This Sunday’s readings give us images of loving obedience to God’s will and the rewards of doing so.
Old French defines obedience as doing one’s duty. Obedire and oboedire from Latin mean to serve, to pay attention to, to give ear. Literally it is to ob—listen, or hear—audire.
Presence is fundamental to listening. More than a simple auditory experience, listening involves the heart and soul, also the feelings and psyche of others.
Meanwhile, listening with detachment and emptiness requires the ability to set aside things; this is the necessary step to allow the truth to reveal itself.
This is the thought I dare put forward. The pain, no doubt, is in the detaching and the emptying, but the goal and the “prize” are in the compassion that is not possible with the detachment and emptiness.
I had written once, quoting another author, compassion is to enter the chaos of the other and help the other make meaning out of it.
There is a movie, “When the Game Stands Tall,” inspired by a true-to-life story of the Spartans of De La Salle High School, a high school football team in Concorde, California, and their remarkable 2004 season.
The movie opens with the players running a 151-game winning streak. However, their coach suffers a near fatal heart attack and one of their major players is shot in a rough neighborhood.
All this happens within a couple of months after they proudly defend themselves from charges that they cheated to keep the “streak.”
A member of the coaching staff then decides to let the team play against the toughest in the state that has been challenging them for the past five years.
It seemed a reasonable and good move, but a tinge of pride—hubris—hits them hard.
Their coach eventually recovers, but the streak ends.
In the process, each team member “loses his life” and ends up finding the meaning of life. They become a team again in the midst of tragedy and failure. They lose the “I” and discover the “we,” the “us.”
They dramatically defeat a superior team in the dream match, and this sets them off on another 33-game winning streak.
But pressure from fans and the father of the star player threatens to derail their course.
On the eve of their championship game, or what should be the 34th win in the new streak, the coach suddenly questions the values that he stands for—family, brotherhood, team spirit and love.
Star player Chris Ryan only needs three more touchdowns to break the record.
Chris comes clean about playing just to please his father. He now chooses to do so for the team.
The Spartans play an excellent game and during the dying second, the coach allows his players to call the shots.
Chris, already with two touchdowns, needs just a last one to make his name as a Spartan.
In the final stretch, Chris tells the team the game is not about him or his record, but that they must play to honor their coach, Bob Ladouceur.
First play called, and Chris does a “kneel,” stumping the entire stadium. At the second play, Chris does another “kneel.” Then the epiphany—it was the entire team’s tribute to their coach.
The entire stadium eventually realizes what was going on.
Chris “loses his life” and becomes, in the words of St. Irenaeus, “the glory of God is man fully alive.” Chris chooses to be a man fully alive, and he “saves his life.”
The story is about listening. Chris, the coach, the team listen beyond the noise and the tragedy.
They listen by becoming detached and emptying themselves—of their fears, their ambitions, their pains and burdens.
They listen by entering each other’s lives and worlds and lose the “I” and become an “us,” a team.
This is loving obedience—a heart full of love that gratefully returns this love, “love for love.”