“Winning isn’t everything...it’s the only thing.” ~ Vince Lombardi
“I have become all things to all, to save at least some,” says Saint Paul in today’s 1st Reading (1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-27), a nod to his wise and divine understanding of the definition of “all things.” For Paul, the resurrected Jesus was everything. Evangelizing about the resurrected Jesus was, therefore, everything. . . All things.
He of course knew that many would reject his message, that he would ultimately die in proclaiming the message. But he reiterates his intention over and over: everything he does is for the sake of the Gospel. Many will be saved as a result of his tireless evangelical work. Tragically, many will not. Paul goes on to use an interesting analogy to close out today’s passage:
“Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win,”he implores them, for he knew that this journey, this faith journey rooted in and lived for the sake of the Gospel, was the race of a lifetime. Losing would not be an option, not for him, certainly not for those he was called to evangelize. “Every athlete exercises discipline in every way,” Paul goes on to explain, “They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.”
Tom Seaver, the greatest baseball player in the history of the New York Mets, passed away last week. Nicknamed “The Franchise” for his profound impact on a team that would morph from a lovable group of historically hapless losers (Google “1962 Mets”) to a World Series winner in 1969, shocking the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles and needing only 5 games to do so. Seaver’s jacked Resume included 311 Wins, 3 CY Young Awards (an honor given annually to the best pitcher in both the National and American League), a 2.86 Earned Run Average (pitchers with ERAs a full run higher than that receive $200 million contracts nowadays), and 12 All Star Appearances, striking out over 3,600 opposing batters along the way. Yet what his teammates and friends remembered most about him was his competitiveness and will to win.
In later years, Seaver put his natural charisma, effervescence, and knowledge of the game of baseball to work as an in-game analyst for the Mets. One night, while calling a Mets/Rockies game in Colorado’s Coors Field, a ballpark notorious for being a pitcher’s graveyard due to the mile high altitude which in turns creates a lack of frictional force. Routine fly ball outs turn into home runs and teams habitually score in the double digits, something that very rarely happened in Seaver’s pitching days. Between batters, Tom Terrific (as he was affectionately known during his career) was asked by his broadcast partner if he would‘ve liked to have pitched in Colorado. Without missing a beat he said “Absolutely.” When his surprised play by play man asked him why, he responded “because the other guy has to pitch here too.” As a pitcher, Seaver had moved beyond the vanity of boxscores, statistics, and the opinions of the beat writers who critiqued his performances with a diamond cutter’s magnifying glass. If he were to give up 9 runs as a result of the circumstances associated with pitching in Coors Field, that was OK. As long as the other guy gave up 10. To quote legendary Oakland Raiders’ Coach and Owner Al Davis, “just win baby.”
We must adopt the same mentality as it relates to our salvation. There will be times in our journey when we will feel like we’re on the mound at Coors Field, the messiness of life and the “hanging curveballs” of sin and vice knocking and dragging us down. Satan will stare us down on five days rest looking to do battle with us. It will be fierce at times. In keeping with the sports analogy, the devil has plenty of game film on us. And he’s in the projector room night and day. He’s fighting to win. Are you? Do you even know you’re in a fight?
Like Paul, we too must do everything for the sake of the Gospel. This attitude must be made manifest in how we raise our children, the ethics we bring to the workplace, the generosity with which we share our time in acts of charity, and in the way we know our faith, love our faith, and defend our faith.
The quote from Green Bay Packers’ Coaching Legend Vince Lombardi that I chose to kick off today’s reflection is of course a famous one, one that I’m sure would make many a conscientious coach of young children who are looking to instill virtue in their young athletes cringe. But Coach Lombardi also had this to say on the topic: “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” This must be our attitude with regard to our faith as well. Every morning, we must wake up keenly aware of the stakes: eternal life. And in matters pertaining to eternity, we cannot settle for a participation trophy.
Winning is the only thing.