What do you do when your sports team is doing poorly? The easy answer is to find something else with which you can occupy your mind and your time, but what if you're just not interested in anything else? What if you decided to plunge into your love for your team as a last act of desperation in attempt to avoid the eminent abyss closing in behind you?
I have found myself in this situation many times, and someone who does not love their sports team simply cannot understand the pain. From the outside, it seems like a childish obsession. People want to tell me things like, just go watch a movie or spend some quality time with your family. If only it were that simple. You see, when the team you love is doing poorly, you have to suffer with them. Any true fan, if he or she knows what it means to be a fan, has to be there with their team when they're down. That's the test of true character. Anyone can show their support when a team is doing well. You've heard of fair-weather fans. No one wants to be one, yet so many "fans" are fans by name only when their team isn't doing well.
So how do true fans get through it? Part of it has to do with hope. Every game counts, and every team should play to win even when they know they can't make the playoffs. Some people have said there is still so much to play for even when you can't make the playoffs. I agree, but by "so many things" they often mean team pride, or to prove something to others or maybe even themselves; for players and coaches they could play to earn their place on the field or their job. These are valid things, small "t", but in my mind there is really only one Thing all teams are playing for. In the NFL it's the Lombardi Trophy, and anything less than that is seen as falling short of the ultimate goal. A season can be seen as successful if you make it to the playoffs, but if you keep making the playoffs and never win the Super Bowl, ultimately the team will not be remembered as the best.
So when I say that it is hope that gets fans through the hard times, what I mean is they have hope that--even when the playoffs are out of reach--every step they take is a step toward that ultimate victory. No matter how long the road is, it needs to be seen as a succession of steps. The fan and the members of his or her team then just have to decide what steps to take to get to that great championship game. There will be losses along the way, and not just game losses but loss of players as well. Nonetheless, if you remain hopeful, no matter how long the wait ends up being, it all becomes a great epic story--a journey upon which the fans and their team traveled together; and all the losses and hardships along the way become an inseparable part of that saga. To take out even one heartbreak would be to rob the story of some of its meaning.
Philadelphia Eagles fans know this all too well. They waited 57 years for the epic story of their latest championship to be completed. Yes, if you ask me, the story begins as soon as the previous one ends--meaning the last championship the team won. Some fans never live to see the ending, but they still contributed to it by remaining faithful fans.
You may think all of this is just a bunch of sports' fan chaff, but it is all relevant to the current state of affairs. We are living in a very dark time for our Church, and it may be difficult to see how any of this can end well. States across our land are launching investigations into the dioceses within their borders. Our pope is seen by many to be a heretic. Through it all, it is a challenge to remain faithful. In fact, many have left the Faith in response to the current crisis. They could be considered fair-weather fans.
While my faith in my team (the New York Giants, by the way) may seem arbitrary to an outsider, I know that my love for my team is training my faith and hope muscles like few other things can. The Lord knows that these exercises come in handy in times like this. I could look at the whole situation with gloomier eyes, and say, "Not only is my team doing poorly, but even the Church is going through incredibly dismal times." But instead I see the current trials as perfectly relevant. If I did no examination of my soul to figure out why my team doing poorly bothers me so, I wouldn't have noticed the correlation between my team and the current state of the Church. Both are taking on water. Both require an exercise in faith, the virtue that goes hand in hand with patience as we wait for our faith to be proven worthwhile. For my team, it may take years. For my Church, it may take decades. But if it were easy to believe, it wouldn't require much faith. And there's no denying the fact that remaining faithful to my team through the hard times has revealed to me the point in remaining faithful to the Church through her adversity. We mourn with those who mourn. We visit the prisoner. We do not abandon ship when she takes on water.
In examining what it takes to be a good fan, and what to do when it's hard to be true to your team through the tough years, I've noticed that I have done a tour of the three theological virtues. They are called the theological virtues because they are direct attributes of God himself. Now, of course, it is wisest to direct these virtues toward God; but we can learn how to love God, have faith in him, and put our hope in him by exercising these virtues through other things. We do this in marriage. Surely, we are not supposed to have faith in our spouse, have hope for our spouse, and love our spouse more than we have faith in God, or put our hope in God, or love God; but God gave us the sacrament of marriage so we may more effectively direct the theological virtues toward him through our actions. Working those faith, hope, and love muscles is difficult, so God gives us many different ways to make them stronger. As worldly as rooting for our football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer (or any other sport) team may seem to others, even in this we can find a way to strengthen our relationship with God.