I vividly remember my first College Football game day as a Freshman at the University of Florida. My dorm building happened to be the closest to the football stadium. It was also the closest to the Catholic Church.
I woke up around 11:30am, and the first thing I did was look out my window. Cars were parked everywhere. People were walking, tailgating, drinking, singing, shouting… I had a huge smile on my face, and I moved quickly to get ready for the day so I wouldn’t miss anything. Within fifteen minutes, I was in my Orange and Blue heading out to tailgate and spend the rest of the day worshipping the sport of football.
Two years later, I found myself in a completely different mindset. I woke up in time for 9:00am Mass. After Mass, I went to Reconciliation and spent an hour with Jesus in quiet prayer. Eventually, I made my way to the Catholic Student Center to tailgate with the Catholic community. When my friends and I finally started walking around campus I found myself thoroughly depressed… I was having extreme doubts about whether I should even go to the game and my mind was consumed with negative thoughts about football…
What if the same amount of people flocking to the stadium for this game (about 90,000) flocked to Church on Sundays? Am I participating in the worship of a false God? If people see me enjoying this football game, are they going to think that this is what life is all about? Am I leading people away from Christ by going to this football game? Are they going to think that I love football more than Christ?
I couldn’t enjoy the game. These extreme thoughts consumed my mind, and I left the game feeling let down and depressed.
This past Saturday (September 8th, 2012), I went to see my alma mater (UF) play at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas with four other missionaries the day before our mission would officially begin in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
As usual, I noticed the immense amount of alcohol consumption going on around me, the pride that every person had for their team and the great potential for idol worship (Ex 20:3-5). But… I also noticed the joy that my friends and I had for this manmade event. I noticed the way it brought people together and called out the passion inside of each person.
We are called as Catholic Christians to be in the world but not of the world. Jesus prayed for us, to the Father, saying, “I gave them your word and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one” (Jn 17:14-15).
We are not called to live in a bubble! We are called to embrace the world as Jesus Christ embraced the cross! Yes, hyped up events like college football can easily become gods in the lives of some people, but if we run away out of fear, how can we live out our call to be witnesses of Christ’s love at all times? By embracing the world, we can show others how to be in the world and still belong to Christ (1 Cor 3:22-23). We can display the love and joy of Christ anywhere, and we are called to do so everywhere.
I love football, but I love Jesus more. The people I went to the football game with this past weekend know that, and Jesus certainly knows I desire Him above everything else. I will not run from the world. With Jesus, and the support of my friends, I will embrace this world as Christ embraced the cross and strive to be a witness at all times, even on college football game day.