Bill Lyon has been an award winning columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer for 27 years, is the author of several books and member of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
He wrote a book, entitled When The Clock Runs Out – 20 NFL Greats Share Their Stories of Hardship and Triumph. A summary reads:
Through one-on-one interviews, archival photographs, and evocative photo portraits, this collection explores the bittersweet stories of some of the NFL’s most famous men, including John Brodie, Tom Brookshier, Mike Ditka, Hollywood Henderson, Ron Jaworski, Ronnie Lott, Dan Reeves, Ray Rhodes, and Pat Summerall.
One chapter is provided by Cynthia Zordich who is the photographer for the book and the wife of Michael Zordich, All-American safety at Penn State University, defensive player for the Jets, Cardinals and Eagles and later safeties coach for the Philadelphia Eagles.
The name of the chapter is, Blowing Air Into the Bubble.” She writes:
Michael has played in the league for eleven seasons now. We have never taken one of those seasons for granted, nor have we ever seriously discussed the notion of one of them being the last. We always figure that we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. This off-season the question being asked of Michael is, ‘Zordich, you comin’ back next year?’ His answer has been a consistent, ‘I plan on it.’ And yes we are– planning on it, hoping for it. Right now, I’d say we are blowing more and more air into the bubble and getting ready to shut our eyes when it pops. Lots of people have asked me what Michael’s going to do when he retires, But lately, I take this question as a personal attack, as if they’re suggesting that he is done. When they ask me his age, I imagine them calculating how many years he has left. My guard is constantly up and I know why. I’m running scared. The fact is, Michael would like to play forever. The fact is, nobody does.”
The great hockey player Gordie Howe once said, mournfully: ‘They teach you how to play the game, but they don’t teach you how to leave it.’
St. John Chrysostom once wrote, “When we die – the mask comes off.” When you retire from professional sports, that’s when the mask comes off. You are no longer protected by the game, the coaches, the lawyers, the league. You are fully exposed. Bill Lyon said that this was one of the reasons he wrote this book.
In discussing this Sunday’s parable at my men’s Gospel reflection group, we talked about people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and the popularity of massive “Faith-based” charitable foundations. We talked about the call that is often heard by college students to give up their spring break to help in a relatively big way (Think Katrina, Sandy, Louisiana, Maryland) Good stuff. Helpful stuff. Sexy stuff you can brag about. There is even lots of stuff to do locally living the motto of St. Mother Theresa, “Do well in little things” or a Christian executive who would often pray, “Lord, set up my next appointment.”
But the problem is the men in the group mentioned that these keep coming back to the MATERIAL stuff. It’s not about the material stuff. It’s not about the water and the thirst and the food and the sores and the dogs and even a dead man risen.
What it’s really all about – is the five brothers. It’s about anxiety, depression, faith, fear, hope, faith and “what happens when the clock runs out.”
Years ago I heard a podcast on this Gospel entitled, “A Nation in Decay” (Part 1 can be heard here; Part 2 can be heard here). The speaker outlined 4 areas that can lead us to become the “Rich Man” dressed in royal purple.
- Pop-atheism and intellectual influence. In past years this was done by Bertrand Russell and George Bernard Shaw. Recent popular figures include phosphors Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins along with entertainment figures such as Rosie O’Donnell and Phil Donahue and Madonna. Dostoyevsky even refers to it in his book Crime and Punishment when writing about the character Sonia and her struggle with her conscience. These people mock the Church and people of faith – and they have been very effective!
- Moral influence and unconscious decadence. The speaker tells the story of a “born again” teen-age girl who, briefly, turns her life over the Christ until her atheist boyfriend forces her to choose between him and those hypocrites and fools. In the end, the girls chooses the boyfriend. Solzhenitsyn was criticized while speaking at Harvard University saying that the United States was quite susceptible of slowly accepting and advancing the same cultural forces that destroyed the people of the former Soviet Union.
- Willful negligence. The ritual of religious worship, without a serious attempt at worthy living, is living a lie.
- Ungodly impudence. The prophet is a fool and the spiritual man is mad. Saying that you own a Bible and let it simply siting on a shelf without reading it and applying it makes us the hypocrites that people accuse us of.
What the solution? Well there are two:
- Death. St. John Chrysostom wrote: “When we die – the mask comes off” and we see the truth about ourselves before ourselves and God.
- The Cross – In a letter to the Philippians by Saint Polycarp, the bishop and martyr wrote, “I rejoice with you greatly in the Lord Jesus Christ because you have assumed the pattern of true love and have rightly helped on their way those who were in chains. Such chains are becoming to the faithful; they are the rich crown of the chosen ones of our Lord and God.”
Their thoughts are reflected in the Scriptures: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1:20) and “In all this rejoice greatly, even though now, for a little while, you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Peter 1:6).
How can we counter the tendency to become the “Rich Man?” St. Ignatius offers a prayer suggestion on handling the day to day challenges that everyone faces and allow them to form you. Each day:
- Offer thanks to God for one good thing in your life or one blessing that came your way today.
- Pray – by name – for one person whom you know is really suffering.
- Name one sin that you’re struggling with or one person who is driving you crazy or one situation that is causing you the most anxiety. Not a list – ONE.
- Name one miracle (large or small) you’d like God to give you. What’s a situation that’s simply bigger than you and your power or sphere of influence that you can turn over to God.
Audio version of the homily is here: