If you train at the J.V. level, you will only be able to play at the J.V. level. If you want to play at the Varsity level, then you have to train at the Varsity level. I played J.V. basketball, and we lost every game. So I took up other sports and hobbies. Now when I play basketball, I can never get beyond a J.V. level or worse. Life doesn’t give us options. Life will sooner or later come at us with Varsity force. Those who train at the J.V. level in their moral and discerning lives, will only be able to face life when it comes full force with a J.V. level response. Why do so many people get overwhelmed with life? Why do so many fall into addictive habits of drinking, drugs, and sex? Why do so many simply give up? It doesn’t have to be this way. Pope John Paul taught throughout his years as Pope that we don’t have to be afraid of life. When you watch someone who trains at the Varsity level play a Varsity game, they might lose a game, but not the season. They actually enter into the competition with an enthusiasm and passion. How do you face life? How do you want to face life? Do you ask God for an easier life or do you ask God for the grace to match the mission He has for you.
For Discernment: True discernment means willing to act out of strength and not out of weakness. It means being willing to choose the difficult. It means seeking the best and not just that which is acceptable or good or better. Ask God for the courage to train at the Varsity level, and allow Him to lead you into the Varsity competition of life with Him at your side. You may lose some games, but you won’t lose the season.
Scripture: I Corinthians 9.24-27: “Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things. They do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable.”
Quotes: Mother Teresa: “Lord, I don’t ask for an easy life. If you need something done which is difficult, then give me the grace to give my life totally for you and for others.” and “Of my own free will, dear Jesus, I shall follow You wherever You shall go in search of souls at any cost to myself and out of pure love for You.” “There is no age so difficult or corrupt that saints can’t thrive.”
Appendix 4: J.V. vs. Varsity
As boys in the neighborhood we played basketball—not just ordinary basketball—we made up our own games; played when we wanted; when we didn’t like it one way, we changed the rules and did it another. It was easy, no commitment, the only bad thing is we really never got very good and weren’t able to compete well with others because we just did it our way.
In high school I joined the junior varsity team. Practices were scheduled as a group and they were almost every day. There were all sorts of exercises and endless running. We memorized the plays and strategies until they became second nature. When we put on the uniform for competition there was an excitement, because we knew we were participating in something bigger than just ourselves.
I never moved on to Varsity, but watched as my classmates did. They excelled and even competed in regional competition that would have scared me to death, but they were excited and even won many of those games. To be a varsity player they had to give up so much of their free time; take the late bus, change their diet—limit junk food; and their exercise routines were grueling. And yet they had a pride, which nothing else in high school could come close to.
St. Paul speaks about how the spiritual life can be compared to races, boxing, and other sport competitions. He says spiritually we need to run the race to win, not a crown of leaves, but eternal life. In other words, we are called to be spiritual athletes—Varsity Catholics. It’s fine to be little league and intramural. It’s great to be J.V., and we all have to pass through those stages of spiritual growth. But sooner or later in life each of us will face challenges, problems, and tragedies in life, which will come at us with varsity force. If we remain at the J.V. level we will experience all sorts of fear and ultimately fail against the pressure. When you have the problems of a thirty-year-old you don’t want to be facing them with the tools of an eighteen-year-old. We are called to spiritual maturity and yet how many times don’t we remain spiritual adolescents. We are called to be Varsity Catholics.
So, how do we become Varsity Catholics? Look at the lives of the greatest heroes in our history. For example, look at the big names of the saints in Scripture. Let’s just take a look at a couple of people in the New Testament and some of the lessons they can teach us.
Prayer: Would Mary have been ready for the angel’s invitation to be the Mother of God if she were not a person of prayer? Would John the Baptist have been able to be a prophet for the Lord if he did not first spend hours in prayer listening to what the Lord had to teach him? Jesus was found many times praying to His Father. After the Resurrection and Pentecost look at how many times the early Christian community met for prayer. When in prison for months and years at a time, St. Paul and fellow disciples prayed and were strengthened to be able to endure their trials and persecutions. There is no example of a great hero in the Old or New Testament who was not a person of prayer. How about us? How about you? Do you schedule prayer time? Is your prayer a listening to the Holy Spirit? Varsity players require a coach and they need to listen to the coach. Without prayer, we cannot listen and we cannot follow. How is the Lord calling you to improve the way you pray?
The Community of the Church: Varsity teams train and work together. Individuals don’t re-make the rules if they don’t want to follow them. Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter and on this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail.” Jesus established His team. He so closely identifies with it that He calls it His Bride. He tells the Apostles, “Whoever hears you, hears me. Whoever rejects you, rejects me.” St. Paul teaches that the “Church is the pillar and foundation of truth.” It is through this Church that the Lord is able to teach, guide, and coach us to know the truth and then through the Sacraments He gives us His grace to strengthen us to live this life. In the Scriptures the greatest of saints understood the frailty and weaknesses of the members of the Church, but they were rooted in the fact that the Church is divine in origin and Christ is the Head of the Body.
Vocation and Mission: In sports the coach has a purpose and design for the team and has the best understanding of the “big picture.” As the coach gets to know the individual players, he or she is best able to guide the young athlete to play this or that position. Similarly, the saints were very much aware in Scripture and throughout history that God has a plan and purpose for our lives. We are called to a life of holiness and as we are filled with His grace, we are sent into the world. For the saints the important question was, “What is God’s purpose or design for me?” If we stay at the level of choosing what we want or desire without asking the question of what God wants, and if we hold back from surrendering ourselves to His Plan for our lives, we will not be able to move beyond the junior varsity. Why do we have a shortage of holy marriages? Why are there so few priests? Why so few sisters? Is it that the “Church” is failing or are we not doing our part? When we are able to say, “Lord, what do you want of me? There are careers I would like to choose, but ultimately you are the coach and I will listen through prayer, be instructed through your Church, and I will follow your Call for me. If you have something difficult which needs to be done with my life, call and then give me the courage to say “yes.”