Tim Tebow is a man of Faith. He is also an NFL football player (starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos). Not an easy two worlds to mix, especially for a 25-year-old single and fairly attractive young man. A number of people I know, including some who are very committed Roman Catholic Christians, are much divided however on the merits of his way of expressing that Faith to others and the world in general.
At the outset let me say I am not here to defend each and every move Mr. Tebow makes on or off the field. Wearing black eye goop that has Scripture verses written on them, and kneeling on one knee each time he performs a successful game move have brought up many issues within the Catholic Christian community . It probably would not be my way of witnessing to my faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
But it has done one thing—it has caused the discussion to begin between people of Faith and also between those who simply mock the whole thing as some form of “showboating.” And discussion is good.
Before I go further, let me back up and say that I believe that Christ is a very real, vital, and central part of his life. I am glad for that. It is refreshing to have a role model in the NFL who isn’t out beating up his wife or girlfriend, who has not fathered several known and unknown children, and who is not on steroids or otherwise addicted to potentially lethal substances. Having said that, the accolades he does get are a “wee bit overboard,” methinks. We can easily turn genuine admiration into “hero worship” and many have done so. Ironically the same people who think (wrongly I might add) that we who are Catholic Christians worship statues and icons have no problem worshipping at the “altar of Tebow.” That is neither particularly fair to him nor Christ-like. But it is also not reasonable in my view at least to assume the worst of him or his motives.
Obviously only God knows his heart, but from what I have seen, read and heard on video clips such as this one of him ministering to some prison inmates awhile back (something I suspect is pretty much unheard of for an NFL player other than Michael Vick, and then again that was for slightly different reasons!) he seems to be a “what you see is what you get” type of guy all the way. I might add that this video is apparently from some work he did for Prison Fellowship, a cross-denominational ministry started by Chuck Colson, whose wife is a lifelong Catholic Christian, and who himself was converted largely by reading C.S. Lewis while behind bars. So the assumption that Tim or his family are anti-Catholic is exactly that.
During the off season he has also been known to spend his time doing missionary work with his family in the Philippines. And to those who think the Philippines have no need for missions, since they are already a “Catholic country,” I can only say that a number of my Filipino friends have at times shared with me otherwise. I have been told that their nation is indeed primarily Roman Catholic, but that in many cases the Catholicism is cultural and mixed at times with the occult or other superstitious practices, even among those who are practicing the Faith and attending Mass regularly. Hence the danger of mixing Church with State. Again another topic, but…point being, I do not think there is a nation in the world that does not need at least some evangelization.
Would I much prefer that the Tebow family would share the Gospel from a Roman Catholic perspective? Absolutely. But I would also wish (and on this I may differ from some of my own Roman Catholic colleagues and friends who read this) to help people develop living commitments to Christ even if outside of Rome rather than to “bag a Catholic,” as my priest used to say, who then enters the Church without understanding that a personal, heartfelt, and total commitment to Christ is first and foremost.
“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9:23).
It is only with this type of commitment that the Mass becomes real, the Sacraments have efficacy, and the individual believer, Catholic or Protestant has hope of heaven. Otherwise Christianity in all her forms, including Catholic, is simply a bunch of rituals which, although carrying within them the power to save, border on meaningless to those in attendance. If you do not believe me, do a bit of “people-watching” during Holy Communion sometime. Some people cry, fall down on one (or two!) knees, and absolutely glow after the Lord enters into them. Others look bored and blank and rush out the door before Mass is over.
Is Jesus there, present in His body, blood, soul and Divinity in each case? Yes He is. But in one case the person is properly disposed, and in the other, only God knows if he or she is or not, but I suspect many times not. In the second case the person would, according to St. Paul, be guilty of sacrilege.
(1 Corinthians 11:27) “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.”
We are actually better off not receiving than to receive unworthily and without thought or gratitude.
So back to Tim Tebow. He is not a Roman Catholic and is not likely to begin acting like one anytime soon. But those of us who are more traditional in our Catholic Faith have far more in common with his morality, his commitment and pro-life witness (he was supposed to be aborted due to health issues), and to his obviously living faith in a resurrected Savior than we do to cultural Catholics who are “pro-choice” and think Nancy Pelosi is a theologian!
As to how he shares his Faith, I suspect as he grows a bit older and hopefully wiser, he will likely tone it down a bit. But I find it ironic that those who do not become offended by non-Catholic, wild-living NFL and other pro ball players who do a quick “Sign of the Cross” or say “Thank you Jesus” are greatly so because he bows his knee to His (and our) God. Within the nave or sanctuary of the parish Church, the one knee “bow” is an appropriate and correct way to respect the Blessed Sacrament specifically. Two knees bowed are even more so, which is why we as Catholics kneel during the Consecration of the earthly elements (bread and wine) during the time when the priest speaks the “Words of Institution” which cause them to become the actual and physical body and blood of Christ.
But no one would argue that we can pray, Blessed Sacrament nearby or not, on both knees, perhaps in our home or in front of a religious statue. So why using one knee is somehow sacrilegious or a mockery of the Eucharist when done on a football field is beyond me. It is beyond a bow but less than a full kneel, and while the use of the genuflection is meant, inside the Church, for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, its use is—as far as I can discern, and I am willing to of course be corrected on this—not limited to such in other situations. And I am pretty sure that Mr. Tebow would never intentionally mock His Lord, even if he does not agree with the Catholic perception of Him or the gift of the Real Presence.
Lastly, and this is my very last thought on the topic, how about some Novenas or having some Masses offered for him? He is, to all accounts or best guesses at least, apparently a virgin in a vile world where that is pretty much unheard of long before age 25, much less if you are famous and fairly wealthy. Many an attractive and cunning woman would love to be the one who trips him up in that area, sells her story to the National Enquirer, and thus deliberately ruins his witness as a result. We need to pray and intercede for his strength in that area. Also, this is an unprecedented age of evangelical Protestants moving towards either Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Churches. Wouldn’t it be just beyond fun if he ended up a Catholic priest? And it could indeed occur. Think of what he could do within the “Catholic Philippines” and other parts of the world then?
We are told in the Sacred Scriptures to “Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matt 9:38) so I would challenge you—and me—to pray for him more. And not to, on one hand, begin “Tebowing” nor, on the other, to mock his walk with Christ. Neither of those extremes seems quite like a fair or an accurate portrayal of a very human but very amazing guy who loves Jesus as deeply as he chooses to do.
PLEASE NOTE: All Scriptures references are ESV (English Standard Version).
See link below for a “secular” view from the Boston Globe…well worth reading, as it very objectively presents another perspective.
AND for another view from my good friend Patrick Vandapool…
- GEORGE WEIGEL: Tim Tebow and Christophobia (catholicboyrichard.wordpress.com)