Not surprisingly, the term “Hail Mary” – meaning a go-for-broke football pass – originated at the University of Notre Dame.
Basically, when time is running out and choices are limited, the quarterback in a football game decides to throw what is essentially a desperation shot. My favorite Hail Marys happen during college games but the term became more common after Roman Catholic QB Roger Staubach confessed to throwing and praying “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” during his professional career.
It’s a mouthful to pray while throwing a football.
Protestants often join our Roman Catholic siblings in praying during sporting events although this is theologically shaky. And what we Protestants also do alongside our Roman Catholic siblings is throw proverbial Hail Marys.
For example, a Church might . . .
- Use the last of its endowment to start a much-needed preschool,
- Generously increase the pastoral salary package in hopes of calling an especially gifted leader who will help move them forward.
- Decide to take its underused parking lot and build affordable housing in that space.
- Sell their building and property and give all their money to start a jobs-training program.
Just kidding. Most of the congregations I know will not do those things.
Instead, we sit back and hope that a miracle lands in our laps – that young families will magically come, that a great pastor will show up to lead them, that they will be able to do life-changing mission one day. Hope is our strategy. And while I’m a big fan of hope, God gives us what we need to be The Church but we don’t always acknowledge those gifts.
In the words of entrepreneur Yancey Strickler (yes, that guy again):
Hope isn’t a plan. When a Hail Mary is the strategy, you’ve already lost. And yet on the big questions in front of us, we act as if there’s nothing worth working toward.
I have a friend who used to pray for a husband. She prayed a lot. And she never went out to parties or other social gatherings, she never approached interesting people to find out about their lives, she never participated in events where she might meet someone. It was as if – if she prayed hard enough – God would fly the right person through her window.
God gives us opportunities and tools and inspiration to expand our ministry every day. It’s just that we ignore those things. Instead we sit back and hope. And the most heartbreaking part is that we act as if there is nothing worth working toward.
How about working toward expanding The Reign of God? Remember this:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Luke 4:18,19
Is this worth working toward? I believe that if this is the purpose and mission of our congregations, there will be no need for last minute desperate measures.
Yes, there is hope. And love hopes all things. And love is an action.
It’s time for action, Church. What is our strategy for loving God and loving our neighbors?
Image of Doug Flutie throwing his famous Hail Mary for Boston College against The University of Miami in 1984 during the last second of that game. BC won 47-45.