Monday, March 26, 2012

Tim Tebow: A Christ-bearer in word

"And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

-Colossians 3:17

Shortly after 12 p.m. Tim Tebow met the New York City press. Next to the city of Philadelphia, they are probably the most brutal in the country. Certainly, any sports celebrity in the Big Apple has to have thick skin. But Tim Tebow, the young aspirant to the starting quarterback position for the New York Jets, has more than just thick skin- he has a big heart! A big heart for God!

A reporter from the Times questioned Tim Tebow about his faith and why he didn’t address the “hot-button social issues discussed by religious and political leaders.” In response, Tebow said, "We're at a press conference for the football team, so it's not exactly the platform to give and share everything you believe." But even when Tebow is not particularly ready to share his faith in Christ, he is ready to share his faith. He is always willing to talk about Our Lord; even in those venues where religious beliefs are rarely voiced. Tebow, undaunted by the question, went on to say this:

"But I have no problems ever sharing what I believe. I'm a Christian. I'm a follower of Jesus Christ. And that is first and foremost the most important thing in my life. For me it is about having a relationship with Christ. That's pretty much it. That is the basis of what I believe, and it is exciting for me to get opportunities to share that. But at the same time this is a press conference for the New York Jets football team, so I feel like it is an opportunity to answer questions about my opportunity to be here as a Jet. I'm excited about that. Any time you get an opportunity I am always going to talk about Jesus Christ and what he has done in my life. But I'm also here to talk about the Jets."

This is admirable. He is the new kid on the block and is surrounded by NY press that is mostly unfriendly to the Christian cause. Nevertheless, Tim Tebow shares his faith in Christ. He is a follower of Christ when the camera is off and when it is on. In today’s world, it can be a challenge to be at ease with your faith when society tells you that faith is a private matter. I think Tebow is trying to challenge that assumption. Our faith in Christ is not just a private matter, it also demands a public expression.

Usually personality traits and temperaments determine how open a Christian is about drawing attention to his or her faith. If you happen to be outgoing and are not bothered by attracting notice to yourself, then you, as a Christian, can be that much more open about your love for Jesus Christ. By no means is an introverted Christian obligated to speak us much or as loudly about their faith as one who is extroverted. However, every Christian is called to bear witness to Christ in accordance with the ability God has given him. And to be worthy Christ-bearers we must be willing to use both words and deeds.

In recent years the following quote from St. Francis of Assisi as enjoyed currency among Christians: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” This was spoken in medieval times when culture was visibly Catholic. As such, there was predominant tendency at the time to talk the talk but not walk the talk. In other words, religious discourse was in vogue but the virtue of charity to back it up was wanting. In the twenty-first century, we tend to do the opposite. We stress the deeds but not the words. And to be sure, many of us refer to the quote from St. Francis in order to relieve ourselves of the obligation to talk about Christ. But talk about Christ, we must; especially when American culture is becoming more secularized and religious expression more suppressed.

Talking openly about Christ by Catholics can sometimes be particularly uncomfortable. After all, the Catholic religion is very structured and pre-planned. Travel anywhere in the world and you will find that Mass is essentially the same. Worship, in other words, is already familiar, predictable and prepared. As such, we can participate in the Mass anywhere in the world. This, no doubt, is a great blessing! But the weakness to any structured system is that it can become impersonal and a matter of routine. We Catholics are conscious that we belong to a universal, two-thousand year old Church. Our tradition and heritage is rich and varied. The need to make our Church bigger doesn’t press upon us in the same way it does for other Christians.

With the exception of Mega-churches, many Protestant churches are much smaller in size. Protestant Christians see themselves as a small church that is often unconnected, in any formal way, to Christianity at large. Indeed, many are ever mindful that their churches need expanding. There is always room for one more Christian. With this awareness, missionary zeal is more intensely felt and the need to express that zeal in words is equally felt.

I, as a Catholic, know that Tim Tebow’s willingness to talk openly about Christ is native to the Catholic Faith. The Apostles did it. The Church Fathers did it. The Martyrs did it. The Saints did it. This is why I like Tim Tebow. What he is doing in and out of season, sharing his faith and his love for Christ, is a Catholic thing! We have a rich tradition of men and women who not only did it but paid the price for it. As such, we can learn a thing or two from Tim Tebow.