Worth Playing For
As I was driving my daughter home from school, she told me that she knew what she wanted to do at her upcoming birthday party. She said she made up a unicorn game and she began explaining the complex rules of the game involving multiple unicorns who were trying to tag people. I quickly realized the mechanics of the game still needed to be worked out, and I only half paid attention as I continued driving. Perhaps beginning with the rules was not a great way for her to present her game, especially when the design of the game was still a work in progress. I started to reflect on how to introduce someone to a new game.
We love board games in my domestic church, so my thoughts turned to introducing a new board game. Given our love of games, we are thrilled that the board game cafe is growing in popularity. A few of these cafes have opened in our area and we enjoy spending evenings in them. These cafes allow visitors to pay a small fee to play unlimited board games for the rest of the day, often with food and drinks available as well. One local board game cafe boasts over a thousand board games to choose from, so we can try many games that we don't have at home. Another selling point of the board game cafe is that there are game experts available to teach you the games so you don't have to spend your entire evening reading instructions. On a recent evening, we picked out a very complicated strategy game that we hadn't played before. The game expert started explaining the mechanics of the game to us: how to build buildings, go on adventures, and gain resources. I struggled to follow the details until I realized that the game expert had not explained the objective of the game, so I didn't know why these mechanics were important. The following week my wife and I went to another board game cafe and this time the game expert was busy with another table. I grabbed the instruction book, turned to the first page, and I read aloud the objective of the game so we all understood our goal.
We are also fans of the Survivor TV show in my domestic church. We were excited for the Winners at War season which recently started. I noticed as the season began, the host introduced the objective the game. This season brought back an entire cast of previous winners to battle to become the ultimate winner, the best of the best. I also noticed the host introduced the season by describing the prize. Besides the fame and recognition of being the sole survivor in a season of all winners, the host announced the winner would get not one but two million dollars for this special season! I realized that when introducing a game, in addition to proposing the objective, it is also important to describe the reward.
In the spiritual life, especially as we begin the season of Lent, it is easy to get caught up in the mechanics. For many of us, when we hear the word Lent, our thoughts immediately turn to what we might give up this year. When asked to explain what Lent is, many of my friends would say it is a time for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We might say it is a time to prepare for Easter. All of this is right and true, but what is the goal of all of it? What is the objective? As the Catechism of the Catholic Church begins the section on the moral life, it describes the following objective: "Following Christ and united with him, Christians can strive to be 'imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love' by conforming their thoughts, words, and actions to the 'mind ... which is yours in Christ Jesus,' and by following his example" (Catechism 1694). Our objective is to conform ourselves to the image of God, to live like Christ. Lent is a season of time for us to recommit to this goal and to repent for the ways we fall short of this goal.
Furthermore, we might reflect on the reward God has promised. As St Paul said "We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). Our reward is a sharing in Christ's resurrection. As we enter into Holy Week and hear again the story of Christ's death and resurrection, we should remember this his story will be our story. As we follow Christ's example, loving God and loving others as he loved us, we are conformed to his image. We share in his sacrifice on the cross as we give our very selves, and we will share in his resurrection.
Just as it is valuable to start introducing a game by explaining the objective and the reward, it may be worthwhile to begin the season of Lent by remembering Easter. The mystery of Christ's death and resurrection is re-presented to us every week in the Mass. This is not just reciting ancient history. Recalling the life and death of Christ reminds us of our objective, of the life we are called to imitate. Recalling the resurrection reminds us of our reward, the resurrection of the body. When prayer, fasting, and almsgiving get difficult, remember the objective and allow the Holy Spirit to work in you and make you more Christlike. After he reveals the reward for the winner of a challenge, the host of Survivor often asks "Worth playing for?" I think eternal life with Christ is definitely worth playing for!