Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis De Sales, a book some have described as the best ever written for lay people. First published in 1609, its message is still entirely fresh and relevant. This popular abridgment, which deletes some extra language, renders it more powerful still. A classic by a doctor of the Church!  CLICK HERE


 
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OF FAITH AND DOUBT AND FOOTBALL WHEN EVENTS STRETCH SKEPTICS' ABILITY TO EXPLAIN

As nearly everyone by now knows, a devout football player named Tim Tebow is set to play a huge game Saturday -- after winning a number of games this year that seemed miraculous (alongside others in his earlier college career).

We'll get to that in a minute.

But first, let's start out by meditating on how the nature of life is such that God always leaves room for doubt and always leaves room for faith. Both. Perhaps in equal measure.

Quick examples: There is the Shroud of Turin. Recently, a team that has studied that relic for five years recently concluded there is no known way the image, seemingly of the Crucified Christ, set for burial,  could have been drawn, painted, or otherwise inflected on cloth 2,000 years ago. Simply put, although skeptics have tried to divert attention (with highly dubious means of carbon-dating), no one has ever been able to explain the crucial mystery: how the image got on the cloth in the first place. And yet doubt the negativists still will.

There is the image of the Blessed Mother at Guadalupe in Mexico. Once more, an inexplicable image, this time inflected half a millennium ago.  It is of no known ink or paint or mineral or vegetative matter, defying all explanation. In this case, it's even in color! No known explanation. No way to duplicate it, even with modern methods. We know more about the planet Pluto than about how this occurred. Yet disbelievers remain hardened. Faced with the inexplicable, they simply ignore it.

There was the great sun miracle of Fatima: doubters continued to doubt even though it was witnessed by between 50,000 and 70,000 people, including atheistic journalists. As they say, for believers, no evidence is necessary; for disbelievers, no evidence is ever enough.

Countless are the cases of miraculous healings attached to religious miracles. Yet nothing is enough. In each case, one can posit theories, however wild, on how it could have occurred through natural means. The same is true -- is especially true -- of coincidence, another device that Heaven uses to nudge us.

And here we dovetail back to Tebow.

Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos was struggling to make it in professional football. A Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida, he was not quite up to professional standards when it came to passing. Last year, as a rookie, he sat on the bench. And he started the season there also. Then, with his team 1-4 (just one win in the first five games), Denver decided to start him and he proceeded, against all odds, to win four of the team's next five games -- most of them nail biters.

Limp for much of the game, he would suddenly come alive, throwing remarkably well in the waning moments and pulling his team to victory, as he also had been famous for doing in Florida.

This in itself was enough to get many talking about Tebow "miracles." In fact, we received an e-mail from a writer at Time in November asking if, as reported to them by some researchers at Harvard University, we had linked and sent a rush of "traffic" to a study of theirs statistically showing how improbable Tebow's victories -- even before the end of the regular season -- had been. ("And just how spectacular a miracle?" this study said. "Using Jeff Sagarinís ratings for the last five weeks, which take into account strength of opponent and location of the game, the Broncos would have been expected to win 1.9 games over that five-game stretch. So, it appears that Tim Tebow has (miraculously?) pulled an extra 2.1 wins out of thin air." [Here's the analysis.]

As most of you know, the quarterback is a man of deep Christian faith. Often, he is seen on one knee, praying (or "tebowing"); his parents were preachers, missionaries (and still are, as are some of his siblings; at left is his family). This is a strongly believing clan (five children), and in fact Tebow was born at a mission operated by his parents in the Philippines.

During her pregnancy Tebow's mom Pamela was advised by doctors to abort the unborn child because he didn't seem to be forming properly and could threaten her own health. They weren't even sure it was a baby in there (for a while, they wondered if it was a tumor). Thus perhaps did Satan try to stop the birth of this person who through faith has captivated the nation.

Last week, after a run of three dismal games (following the initial wins) -- and with his career once more on the line -- Tebow and his teammates pulled off another stunning, last-minute victory. Fresh from a tremendously unimpressive outing against Kansas City on New Year's Day -- where he threw just six pass completions in 22 attempts, for a dismal total of sixty yards (2.73 yards per attempt) -- he suddenly, astoundingly skyrocketed last Sunday (January 8) during the playoffs in the biggest game of his professional life against the best defense in the league -- to record numbers.

He set the record for most passing yards in a quarter of the playoffs.

He also set a record on that wildly electrifying play just eleven seconds into overtime, when he connected with a receiver named Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown play that stunned heavily-favored Pittsburgh and ended the game.

It was the quickest overtime in history.

This in itself -- coming, once more, "miraculously," in the clutch -- was enough to imply a bit of Divine assistance. And who should be surprised? It wasn't just his family of missionaries nor the fans in Denver nor assorted other followers praying for him; it was probably the people he and his family had helped in those Filipino orphanages.

But no, there was more -- much.

The 316 total yards immediately recalled the famous "John 3:16" biblical reference he wore in the "eye black" athletes use to diminish the glare from the sun.  He did this to accent to key Gospel message: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Tebow wore that during a championship college game.

John 3:16.

That was one little stroke of "luck." As millions soon realized, aside from the coincidence of 316 total yards in the biggest game of his life, it turned out the average yards-per-completion were 31.6 yards (another truly astounding statistic, as well as a coincidence; nearly all his passes were big ones). And during the fourth quarter, huge numbers -- the most for such a game in twenty-five years -- watched on TV, giving the network a Nielsen share rating of -- 31.6.

Do we get it?

For skeptics, just a series of coincidences.

Here's another: Thomas, the receiver who made the stunning winning catch, was born on December 25 (1987).

Meanwhile, no less than the liberal (and not very religious) Huffington Post reported that during the game, the clear blue sky above Mile-High Stadium yielded a wisp of a cloud shaped like -- a halo.

For some, nothing will ever be enough. God rewards faith with a run of remarkable games. Then He tests faith by letting a couple games fall into the lost column. Then He lets loose with one of the most electrifying football games in the history of the National Football League.

For many, no matter what happens Saturday (against New England), enough has been transmitted. For skeptics, nothing could convince them. Will Tebow lose? That's what the odds-makers say. God always leaves room for doubt.

And faith.

These are special times, with special mercies and signs.

God is using many.

He is even using football.

He does not raise up false messiahs -- just servants. He will probably not let too much focus be placed on a particular person. Already, the extent of evangelization is remarkable. Will he succumb to the temptations of celebrity? (Prayer need here.)

But one more passage from John (20:30;31): "And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciple, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His Name."

[resources: Michael Brown retreat in South Florida, January 28 and Green Bay, March 3]

[see also: Tebow fervor sweeps nation and Now, a halo over stadium?]

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