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Athletic Director needs to schedule better

Faithpoint | Thursday, November 20, 2008

I don’t know if the Church looks ahead on the schedule when it assigns readings for each Sunday, but it sure blew it this past weekend. Ideally, you look to match the hardest parts of the schedule with the easier teams – a San Diego State opener, for example. And you put your harder games, ideally, after a bye. Notre Dame didn’t do a great job this year, scheduling the bye the first week of the season, then loading up on four straight tough games in November, with no bye, three of which they lost.

The Church needs Florida’s AD. The Gators play the Citadel this week with a BCS berth on the line. And they had their bye week before Tennessee. That’s how you set it up.

As students head into crunch time this semester, they need a bye week on the Gospel. Something consoling – “come to me all you who labor and I will give you rest.”Or something energizing, a spiritual Red Bull – “The water I give you will become like a spring of eternal life welling up within you.”Or even a crank-it-up pep talk- “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. And I have given you power to trample on snakes and scorpions.”(Uh, Jesus, I actually don’t need those here in Indiana, but how about “acing tests without studying for them?”)

That’s what we needed this past Sunday, as dark, snowy, assignment-packed November descended upon us – a soft, peace-inducing, inspiring Gospel. Instead, the Church AD gave us the equivalent of USC on the road. The Gospel of the Talents. Death to Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s perfectionists. You know the one: a master gives one servant five talents, another two, and another one. Then, when the master returns from his journey, he asks for their returns. The one with five made another five and gets a posh promotion. The same for the one with two. But the one with just one talent played “Guitar Hero” in his room all week, gets read the riot act, and loses even the one he had. Just what you needed to hear with five papers and an Orgo Final on the horizon … .

Of course, this passage has its place in the Gospel messages we need to hear. Just not right now. Because one tempting way to interpret this Parable of the Talents is: “If I max out with my gifts, God will be really pleased with me and throw his arms around me and love me.”This, I submit, is not at all what Jesus is trying to convey in this Gospel. Furthermore, it’s a very dangerous interpretation for our spiritualities, especially if we’re perfectionists – that the love of God can be secured by performing perfectly (or at least highly efficiently) with our gifts.

But this interpretation does not square with the God whom Jesus reveals throughout the Gospels as a whole. How can we, for example, square such an interpretation with the Parable of the Prodigal Son? In this parable the younger son not only does not “max out” his gifts, but completely squanders them on debauchery and prostitutes. And when he returns to his father (another image of God), the father, very movingly, runs out to meet his irresponsible son and embraces him in his arms.

The concept that we earn love by our performance is often learned from the first time we bring home our report card full of A’s and everybody in our house goes nuts. This is followed by academic awards, honor societies, huge SAT scores and all the rest – each usually, and reasonably, triggering celebrations of our achievement. Though in the deep recesses of our hearts, we can also begin to think, mistakenly, that these are celebrations of our being. That we are good, worthwhile, and lovable because we have produced these achievements. And as our spiritual lives mature, as yours are in powerful ways during these college years, this dynamic of “I-am-loved-because-I’m-successful”can, quite naturally, get projected onto God. “God loves me more when I do well with my life.”That, needless to say, places a burden on your tests and your life – the acceptance of God – that is a tremendous, and ultimately unbearable, load to carry.

It is easy to see how last Sunday’s Gospel about the talents could be read as an exhortation to please God by maxing out with your gifts. But it is equally easy to see how incompatible such a spirituality is with the Parable of the Prodigal Son, or the Lost Sheep (who doesn’t seem to have been the brightest goat in the herd), or the Beatitudes’ exaltation of precisely those whom the world normally judges unsuccessful.

The love of God is already ours. It was won for us by Jesus Christ and granted to us at our baptism and continued life in the Church. This is why St. John writes: “The love of God is this: not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us.”This is as clear a statement as possible that we do not earn the love of God, not by our achievements, not even by our virtue, nor anything else we can accomplish. The love of God, simply, is already won for us.

If we have been given five talents, or two, or one, we are indeed called to cultivate them and place them at the service of our brothers and sisters. But we do so not so we can “pass the test”and earn the love of God. Rather, freed up by an ever-deepening certainty of the love of God that we already have, we become more and more filled with a prodigal happiness to develop and share what we have with others, especially the poor and sorrowful, that they too might know the happiness and the love of God with which we have been gifted.

This week’s Faithpoint is written by Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, Director of Campus Ministry Bible Studies and ACE chaplain. He can be reached at delfra.2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Faithpoint are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.