Because Nothing Matters, Until Everything Does

Allison recently wrote a good post about soccer and sports. I want to be clear: This is not a rebuttal to her post. I agree with much of what she had to say in that post, and with many of the comments as well. But forget sports, school work, home work, our careers, our relationships, our involvement in society, our intelligence, our physical gifts or impediments for a second. None of it matters unless our love of Christ is the center of our existence. For as Qoheleth says in Ecclesiastes, all is vanity. However, when we are Christ centered people, then everything matters.

You may remember from an earlier post that I hinted that I am a gearhead. I willfully dismantled a perfectly good engine in my Mustang in an effort to make it better, stronger, faster. I did this before I became a Catholic. I have always had an interest in motors, engines, airplanes, trucks, etc. I was just born with this attraction and with mechanical ability. So, new exhaust manifolds, intake manifold, cylinder heads, fuel injectors, camshaft—all were removed and replaced in my driveway with hand tools and moxie back in 1999.

Just to see if I still could, I swapped the cylinder heads on the motor again in 2002 (after my near brush with death). And actually, I had blown a head gasket and took that incident as an opportunity to add ported and polished heads.  That is an example of clear, focused, gearhead thinking for you. In 2005, I drove this car 2100 miles across the country from California to our new home. She is a runner and one spirited pony. And none of this matters for my salvation. That is, until it did.

A few months after our move, she (cars are feminine) broke down and I couldn’t figure out the problem. I started her up one day and she was running really rough. I opened the hood, checked the spark-plug wires, fuel injectors, sensors, etc. All was fine. But still, the motor had a wicked shimmy and was seemingly trying to tear herself off the motor mounts. Have I lost you with all the gearhead jargon? Sorry. Long story short, I put the pony to pasture for a while because I was busy with other chores, like building a stair-case and contemplating swimming the Tiber.

Eventually (over a year later) I finished the home improvement projects and decided to tackle the engine problem again. Knowing my limitations though, I took it to a professional. I learned early on that throwing money and personal labor at problems a professional can diagnose quicker and cheaper is silly. The problem? The harmonic balancer was slipping off the crankshaft key.

The balancer is a big counterweight that dampens the vibrations in the mechanical workings of an internal combustion engine. It probably went a little off kilter when I swapped the camshaft, and eventually it manifested itself as a wicked shimmy. See this photograph? The balancer is that thingy that looks like a wheel on the end of the crankshaft. Without the balancer, centered perfectly on the crankshaft, the engine will tear itself apart. With the balancer in place, the engine will run smoothly.

At the time my car’s motor broke, I was wrestling with my practice of Christianity. I knew that up to this time in my life, Christ definitely had not been the center of my existence. I had pushed him way out on the periphery. Of course, by doing that, the big counterweight that should have been my center was removed. Thus all the other moving parts in my life were vying for the central position. As a result, I was running as rough as my Mustang motor had been with the broken balancer. So this idea popped into my gearhead–Joe Sixpack mind: Christ is our harmonic balancer.

The idea of having Christ at our center isn’t mine, it is God’s. And this handy little diagram isn’t my idea either. But until the motor in my Mustang broke, I didn’t really “get” the ramifications of not having Christ as the center. This incident with the harmonic balancer was when theory and practical application came together for me. It is why I understand that putting sports, or anything else for that matter, at the center of your life instead of Christ will lead to oblivion.

Is this the shortest parable on record? I don’t really know, and truthfully, I haven’t checked. If it isn’t, though, it’s close.
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.
Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is recorded as having said this in the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 13). And there we all are as Catholics and Christians—yeast to be mixed in with the flour of the rest of the world so that the mixture is leavened and the loaf can rise. In the same Gospel, while giving His Sermon on the Mount He also says,
You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
The Desert Fathers chucked everything and headed into the desert to pray and wait. I don’t have that option because I was called to be a father and a husband. And I understand that I am called to put Christ first in my life. I have found the Catholic Church to be the place where I can do this most effectively. And all of my God-given talents and abilities are to be put to good use and for His greater glory. The same is true for my wife and our children.
So be it sports, school work, home work, careers, relationships, involvement as citizens, our intelligence, our physical gifts or impediments, et cetera, et cetera, with Christ in his rightful and central place in our lives, everything we do, or think, or say, matters for our salvation.
Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War was not a Catholic or a Christian. Heck, he couldn’t have been because he lived in China around 500 BC. But I think he would have made a good Catholic Christian and he would understand where his loyalties must lie as a disciple of the True King. Note this saying of his,
The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
The same is true for us privates and gearheads too.

  • Maria

    Frank: You are mighty smart, you know that? Great post. BTW I LOVED the Art of War, Frank.I got pulled over yesterday because my tags were suspended. It is going to cost me a bundle–money I do not have. It might as well be one million dollars and yet friends are casting a net for me. Car was impounded and I have been at the rim of life these past days. So, I ask, as men of old, how long oh Lord, how long? I say: OK Lord, I don't get it, but I trust you, even though all factual reality tells me my life is a lost cause. I loved what my Father always used to say: God is always right on time. I have an interview on Monday and a recruiter contated me about another position. Yep, he is our true North, Frank, the great harmonizer. He speaks us in our frustrations if we would but listen.

  • Warren Jewell

    "GEARHEADS for CHRIST, UNITE! Permit Christ to be the Harmonic Balancer Who can keep you on the road Home."Won't cost you but your sins, and He never breaks down! And, if you suffer breakdown like Maria did, He'll leave but one set of footprints in the sand as He carries you until you are ready to walk on again.And, look! His hands aren't even dirty – Ummm – just pierced and bloody.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    @Maria, that's not what my neighbors thought when they saw that motor taken apart LOL. Prayers of thankfulness for the recent opportunities. "They will, not my will, be done."@Warren: I think there is a ministry (no idea if it's Catholic) called Gearheads for Christ out there somewhere.

  • Maria

    Thanks, fellas. Maybe it should be Christ for Gearheads.

  • Moses

    Hi Frank…what an insight!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Moses: Good to hear from you. I hope all is well in KL.

  • Laurie

    Frank,I can fill oil, windshield fluid, have hands small enough to work on motorcycle engines that big ol' manhands cannot, and was taught to sound halfway intelligent around "gearheads" by saying, always saying, "It must be the solenoid." And that's about it. But I understood this, just fine. Thank you. It was just right.(I am a baker, though, so maybe it's because you included His parables of yeast and salt)

  • Moses

    Weather is a bit hot lately…it is that time of the year anyway. If the past is any guide, Easter Vigil will be raining and thereafter the hot season until May.Spiritually, this Lent season is more meaningful for me in that more conscious of it through daily morning mass attendance. I hope you have a good lead up towards Easter.


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