(Father Guillermo García-Tuñón, S.J. delivered this homily on the 4th Sunday of Lent during Mass streamed live on March 22, 2020, from the Belen Jesuit Chapel of the Immaculate Conception.)
With all the things we’ve been dealing with these last couple of weeks, it’s good to know that there are some things that are still working pretty much on schedule. Thank God for the NFL and free agency. Since those professional football players have become available on the open market, teams have been working very hard to gobble up the best prospects, and there is not a single virus out there that can stop them. I think more people have been following the Tom Brady deal to Tampa Bay than the John Hopkins University map that tracks coronavirus cases around the world.
I get it. I’ve been glued just as much to Bleacher Report and ESPN as I have to my news apps. As an avid Dolphins fan, my expectation is that the general manager and head coach of the Miami Dolphins are going to be looking for and offering contracts to the biggest, strongest, and meanest players they can get their hands on. Then, my expectation will be that in the draft, with all the picks Miami has, they will draft the biggest, strongest, meanest quarterback they can find, along with any other big, strong, and mean player that’s available.
That, my friends, in the eyes of football, is how you build a championship team.
While the NFL looks at talent through the eyes of football and the NBA looks at talent through the eyes of basketball, it’s a completely different story when we are called to look at talent through the eyes of God. Go through the Scriptures and you will notice that when God decides to build His team, He uses a completely different set of standards. He doesn’t seem to be interested in the biggest, the strongest, or the meanest. God’s idea of a champion doesn’t focus on size or strength; it focuses on the heart.
Let’s run through a quick lineup. The first person God ever drafted was Abraham. He was a polytheistic, nomadic old man. He drafted Noah and he was a drunk. Then came Moses who was a stuttering orphan. Then there was the Prophet Jeremiah who was an insecure teenager. How about when He drafted Rahab? She was a prostitute.
It’s not only in the Old Testament that we see this trend. Probably the most important person God ever drafted was Mary and she was a 15-year-old girl. Then there was Joseph, whose feast day we just celebrated on March 19th. He was an old, simple carpenter from the incredibly insignificant village of Nazareth. What about John the Baptist? He was a camel-skin wearing, locust eating, madman for God’s sake. If you ask me, these people belonged on the Island of Misfit Toys and not in the annals of salvation history.
Then, when God appointed His Son Jesus to coach the most important team of all, you would think he would have taken a page from the NFL playbook and drafted some really great players to assure a championship; but alas, no. His quarterback was Peter, an illiterate and hotheaded fisherman. His wide receiver was John, a young teenage boy. His linemen were Matthew, a despised tax collector, and Simon, a violent rebel-rouser. His kicker, of course, was Judas, the
one who betrayed him. What a terrible lineup. But like his Father, Jesus seemed to use another standard. He saw talent with a different set of eyes. Jesus looked at the heart.
In today’s first reading from the first book of Samuel, the author tells us that when God sent his talent scout Samuel to anoint one of the son’s of Jesse to be the next king of Israel, it was David that God chose. God had his pick of the litter. He could have chosen as reason would dictate the oldest son of Jesse who was experienced, strong, and in line to inherit the family name and fortune. It shouldn’t surprise us that Samuel thought for sure the oldest son was the guy. But not God. He had other plans. He wanted David, the youngest, least experienced, a simple shepherd, but with the biggest heart.
Listen to the words of the Lord when He speaks to the prophet Samuel, “Not as man does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). It’s about heart, not stature or talent or strength or experience. Where true valor and compassion and strength lie is in the heart of man, nowhere else. This is exactly why God wanted him. It is exactly why he would go on to win every battle, to defeat the giant Goliath, to sit on the throne, to have Jesus Christ, the Son of God, descend from his lineage. This all happened because of his heart.
I want to give you a more modern-day example of this:
I apologize for sticking with the football references, but it applies. Rudy Ruettiger was an undersized kid from a poor, working-class family in Illinois. He wasn’t very smart and so it was understood that after high school he would go to work in the factory with his father and older brothers. But Rudy had a dream. He wanted to play football at Notre Dame. Everybody laughed at him when he told them his dream. They insisted that it was impossible, but Rudy had a heart so big it barely fit in his chest. He was determined, he focused on his goals and put his head down and worked hard. It was his heart, not his stature, that eventually got him on the Fighting Irish football team.
As a matter of fact, Rudy had so much heart, that in the last game of the season of his senior year, the coach decided to put him in for the last series against Georgia Tech. He sacked the quarterback, but more than that, Rudy’s heart had made such an impression on his teammates that at the end of the game his teammates, carried him off the field. He was the first Notre Dame football player to have ever been carried off the field. And here’s one more thing. Of all those other big, strong, and mean football players that were on the 1975 Notre Dame football team, many of which made it into the NFL, he is the only one who had a movie made about his life. Why? Because of the size of his heart. Trust me, during these days that you are at home, watch the movie. It is well worth it.
Today, the world faces another Goliath. The coronavirus has the whole world seeped in fear and trembling. The biggest, strongest, meanest people on the planet are grappling with the reality of this pandemic. But in the face of such adversity, I will once again claim as do the Scriptures, that it is the heart of man that will win the day. It is the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the heart of David, the heart of Rudy that needs to beat in our breasts to face this new giant.
Don’t see this challenge simply with the eyes of men, see it with the eyes of God. This whole pandemic is an opportunity to score the winning touchdown, to hit the winning shot at the buzzer, to step up to the plate and hit a home run. It is an opportunity to be a man and woman for others, to clear away the cobwebs of our spiritual life and pray the rosary, invoke the saints, and read the Scriptures. Like the Lenten season that we are living, let this be a moment to become better at being a Christian. Like the prophet Joel says, “Rend your hearts, not your garments” (2:13) because it is the heart that truly defines a champion.