October 30, 2009

Super Bowl champion encourages men to follow God’s plan for life

Chris Godfrey, who earned a Super Bowl championship with the New York Giants in 1987, encourages Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference participants to follow God’s plan and Church teachings. He was a keynote speaker at the conference on Oct. 17 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

Chris Godfrey, who earned a Super Bowl championship with the New York Giants in 1987, encourages Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference participants to follow God’s plan and Church teachings. He was a keynote speaker at the conference on Oct. 17 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

By Mary Ann Wyand

The game is on, the clock is ticking and we are called to follow God’s plan for our lives.

“God has called each of us to something big, something much bigger than ‘Monday Night Football,’ ” former New York Giants starting right guard Chris Godfrey told 950 participants during the fourth annual “Lions Breathing Fire—Cast Out Your Nets” Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference on Oct. 17 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Related story: In the ‘game of life,’ choose to live for Christ and others, priest says)

“He has called each of us to cast out our nets and to live our lives in the prime time, to be a faithful son of God, to be a true husband, to be a good father,” Godfrey emphasized. “And maybe even doing all of these things as a priest, following Jesus, who is the bridegroom of the Church, and begetting countless spiritual children. But whatever the call is, the ball is now in your hands and you can count on God’s help in moving it down the field.”

Godfrey was a member of the Giants’ offensive line in 1987 when the team completed the National Football League season with a 17-2 record and won Super Bowl XXI.

Now the Detroit native is a lawyer in South Bend, Ind., and a member of the Indiana Bar Association.

Godfrey also is the president of Life Athletes Inc., an organization of more than 300 professional and Olympic athletes dedicated to trying to live—and inspire others to live—lives of virtue, abstinence and respect for life.

“My participation in Life Athletes is my own answer, my own casting out of the net,” he said, “… to make a persuasive argument for upholding human life.”

The mentoring organization promotes the “Life Athlete’s Commitment” to youth and adults based on four promises:

  • I will try to do what is right even when it is difficult.
  • I will give myself only to that special person whom I marry as my partner for life.
  • I will respect the lives of others, especially the unborn and the aged.
  • I will not quit or make excuses when I fail. I will try again.

“We have all done things that we wish we hadn’t done, and we’ll probably drop the ball sometime in the future, too,” he said. “… Any good coach will tell you the only difference between winners and losers is that winners get up again after they lose.”

His Super Bowl ring is “as much a testament to perseverance as it is to excellence,” he said. “If perseverance is important in football, it’s a … lot more important in our personal lives. … Our talent is God-given, … but our heart, our character, we have everything to do with. We make our character through the choices we make in life.”

The sooner we realize that we need God, he said, the sooner we can do something about it.

Following God’s plan for his life resulted in the priceless blessings of his Catholic faith, he said, as well as his wife, Daria, and their six children. As parents, they practice natural family planning in accordance with Church teachings.

“Now I know that having a good relationship with God and others is the key to my happiness in this world and in the next,” Godfrey said. “The relationship between a husband and wife mirrors the relationship that Christ has with his Church. It touches upon the very meaning of life itself. It’s that important.”

The oldest of nine children, he grew up in a Catholic home, received the sacraments and attended Catholic schools.

“I had every spiritual advantage growing up,” he recalled. “… But as I got older and more successful in playing football, my relationship with God changed. … I was just going through the motions of my faith, … growing farther and farther away from God.”

Godfrey said he grew up believing that “Jesus loved me and would always be there for me,” so he took God for granted even as he pondered what was most important in his life.

“Even though I was big and strong on the outside,” he said, “when I asked myself those kinds of questions I felt weak on the inside. … I didn’t have an answer.”

He played briefly for the Washington Redskins, New York Jets and Green Bay Packers, but was cut from the teams.

“It was my third cut in a year,” he said. “Without even thinking about it, I … fell to my knees and said, ‘Lord, I give up. Whatever you want me to do, wherever you want me to go, you’re the boss now.’ I had never really prayed like that before, but my plans weren’t working out so I decided to give God a crack at it.

“[Then] Bart Starr, the head coach of the Packers, apologized for cutting me and asked me to stay,” Godfrey said. “I was flabbergasted. I’d been around the NFL long enough to know that they just didn’t make mistakes like that. I knew that God had a hand in the whole thing. I knew that God was close to me, and because he was close to me I wanted to get closer to him.”

He started to pray and attend Mass more often, and joined a Bible study group with some of his Packers teammates.

“It was amazing,” Godfrey said. “Things that I had heard before at Mass or maybe even read on my own before in the Bible all of a sudden just took on a whole new life and had a whole new meaning to me. One passage in particular just jumped off the page [of the Bible] at me. It was Matthew 6:33, one of God’s promises. It says, ‘Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.’ What it told me was that I needed to get my priorities straight. … I needed to do things God’s way first then all these other things that I wanted in my life … would take care of themselves.”

A shoulder injury ended his time with the Packers, he said. “But I had an opportunity to grow in my faith and to grow in my relationship with Jesus. … I grew strong on the inside while my knees and shoulder were healing, too.”

After the 1982 NFL strike, the New York Giants signed him.

“I can honestly say that God keeps his promises,” Godfrey said. “… The best thing that I have is my relationship with God, and nothing else matters as much to me. … As St. Paul indicated, the quality of our spiritual life is closely related to our life at home because marriage and family is the normal path to holiness for most men. So in loving my wife and children, I’m actually growing closer to God.”

It’s good to be fishes in the Lord’s net, but that’s just the starting point for the Kingdom of God, Godfrey said, emphasizing that we also have to follow Jesus and be fishermen for souls by casting out our own nets in our families and in society to spread the Good News and defend the God-given right to life. †

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