Winning in the 4th Quarter of Life
The football team at the high school where I am chaplain has the tradition at the end of the third quarter of raising four fingers in the air to remind everyone that it is now the 4th quarter. If the team is behind, it’s a sign that the game is not over yet. “We can still win this thing!” If the team is ahead, it’s a reminder not to quit or try to coast to a victory. “Keep up the intensity!” Four fingers in the air on the hands of all the players and coaches is a great sign to remember that the game is going to end very soon and what you do in the next quarter is going to determine the outcome.
In the readings today, Jesus also wants us to be aware of the signs of the times. As we come to the end of our liturgical year the readings remind us that, just like a football game, life does not go on forever. We are living as it were in the 4th quarter of life. Maybe there are some things we know we need to change. It’s not to late. “We can still win this thing!” Maybe we’ve been leading a pretty good life. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. “Keep up the intensity!” One thing we cannot do is pretend that life should be easy and we can simply run out the clock on life and automatically expect to win.
One of the greatest mistakes in life is to live as though we have no enemies. Life is battle and it’s not easy. The Church has traditionally reminded us of three important enemies that we face: the world, the flesh and the devil. The world refers to all those external pressures that get in the way of our being holy. Society and all that goes with it today is not so much in the business of helping us to heaven. Sadly, much of what secular culture throws at us these days is something that we need to actively oppose. The flesh refers to all of our disordered desires, particularly those of selfishness and pride. We have to master our passions or they will control and enslave us.
Our final enemy is the devil. We have to realize that we have a real, personal, and powerful, enemy working against God’s plan for our life. We needn’t fear the devil, or any of these enemies,but we do need to engage in opposing them. When the football team holds up their four fingers, they’re not thinking “Oh no, it’s the 4th quarter; we might lose.” Rather I hear them shouting “This is our quarter!” This is the kind of confidence we need. We need to recognize that we do indeed have enemies that we must fight, but then we need to recognize that “This is our quarter!” When Pope Leo XIII received a vision that the devil would be particularly powerful in the 20th century. He confidently implored the help of St. Michael by writing the following prayer and having it prayed at the end of every Mass:
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him we humbly pray,
And do thou, O prince of the heavenly host,
By the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all other evil spirits,
Who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
With St. Michael and all our heavenly friends joining us in the fight, we know who wins this game.