Column: Author scores points in football book

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. he has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.
Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. he has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

It’s not unusual this time of year to see me wearing a bright red ball cap emblazoned in white with the word “Priest.” Imbedded in the tail of the “T” is a small number “31.”

Parishioners who see me get a big kick out of the fact that I’m advertising my profession so boldly. What puzzles them, though, is that 31. They know that it’s not referring to my age, but only a few get its significance right away.

When people ask about the number, I have them concentrate on which local sports team wears red and white. When they correctly guess “the Kansas City Chiefs,” I then tell them to think “running back.” At that point, true football fans realize that the “priest” on my hat doesn’t refer to my profession at all, but rather is the first name of one of the Chiefs’ running backs — Priest Holmes — whose jersey number is 31.

The parishioners who bought my red ball cap knew how clever they were being. Sometimes things are not quite what they seem.

That’s undoubtedly what author Gary Graf believes as well. I first wrote about him 18 months ago at the beginning of the 2006 baseball season and introduced his book, “And God Said, ‘Play Ball!’”. Well, he’s just fielded another season-appropriate book called, “And God Said, ‘It’s Good!’” (Liguori, Mo.: Liguori/Triumph, 2007; 181 pgs.; $19.95). What Graf did for baseball, he now does for football — namely, discover “amusing and thought-provoking parallels between the Bible and football.”

A quick peek at the book’s cover alerts readers that they’re in for an entertaining ride. It features Raphael’s famous cherubs from his “Sistine Madonna” . . . both sporting football helmets.

Graf contends, tongue in cheek, that way back in the story of creation in Genesis — specifically on days four, five and six — God already “laid the groundwork for a good many NFL teams.” For example, is it mere coincidence that God creates sea creatures (the Dolphins), winged birds (the Cardinals, Falcons, Ravens and Eagles), wild animals (Panthers, Broncos, Colts, Jaguars, Rams, Lions, Bengals and Bears), and humankind (Cowboys and Chiefs, Vikings and Buccaneers, Patriots and Texans, Giants and Saints)?

The author further concludes that “possibly the only reason [God] rested on the seventh day, which came to be called Sunday by the way, was so he could eventually watch football.”

Beneath all of the humor and football lore found in the book, Graf weaves simple, practical, and serious (but not preachy) lessons about faith, drawing freely from his Catholic upbringing. He also tosses up plenty of Scripture passages — printed in full right on the page, so you don’t even have to get up and find a Bible — which serve as springboards to reflection about sin, simplicity, perseverance in practicing our faith, and redemption.

Using football imagery, the author even tackles some of the great mysteries of the faith, like the Trinity: “Three players tied to one another, each possessing a unique gift. Quarterback, receiver and running back offer fans everywhere three different ways to embrace the game, just as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit offer the faithful three distinct ways to relate to the one, same God.”

Just as Jesus used parables in his day to teach the crowds using images drawn from their daily lives, so Graf uses the game of football to draw out deeper lessons about how God continues to work in our world today.

Not being a rabid football fan, I must confess that my eyes did glaze over at times under the extensive football facts the author cites. However, he uses all of that trivia to lead readers to points of a more spiritual nature.

With the Chiefs tied for first place in their division and with a certain college team in the archdiocese still undefeated, it’s safe to say local interest in football will be around for awhile. Why not capitalize on it?

If the extent of the faith life of the football fans in your house doesn’t extend much beyond a “Hail Mary pass,” this book could both entertain them and provide something to reflect on when there’s not a game on TV.

Gary Graf has yet again done a service in helping people deepen their faith in an inviting and non-threatening way. And I’ve got to believe that God is saying, “It’s good!”

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