John Elway, Deflategate, and Integrity

Even the non-football fan has likely heard rumblings about the NFL fining the New England Patriots and suspending their star quarterback for being big fat cheaters (again) and secretly letting a little air out of footballs to gain a competitive edge throughout last season.

The whole league erupted with commentary after Commissioner Roger Goodell brought the hammer down, but I found the comment from John Elway, GM of my beloved Denver Broncos, the most intriguing.

“One thing about it is the game is No. 1 — the integrity of the game is No. 1,” Elway said in an interview the day after the announcement.

Aside from the fact that Elway is (probably unintentionally) paraphrasing St. Paul (“an athlete cannot receive the winner’s crown except by competing according to the rules” -2 Tim. 2:5), his quote speaks a very unique truth about the game of football: If we don’t play by the rules, then what’s the point of playing?

johnelway
Source: The Football Feed

The same vein has run throughout all of the sporting world for years — why sanction Lance Armstrong for doping, why come down hard on Mark McGwire and others for shooting ‘roids, why discipline France’s star soccer player in the final minutes of the World Cup final if not to uphold each respective game’s integrity?

This begs the question: Why is upholding the integrity of the game worth doing? Even further, why is upholding the integrity of anything worth doing?

The answer is very simple — Integrity is a good thing. Both for the game and for the people who play it. Rules & boundaries then, by extension, are inherently good too, and are needed in order for integrity exist at all.

On the essential need for boundaries, G.K. Chesterton once wrote:

We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But [when] the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice, they did not fall over . . . they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.

This excerpt from Orthodoxy shows us something interesting, counter-intuitive, and altogether odd: Cheating — saying “to hell” with the rules, removing the boundaries for our own motives, and thereby making the game about us and not playing in service to the game and to others — is just incredibly boring.

Cheating literally takes all the fun out of playing. Cheating makes the game pointless.

Source: Sportige.com
Source: Sportige.com

To thwart a childish adage, rules are not made to be broken. Rules are made to be followed, not, as our modern society would suggest to us, so that we can be stripped of our freedom, but instead in order to protect the integrity of it.

Even further, so often we never stop to ask why a particular rule ought not to be followed. Quite honestly, whenever we don’t like a rule, odds are it comes not from a place of genuine injustice, but from a perceived slight — something we just don’t like, something that doesn’t feel good. We rarely, if ever, consider why a rule was made in the first place.

Along those lines, Chesterton also wrote about the concept of not scrapping a rule until you know and understand why it was made, saying:

The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to [a fence, or gate in the road] and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

If we wish to change a rule, we must first understand the rule itself, then secondly understand that the rule exists as part of something that’s outside of any one person’s opinion. Something that exists outside ourselves naturally points to a necessary interaction with someone, or something, else to arrive at a solution.

What integrity demands in all cases is cooperation. If integrity means upholding and following the rules, then it inherently means we aren’t asked to change them. Having integrity is then, by definition, selfless. A person with integrity understands that the “game” isn’t about him. It doesn’t matter what rules he doesn’t like; no one’s requiring him to play the game at all.

This is something that’s true in a smaller sense with such things as football or basketball, but it’s true in a much larger sense with something like the Catholic Church.

Respecting the rules of a game requires respecting the game itself, that being the governing bodies of both sports (and how they developed) in the cases of football & basketball, but, much more significantly, being the Magisterium of the Church (and how it developed) in the case of Catholicism and Christian faith as a whole.

Reading virtually any news source — secular, Christian, Catholic Left, or Catholic Right — will show all sorts of people lobbying for some form of change in what Catholicism teaches. Heck, in some cases people seem to just go right ahead and do their own thing anyway, hoping someone in Rome listens.

But what these people always seem to miss is that the guidelines and boundaries of the Church have been laid down with a purpose, and weren’t just some arbitrary effort to marginalize some subgroup of the population at a certain point in history.

What one sees when delving deeply into the purpose and origin of key Catholic teachings is not only an origin in Jesus Christ or a solid and well-documented development and understanding over 20 centuries, but a focus on true human flourishing, a pursuit of true happiness by becoming more like God, and a life lived “more abundantly” (John 10:10).

The boundaries laid down by the Church haven’t been created arbitrarily. More to it, the reason they haven’t changed (and won’t change) to suit the “signs of the times” isn’t just to be a stick in the mud, but instead to show reverence to the Church’s divine Founder and integrity to the institution itself.

As a result, we should start working to understand the rules we didn’t make, no matter how we feel about them, instead of constantly trying to change them.

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10 “Truth Bombs” About Chastity from the Catechism

Rarely has there been a more misunderstood word than chastity. The term that’s practically universally thought to be synonymous with “abstinence” has, in reality, and incredibly richer and deeper definition.

Abstinence is merely refraining from doing an action — just a plain “no” — whereas chastity is essentially, “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2337).

But there’s SO much more to chastity than even that one great line, which is why below you’ll find (what I call) 10 “Truth-Bombs” from the Catechism on chastity. They’re so awesome, hopefully by the end of the post you’ll be doing this:

Sean_connery_raction

NOTE: The term “man” in each of the Catechism references isn’t referring only to males, but rather to both sexes (man = human)

1. “The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.” (2338)

Boom. Right out of the gates, we’re reminded of the powers we have within us to live and to love. Ask any superhero (lookin’ at you Spiderman 3) and they’ll tell you powers are neutral — you can use them for good or use them for evil, it’s your choice. And you can’t be a good guy while doing evil at the same time. Superheroes at their best are wholly, 100% good, and so too are we called to be with how we live our life and love those around us.

2. “Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.” (2339)

I’ll let the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes do the rest of the talking: “Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.” [emphasis added]

3. “Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life.” (2342)

Hear that? We have to keep working at being virtuous if we want to stay virtuous. There’s no homeostasis when it comes to self-mastery — you’re either getting better or getting worse. Michael Jordan became the greatest basketball player to ever play not by winning one championship and coasting, but by honing his craft diligently every single day.

4. “The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason.” (2341)

Note the last word of the quote — “reason.” We humans aren’t animals. We have the unique capacity to use our brains to make decisions based on something other than instinct (though today’s society has us fooled most days), and it’s not an accident that we have it at our disposal. Use it to choose the best good, and to understand that there’s a time and a place for everything, especially when it comes to chastity.

5. “Chastity is a moral virtue. It is also a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort.” (2345)

Hearkening back to No. 3 on the list, being good at chastity requires effort. We have to work at it — chastity will only arise out of our own intentioned action. While it takes physical and emotional effort, we read here that it also takes “spiritual effort,” that is, prayer. Prayer is the building of our relationship with the Lord, so that we might be prepared to always put our best foot forward in our relationship with a potential or current spouse. Marriage in its truest form is triangular — husband, wife, and God. It needs mentioning, however, that the grace of chastity from God is there and offered to us, regardless of the effort we put forth — it remains a free gift.

6. “Chastity has laws of growth which progress through stages marked by imperfection and too often by sin. ‘Man . . . day by day builds himself up through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves, and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth.'” 

We can find a bit of consolation in No. 6: God’s not asking us to eat the whole elephant in one bite. But God is asking us to keep eating. If we hope to govern our passions and fully integrate our sexuality as part of the whole person God created, then we must build ourselves up through free choices, big and small. That’s why everyone is called to chastity, and everyone can do it, no matter their state in life — a step in the right direction is a step in the right direction, no matter where you start from.

7. Chastity represents an eminently personal task; it also involves a cultural effort, for there is “an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society.” (2344)

In one respect, our adventure in chastity is ours and ours alone — no one but us can make the choices governing what we do with our bodies and how we treat our loved ones. But in another, equally important respect, none of us is an island. We all live as part of society, a community of persons, and our choices all have ramifications that affect those communities, for better or for worse.  So, we also have a duty as members of humanity to keep in mind as well the state of the culture in which we live.

8. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God’s fidelity and loving kindness. [Therefore,] the virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends. (2346-2347)

The idea of true friendship, I believe, has been somewhat lost on our Western culture and replaced in many ways by an odd form of quid pro quo “friendship” (i.e. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”). Friendship, which ought to be the root of all relationship, is the recognizing in another person the mark of God — that indelible, spark of the divine — that deserves cultivating regardless of whether or not you receive some good from it.

9. “People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life.” (2349)

Chastity is not just for the hormonal teenager. Nor is it a call for the engaged couple counting down the days to their wedding. Instead, chastity is a universal call for everyone from single teenagers to married couples young and old to people who have chosen to live celibate lives, because we all have a call to “maintain the powers of life and love” placed within us.

10. “All the baptized are called to chastity. The Christian has “put on Christ,” the model for all chastity. All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life.”

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Not only are we all in the same boat, but we are all seasick.” The Christian life is hard, there’s no way around it. But we’re all in it together, and we must use that great benefit to lift one another up, both physically by encouraging one another constantly to seek the good in our lives and relationship to others, but also spiritually through prayer. The Kingdom will be better served because of it.

UPDATED 8:04 a.m. May 5th, 2015

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