Last Friday, during Mass here at the Seminary, our rector, who can be considered like the pastor of the Seminary, told us that in God’s eyes our wildest dreams are not wild enough. Can you imagine how dangerous an idea that could be to tell a bunch of Christians (and seminarians at that) to dream bigger, to love stronger, to fight harder and more honestly for what we believe in!? There could actually be some change in this world then! He wasn’t telling us that we’re dull and our hopes and dreams are boring. And he wasn’t giving us free reign to go wild down here at the Seminary (because you know we’re a bunch of party animals; well, we don’t mind a good celebration every now and then). What he was telling us is that God can appreciate our greatly laid out plans and our hopes, but what He has in store for us is beyond our wildest imagination, as long as we seek Him out.
I talked to some of the other guys here, especially my Casitas group (a small faith sharing/support group), and everyone remembered when our rector said that. There’s just something earth shaking, I really believe, to think that we’re here at the Seminary, “giving our lives to God,” only to be told the truth that God is always ready to give us more than we can give Him.
So the great warning here, as we enter deeper into this Advent Season, this time of anticipation, this time of longing, is to recognize where we let God stand in our lives. Are we searching out goods, excitements, pleasures, that are less than God? Remember, there are very good things in this world, just as God claimed in Genesis 1 as He created all things. But let’s not get confused between what is made and He who has made it (Romans 1: 20-22). As we’re waiting for this ever new coming of Christ at Christmas, let’s keep using this Advent to see where God lives in our desires and our longings. Are we distracted by things that are good, but are less than God; things that God has given to us, but merely point to God and are not God themselves?
I think we’ve had great distractions ourselves here at the Seminary, and it’s more than just the papers we have to turn in (I mean get to turn in!) and the choir practices we have to take part in (I mean get to take part in!). One specific thing that happened, that I think we overlooked, because it was so exciting and distracting, was that we got the chance to watch the big Marquez-Pacquiao boxing match together here on our big screen recreation hall TV. Every time one of the fighters took a fist to the face, some of us cheered along with the raucous crowd on the TV; every time the bell rung we were left hoping for a knock out; every dancing step, every freakishly fast swing, every drop of sweat mingled with blood, we were right there to cheer it on. But that’s what we do as sports fans, right? When Pacquiao took that overhand jab right in the face and hit the deck motionless, some of us stood right up with a cheer as the fight had clearly come to an end. After all, that’s what we do as sports fans, right? Some of us didn’t bat an eye while his wife screamed and cried to be let near her unconscious husband as he lay motionless in the ring. But that’s what we do as sports fans, right?
Please don’t get me wrong here, though. We’re not heartless, anything-goes-for–sake-of-sports fans here. We are still men searching for God’s will in our lives, hoping to grow into the priests that God’s people can rely on. You can also generalize much of us as your everyday run of the mill fan: we’re Lakers fans, Dodgers fans, Kings fans, and even, sorry to say, some are Raiders fans (not me!). We love the thrill of competition and sporting entertainment. But there was something very off putting about what we were a part of that night, as far as I have reflected on it. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to watch boxing, just like it’s not wrong to watch football and basketball, or any sport where inherently there is danger for those who play for our entertainment. What can be wrong, though, is how we let it affect our lives.
The best way for me to explain this experience is that we must learn better to be aware of what we desire and how we are entertained. This does not need to mean that we stop watching sports, but we need to see more clearly what kind of meaning they give to our lives. We need to ask certain questions of ourselves, not only as seminarians, but as Christians: What do I think about a spectacle in which a man ends up lying face down on the ground, completely unconscious while his family watches from feet away? How would others see us if their only experience of us is to see us standing and cheering as two bloody men swing at each other, trying to knock the other to the ground? Even if these men have agreed willingly to fight each other for entertainment and income, is there still injustice in how much money is involved and the perpetuation of violence in our society?
My point here is not to answer these questions or to give some moral reason for or against watching our favorite sports or movies. I’m writing these words because here and now, during this Advent, we need to see what it is that we dream so wildly about; what it is that gets our blood hot; how our pleasures give meaning to our lives as Christian men and women who are trying to show the world that it is God Himself who we are waiting for during this season and who we believe gives real meaning to our lives. I’m not embarrassed to admit that we as seminarians watched that boxing match, but it’s hard for me to see that some of us seemed to take so much pleasure in the violence before us. And I’m first and foremost to admit this: I love my action movies (my little brother and I know that all a movie really needs is a vampire and an explosion) and I love a hard hitting football game as much as the next sports fan. But there is no way we should, as Christians and as Seminarians, be ignoring the fact that we are cheering on violence. If we are to grow and to become men of peace after Christ’s own heart, we must find that balance of enjoying the competitive spirit of these sports, without relishing in the pain and suffering, real or imagined.
Might I be so bold as to say, as well, that all of us as Christian men and women, seeking Christ in this time of Advent, must be aware of all these things. We must learn to let our desires and our pleasures point us to God alone. We must see that His dreams for us are far wilder than the dreams we have for ourselves. He may not be calling us out to the missions or onto some wild adventure of evangelization, far away from home, but think of how much greater is the calling to love Him better here and now, to love our families and friends stronger. That may be the farthest thing from our minds as we cheer on our favorite teams or fighters, but remember, He’s ready to surprise us, because our wildest dreams simply are not wild enough for God.