Vince Druding was a regular 18-year-old from Indiana whose favourite football player was Walter Payton. One summer, while working for Vector Marketing selling cutlery through personal referrals, the company had a contest: whoever could sell the most knives within a two-week period would meet Walter Payton!
For those two weeks, Vince went crazy, going non-stop selling knives! He called everyone he knew to set up appointments to make presentations in their homes. He would go from presentation to presentation, stopping off at home fast enough so that his mom could throw a lunch in the car which he’d eat on the way. For the last two days, he stopped making presentations and just called old customers getting them to buy whatever else they could.
At the end of the two-week Push Period, all the salespeople, about a thousand of them, together with family and friends, went to a conference to find out who was the winner. At first, they asked everyone who had sold 1,000 pieces to stand up; of course, most people stood up, with people cheering and hollering. They went up quickly by increments of 500 to see who was left standing. When they reduced the number to about 50 people, they invited them to go up on stage, and continued to raise the number. They narrowed it down to three people who had all broken the company record for the Push Period, which was around 12,500. The announcer was shouting, “We have a new company record!” and people were going crazy. Slowly the announcer called out, “12,600… 12,700… 12,800,” and both guys stepped down. Vince was left standing, the clear winner, with his family and friends going nuts. But they still wanted to know how many knives he had sold: “13,000… 13,500, 14,000…” and he wasn’t moving! They kept on raising the number until they found out that he had sold 18,165.
Out came the big prize: Walter Payton! They got a picture together, with Vince smiling ear to ear, and he was given a big hug and a signed football. It was one of the happiest moments of his life up to that point, because this was with his hero.
This story makes no sense… unless we know who Walter Payton is. Why would anyone do so much to meet a football player? Because this wasn’t just a football player for Vince, this was his hero! Payton was running back for the Chicago Bears and, at the time, held the career rushing record in the NFL. As a child, Vince watched all of his games, wore number 34 when he played and had almost every football card of him.
The truth is: we’ll do anything for people we admire and love. Why do we do so much for our children? Because we love them. Why do we make time to see old friends? Because we love them. Before my brother was a priest, he was dating a girl and one time they had an argument. At 11 p.m. he told me and our other brother that he was going out. “What for?” I asked. He answered, “Because I love her.” Being young I remember thinking, “It’s so late,” but not for him. It’s because of who she was.
Today, Jesus asks the apostles, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mk 8:29). Some people say “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the Prophets,” but St. Peter gets the correct answer, “You are the Christ,” meaning the Anointed One, the one who would be the priest, prophet and king whom the Jewish people were waiting for.
Who is Walter Payton? Who knows… maybe a football player, some guy. But who does Vince Druding say he is? My hero.
For those who did the Lenten Challenge at the beginning of this year, that is, reading Rediscover Catholicism and discussing the study questions with a small group, you may remember that one of the questions had to do with who Jesus is for us; “Is he friend, mentor, coach, savior, spiritual director, role model, distant God, or historical figure?” (Session Two, Question 4). When I came across this question, my honest answer was: “He’s everything to me.” He’s the most important person in my life. I love Him more than my family and friends, more than you(!), and hopefully more than myself. I try to do everything He asks of me and I want to do it joyfully, because He’s everything to me.
In a homily in March we asked the question, “Why do we do hard things and follow God in difficulty?” Why did I give up a wife and family, a career? The answer we gave was it isn’t a matter of reason, it’s a matter of love.
Who is Jesus for us? There’s this famous story told by Sherry Weddell, who came to Canada to speak at a Catholic parish (it may have even been Vancouver), and when she talked to the head of a local Catholic woman’s group, who was serving in her parish faithfully, Sherri realized this woman had no conscious relationship with Jesus. How did she know? The woman said so! “I don’t have a relationship with God” (Forming Intentional Disciples, 10). She served the Church, but not out of love for Jesus.
It’s very possible, and quite likely that many Catholics do not personally love Jesus. They see Him as a nice guy, but not as God, not as their best friend, saviour, and the center of their life. He’s impersonal, distant, rewarding and punishing. One study said 60% of Catholics believe God is a personal God; 29% say He’s an impersonal force. “Only 48% of Catholics were absolutely certain that the God they believed in was a God with whom they could have a personal relationship” (Forming Intentional Disciples, 44).
I once talked to some Catholic teachers and asked them, “Tell me about your relationship with Jesus.” One man looked down, thought about it quickly, and said, “It’s everything.” When I asked the question to another person, she was clearly surprised and said, “I pray.” Notice that she didn’t answer the question. She’s a good person, but she doesn’t think about God in terms of relationship and it’s not the most important thing in her life.
Jesus wants to be the most important person in our lives. He’s designed us to have a perfectly fulfilling relationship with Him. Everything He does in our lives is designed to move us in this direction: when good things happen to us, He’s leading us to Him; when bad things happen to us, He’s using it to lead us to Him. Everyone is called to reach the answer of St. Peter, “You are the Christ,” which means, “You are my saviour, the one who gives my life meaning, the one who rescues me from misery and gives me happiness.”
How did St. Peter get to that point? He spent time with Jesus. You know how I came to love Jesus so much? Because I felt His love in Confession. His mercy and forgiveness of all my sins changed my life. My brother started loving God when he saw that so many things in his life were going well and it couldn’t be a coincidence. We heard Nathan say a few months ago how he started to love God more when he realized that Jesus hadn’t abandoned him during his depression. My friend Bryan turned to God when he realized, “There’s got to be more to life than this.”
Jesus wants everyone to experience His love. And this has practical consequences for us. Our mission at St. Anthony’s is to make disciples of Jesus, and that starts with getting people to know Jesus and how much He loves them. I want everyone to know that this is the determining factor in every decision we make. We want to do everything for Jesus because Jesus is everything for us. Why are we doing these faith studies? So that people encounter Jesus. Why are we trying to improve the homilies, the music, the hospitality, the lectors, the environment, adding the TV and the chairs at the back of the church? Because it’s part of the greater mission to love Jesus.
With this in mind, I’d like to invite everyone to a presentation on the vision of parish on Wednesday, November 4 at 7 p.m. We’ve already done this presentation for leaders and ministers in the parish and it’s been extremely exciting. I want everyone to come! This presentation will show where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going as a church.
We want to have the same energy and enthusiasm for Jesus as Vince did for Walter Payton (by the way, Vince is now a priest and wants to be known as bringing souls to Jesus, not as the record-holder of the Push Period). We’re doing everything for Jesus because Jesus is everything for us.