the reality that there is life beyond the field. We can see some faces clearer than others since one fan may be behind the dugout and another in the bleachers. We hear their voices in unison cheer our name and we smile. We are known. We are loved. We are wanted.
All Saints Day celebrates all those who are in the stands, whether or not they are holding up a visible sign that says "St." All Souls Day commemorates those who are waiting outside the stadium. As the team on the field, we have influence over helping everyone get a ticket. It's all about who you know, right? ;-)
Who are those visible saints you see in the stands? Who cheers you on along the way?
Who are you praying for - that they will enter the stadium?
This may not be the perfect analogy for such a time as this, but it has flowed from my heart to my fingertips as I reflect on this jam-packed week. The Coach wants to help us win the game, but we need to be coachable. We need to be present in the game, on the balls of our feet ready for what's to come. We need to be able to move at His prompting. We may want to give up, but we need to dig deep and serve our teammates by staying in the game and taking responsibility for our position.
As I waited in line to vote this morning, I watched the sunrise over the basketball court outside my neighborhood community center. I believe this was a God-wink about "staying in the game" and being courageous when our Coach puts us in at critical moments. Those who were before and behind me in line agreed with me that we are all called to experience this moment side-by-side. The lady behind me had seen the long line earlier, so she left and came back with snacks. She told me that we would not have met if she had not had the change of plans. The gentlemen in front of me held their coffee mugs and laughed with me to pass the time. We never mentioned how different our preferences may be, but rather shared in our humanity in the early hours of the morning. This reminded me of a baseball player reaching 1st Base and catching up with the 1st Baseman (who happens to be an old friend) in the few minutes before the next pitch.
We may not be perfect players, but we have a perfect Coach. One that is so generous that He allows us to play even though it seems He could just come in and just do everything Himself.
At a talk this weekend, I heard the quote, "A game without rules ceases to be a game." When we play the game that is life, we follow the rules set by the Creator of life.
Often times, people refer to the 10 Commandments when listing the rules. I however like to turn to the Beatitudes to see how to play the game. Children who hear parents say "thou shall not" do something often feel rebellious while children who hear parents say "thou shall" can feel inspired.
The Beatitudes are the rule book for life. It doesn't look like the world's translation so it's important to practice and consult with the Coach regularly for clarity.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.”
I invite you to use these as guides for examining your conscience. Where are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What do you want the Coach to help you work on this week?
In the middle of a game, confidence is different than cockiness. If we believe we are the best player in all aspects of the game, we will not only be focusing on ourselves but also lying to ourselves. The best players are actually the ones who don't think they are better than everyone else because they are busy with lifting up their teammates and assisting them in big plays.
Anyone who is familiar with team sports knows that one cannot win alone. Each position has a part to play and the best teams are well-rounded with diverse strengths and talents.
No matter what we are going through this week, let us remember that we're ultimately on the same team even if we feel we are on different sides. Sometimes I can become so flustered from the behaviors and attitudes of others. Sometimes I can feel so tired when the competition never seems to end. Let us choose joy and lead with love. Let us have some fun as we remember our gratitude for having the opportunity to play.
Let us hear the cheers and applause of the crowd when we hit a home run or a big out. Let us feel their support when we fall on our face trying to catch a flyball in the outfield. Let us remember that the purpose of being on the field is actually to end up in the stands knowing we "fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith" (2 Tim 4:17).
The Sunday Gospel provided me with an image of the Coach huddling us together:
"When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them..."
Are we coming to Jesus? Are we letting Him teach us His ways? Where in our prayer life do we experience the mountaintop?