Saturday, July 03, 2010

Soccer, Laws, Rules, and morals.

One of the most fundamental rules of soccer is that except for the goalkeeper, you can't use your hands on the ball.  Even most Americans know that

In the final minute of extra time in Friday's quarterfinal game against Ghana, Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez found himself standing in front of the goal with the ball heading toward him head high.  He swatted the ball with his hand, took the red card penalty.  Ghana missed the penalty kick, and Uruguay ultimately won the game to advance.  Suarez will be suspended for Uraguay's next game.

While some might disagree, most would say that Suarez did the right thing.  The important thing was to win the game.  If Suarez had not swatted at the ball, Uraguay would have almost definitely lost.  His action gave them a chance to win.  You play to win, not to follow the rules.  Suarez did what he had to do to help his team win.  If he had refused to break the rules to help his team win the game, he would be criticized for it.

While perhaps not this stark, in most sports there are times where it is more in a team's interest to accept the penalty for breaking the rules than not.  A defensive back should take a pass interference penalty rather than give up a touchdown.  A basketball player should give up a foul rather than a lay up, and foul on purpose in the final minutes to extend the game.

But this is not universal.  Suarez's action, while against perhaps the most fundamental rule of soccer, was harmless.  If the only way for Suarez to prevent the goal was to cause physical harm to one of Ghana's players, and he did so, I doubt we'd feel the same way.  If he kidnapped the opposing team's players' children to distract them during the game, nobody would be cheering.

It seems to me that a lot of the controversies in the Church boil down the whether the teaching of the Church is analogous to the rule against using your hands in soccer or more significant.  In particular, I am thinking of the case in Phoenix of the abortion given to the woman with the heart condition, and the torture debate.

For sure, some rules should be ignored under some circumstances.  It is a rule that we shouldn't eat meat on Lenten Fridays, but given a choice between wasting prepared food and eating meat, we should probably eat the meat.  Attending Mass on Sundays is a commandment, but if on the way to Church we see someone desperately needing help, we should be willing to miss Mass to help them.

But, in my view, the Church's teachings on the dignity of human life are more fundamental than that.  We don't eschew torture and abortion and unjust war just so that we can have a clean report card.  We do it because it is who we are, who God has called us to be, and breaking those rules takes us away from that.

The Cider House Rules invited us to regard pro-life sentiments as, at best guidelines for order that can be disregarded when deemed necessary, and at worse a tool of oppression.  My view is that living the Gospel, living our true selves, is the true path to freedom.

It ultimately comes down to how we answer the question Jesus posed to Peter in the Gospel two weeks ago -- "Who do you say that I am"  Do we regard Christ and His Church as makers of arbitrary rules that prevent us from getting things done, or as the Lord of our lives who has shown us the true path of life?
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