My son plays high school football.
For those “in the know” that statement speaks volumes. It means hours waiting in the hot sun waiting for your son to finish practice that never ends when promised, an odor in your car you cannot believe you willingly let in followed by a mound of sweat-dripping uniforms you cannot believe you are picking up. It also means hours of prayers offered through clenched teeth as you watch your precious baby boy get hit, stomped and tackled with bone-crunching consistency.
So why does a mother willingly allow her son to put himself at risk and endure the smells, mess and fear of it all?
Well this mother can answer with one word: Grace.
Grace is defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God (CCC 1996).
And that ‘undeserved help’ is exactly what I experienced the first season my son played. Coach promised us parents that practice would end every day at 6:00pm so the boys had time for homework and rest, but it never happened. One hot evening, still waiting at 7:00pm, I was boiling mad imagining my dinner congealing on the stove and anticipating the inevitable breakdowns and tears as homework extended past 10pm.
I have my speech all prepared to tell my son that this is just not acceptable and I am not spending every day bowing to the demands of some dictator coach when my son jumps into the car, “Mom, Coach said I can start next game! Did you see that last play? Three guys were trying to bring me down, but I made the catch and ran it all the way in!”
My son has spent his young life suffering the burden of an ‘over the chart’ height and weight that got him in trouble often for being too big and too rough. But now he was in his element. I saw in the glow of his face the boundless joy that comes when God-given desire meets the natural gifts of talent and ability.
At that exact moment as I was about to be tackled by another threesome: selfishness, frustration and anger – I saw grace being thrown my way. God’s intervention, what we Catholics call actual grace, came right at me and I lifted my heart just in time to make a perfect catch. “I am so proud of you! Let’s pick up pizza on the way home to celebrate.”
Now in his senior year, my son still loves the game and I still don’t (though I will never tell him that!) I have received the blessing of witnessing my son grow confidently into a man, a leader and a protector. We have endured a lot of losses, a few wins and even a broken ankle, but I will always be grateful for that day I caught grace.