The Margin of Victory

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by Cullen Schippe

Every year about this time, a phenomenon descends on the nation that is aptly named “March Madness”—the college basketball tournament.

Besides the office pools and other friendly and often uninformed betting that goes on during the games, there is a statement that is repeated often during the weeks of the tournament. “Winners move on—losers go home.”

Winning is what competitive sports are all about. The winning mania, however, has infected almost every phase of life. We subconsciously divide the world into winners and losers. In almost any public space, you can see thumbs flashing over tablets and smartphones to make angry birds or flying pigs scatter all over the screen. The obsession with winning at video games has created one of our largest and most lucrative industries. Lotteries rake in hundreds of billions of dollars as people hold tightly to the dream of “winning big.”

Education is more about scoring high in tests than about a life-long love of learning. Political life has become a matter of winning elections just to win elections, rather than a means to provide the best representation for citizens in need. It seems sometimes that each day is a series of competitions.

The winner-or-loser mentality is nourished by a whirlwind of comparisons. I am better than you are because I have more, know more, play better, log more friends on Facebook, go to a better school, live in a better neighborhood, or even show that I am a more faithful Christian. The flip side of that comparison—
the loser side—feeds feelings of alienation, envy, discouragement, and, at worst, despair.

The comparison and competition of this passion for victory can seep into our catechetical ministry. We may favor some students over others or seem to separate the catechetical “sheep from the goats” (Luke 18:22).

In this season of Lent, we are confronted with the antithesis of the winner-or-loser mentality. The rich liturgy of the season asks us to look again at Jesus—the suffering servant. We travel with him on his journey to Jerusalem. Step-by-step we see in Jesus what Isaiah foretold: “He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, knowing pain, like one from whom you turn your face. … He was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. … By his wounds we were healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5).

On that journey to Jerusalem, Jesus demonstrated that there are no outcasts in the reign of God. His companions were for the most part on the “loser” side of the equation—fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, sinners, the sick, the blind, the lame, and so on. Jesus did not proclaim the Kingdom by decree, but by invitation. He did not describe that Kingdom in terms of a Golden Age, but by preaching the Good News to the poor, by making the blind to see, the crippled to walk. He encouraged those who understand the Good News to see God in the “little ones.”

Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem led to the ultimate humiliation—his passion and death at the hands of a society that understood just what a threat he was. In this seeming defeat was Jesus’ margin of victory. Even the most terrible of deaths could not snuff out eternal life. By identifying with that “loser” side, Jesus conquered for all time slavery, sin, and death.

It is a bit ironic that in the same month that basketball victories are so closely watched, the liturgical cycle invites us to reflect on the symbol of the greatest victory the world has ever known. The symbol of this great victory is not plated in gold and inscribed with words of triumph. The symbol we contemplate is a rough-hewn and bloodied cross. In the shadow of that cross, the catechesis of Lent is found: in the beating heart of the family of faith, where all of us are together on the journey to Jerusalem. On that journey we are bound together not by laws, but by the great invitation to “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19).

The season provides time to seek our margin of victory in what the Prayer of Saint Francis says so eloquently. “Grant that we not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Cullen Schippe has been in Catholic publishing for well over 40 years and currently serves as President and Publisher for the Peter Li Education Group. Email Cullen at


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This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, June 2015.

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