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A sports article that came out yesterday began, “First things first, you should try to sack Tom Brady if you can. Brady is very good at throwing the ball — perhaps the best ever — when he’s standing up. But curiously, he’s less good when he’s prostrate on the ground.” I never have been a big sports fan, that’s why you don’t hear too many sports analogies during the sermon—I wouldn’t really know what I was talking about. In addition, I haven’t seen a football game in at least four years if not more, but when I read the opening paragraph of that article, even I knew the proper response, “Well, duh!”
Let’s compare two different individuals. The first is Tom Brady (for those like me, he’ll be playing in the Super Bowl later today). This, however, will not be Tom’s first Super Bowl, it will be his eighth and he’s already the proud owner of five Super Bowl rings. The big question: will he lead the Dallas Cowboys to another… I know he doesn’t play for the Cowboys, just seeing if you’re paying attention—It’s the Steelers. Right? The big question: will he get that sixth Super Bowl ring today? Whether you like him or not, his accomplishments are impressive, but what does he think about them?
Go back in his career to February 2005. He had just won his third Super Bowl ring playing against the Seattle Seahawks. All the hoopla was still going on around him and the win, when Brady sat down for an interview. Here is a portion of that interview:
INTERVIEWER: This whole experience – this whole upward trajectory – what have you learned about yourself? What kind of an effect does it have on you?
TOM BRADY: I mean, there’s a lot of pressure. A lot of times I think I get very frustrated and introverted, and there’s times where I’m not the person that I want to be. Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, “Hey man, this is what it is. I’ve reached my goal, my dream, my life.” Me? I think, “God, it’s gotta be more than this.”
INTERVIEWER: What’s the answer?
TOM BRADY: I wish I knew. I wish I knew.
I know nothing about Tom Brady and perhaps his views have changed, so I’m not going to judge him based on those comments, but the comments alone are truly sad. For someone to have accomplished so much, yet not think it is enough. Again, I don’t know about Tom Brady, but I know myself. I’ve shared parts of this before, but I remember sitting in my office in Dallas before I moved to Montana and thinking something close to the same thing. I was young, I had a good job with growth potential, the money wasn’t bad, but… “God, it’s gotta be more than this.” It wasn’t about the lack of success, it was about the lack of purpose. It was a nagging question about what kind of a difference I was making in the world. The answer for me was: not much. As an aside, it is a question that churches should ask themselves on a regular basis: if St. Matthew’s was to suddenly disappear over night, would the community miss us? Would they even notice? I believe the answer is a resounding, “Yes!,” but we have to keep asking, just in case we become complacent or lose our way. Bottom line: no matter the perceived success of the endeavor, unless it serves a purpose, if nothing else, it is not fulfilling.
Now, let’s consider our second individual. Many know the story of Corrie ten Boom. During World War II, she was arrested and placed in a concentration camp for harboring Jews. She survived those days, but that was not the end of her work. Following the war, she travelled the world telling her story and sharing her faith.
On one trip, she was smuggled into Lithuania when it was still a part of the former USSR. She was then taken to a small apartment where she was introduced to an elderly couple. The husband was the only caregiver for his wife who had advanced multiple sclerosis. The disease had progressed so far, that the woman was only able to move her eyes and her right hand. Upon meeting her, Corrie went over and kissed the index finger of the woman’s right hand. Why?
Every day, the husband would help his wife get up and get dressed and then fix them a small breakfast. He would then take her to a couch, prop her up, and roll an old manual type writer within reach of that one good hand. Hidden in a cupboard was the yellow paper and after feeding it into the typewriter for his wife, she would begin – with the index finger on her right hand – to type, one letter at a time. All day, she would pray and she would type. What was so important? During this time in Lithuania, the distribution of Bibles was illegal and there were no copies available in Russian or the Lithuanian language. The woman, one letter at a time, was translating a version the Bible for her people in their own language.
Corrie understood the tremendous contribution that the woman was making, but she was still drawn to tears by the suffering the woman endured. The husband sensing this, said to Corrie, “God has a purpose in her sickness. Every other Christian in the city is watched by the secret police. But because she has been sick so long, no one ever looks in on her. They leave us alone, and she is the only person in all the city who can type quietly, undetected by the police.”
Some under the same conditions might—and I couldn’t blame them!—say, “God, it’s gotta be more than this,” but this woman saw through her circumstances and her condition and found true purpose, and she fulfilled that purpose one letter stroke at a time.
“After Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” I suppose you could read that and say that this only proves that Jesus and the disciples were a bunch of lazy misogynist. We could look at her as Corrie ten Boom looked at the woman with multiple sclerosis with despair. We could put words in the mother-in-laws mouth, “God, it’s gotta be more than this,” but I do not believe her actions would have been preserved in Holy Scripture if that is what it was all about. Instead, I think she began to serve them in thanksgiving for what God had done for her by restoring her to health. She did not base the fulfillment of her life on her accomplishments or status, she base it on a purpose that found its completion in God.
Jesus too had purpose. He healed the sick and cast out the demons. That night, the entire city was gathered outside the doors of the house; however, very early in the morning, before anyone woke up, he slipped off to a quiet place. When everyone began moving about, they started looking for him. They wanted more miracles, more healings, more exorcisms. When the disciples found him they said, “Everyone is looking for you, so that you can get back to the healings, miracles, and exorcisms,” but Jesus answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
His fame was beginning to spread far and wide. He could have set up shop right there and they would have come from… all over the world! to have him perform his miracles, healings, and exorcisms. I would wager that if he had, the devil would have left him alone and he would have lived a very long life, but… that was not his purpose. “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what my purpose is.” It is not about the Super Bowl, the fame, the whatever, it is about the purpose that finds its completion in God alone.
My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “Faced by all those men without faith, without hope; by minds desperately near the borders of anguish, seeking for a meaning in their life, you found your purpose: Him! This discovery will permanently inject a new happiness into your existence, it will transform you, and present you with an immense daily hoard of beautiful things of which you were unaware, and which show you the joyful expanse of that broad path that leads you to God.”
Each of us has a purpose in God. Sometimes that purpose is to preach the Gospel and sometimes it is to translate it one letter at a time. But for others, that purpose in God is to teach school, raise children, be a good father; and still for others it is to smile at a stranger, touch the untouchable, be present to the lonely. Seek that purpose God has for your life, and when you have found it, serve Him with a holy joy, knowing that it is for this that you were created.
Let us pray: O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness, give us the sense of Your presence, Your love, and Your strength. Help us to have perfect trust in Your protecting love and strengthening power, so that nothing may frighten or worry us, for in living close to You, we shall see Your hand, Your purpose, and Your will through all things. Amen.