I don’t watch movies and I’m not sure why that is the case. I am certainly not against watching them, but somehow I never want to do it enough to take the time. I always feel out of place and culturally illiterate on this count. As nearly as I can tell, most students whom I know are avid movie watchers. And most of my colleagues are, too. It is not unusual for someone from either group to cite a movie to make a point. That is always lost on me!
Recently, I was going through some channels on the tv and spotted the movie, Rudy. I actually took the time to watch it---even though I have seen it before. I wondered how old the movie was, so the Internet makes that kind of search easy. The movie came out in 1983. It is based on the true-life story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, who did play football at Notre Dame. The real Rudy was from Joliet, IL and always harbored the hope to attend Notre Dame and play football. But he had a couple problems.
The first problem was he did not seem academically capable of getting into Notre Dame. And the second problem was his physical stature. He was way to small to play at the level of Notre Dame football. That level of collegiate football is for the athletically elite. Rudy did not belong. So the story could have ended there.
But it didn’t. Rudy began his college career at Holy Cross, a Junior College located across the street from Notre Dame in South Bend, IN. So even though Rudy was not in Notre Dame, he felt like he was at Notre Dame. He vowed to work hard so he could be admitted in Notre Dame. That hope was more possible when he was diagnosed with dyslexia. After three rejections from his dream school, he was finally admitted in the fall, 1974. That could be the end of a good story.
Rudy would get his college degree. But he wanted more. He wanted to play football. In this case there would be no lucky break, like discovering his dyslexia had been for rectifying some academic issues. As a football player, he would always be too slow, too small and too mediocre to play big-time ball. But that did not deter him. That same fall, he walked on to the football team. Again, that could have been the end of the story.
But it wasn’t. Rudi worked hard---as hard as anyone. In the language of the football world, as a practice player he became cannon fodder. That militaristic metaphor says it all. He played with heart, energy and enthusiasm. He has a dream, but realistically he knows he has no prayer of playing---and that in a place where prayer was part of every game! He should have quit, but he didn’t.
In the spring of his Junior year, the coach, Ara Parseghian, promised Rudy that he would dress him for one game in the 1975 season. But Ara left Notre Dame as coach and was replaced by Dan Devine, who obviously had not made that promise. However, under some pressure by all the players, Coach Devine agreed to let Rudy dress for the last game of that season and the last one of Rudy’s career.
With few seconds remaining in that last game, Devine relents and puts Rudy into the game. Rudy makes one play---tackling the opponent. Of course, the place is crazy and Rudy is carried off on the shoulders of his football buddies. That is the scene where all the big, tough guys watching the movie are crying. In one sense everybody watching the movie can identify with Rudy.
Rudy is the ordinary person---nice enough, but not talented enough ever to play big time in life. Rudy is you and me---capable of dreaming but with virtually no hope of the big dreams coming true. I would like to take it one step further. I would like to suggest Rudy has a parallel in the spiritual world. The parallel again may be you or me. I am on a spiritual pilgrimage though life, but it is a most ordinary pilgrimage.
My spiritual journey is remarkably ordinary. There are no spiritual magical moments. I have been to no mountaintops---no miracles, but many mistakes! I am not complaining. And neither did Rudy. I like the movie because I see lessons there for my own spiritual pilgrimage.
Rudy was committed. He worked hard and prepared exceptionally well. He knew what his role would be and was ok with that. He was a great teammate. He worked hard to make the team better. Rudy was a humble guy---no sense of entitlement. He had a dream. So do I.
I can be committed, work hard and prepare well. I can be important in my own spiritual community and be humble about what gifts I might offer. And the most important lesson of all Rudy teaches me, but that point the movie did not portray. Rudy would have been ok even if he had not played. The game is not the key. Belonging and making a difference were keys. So it is with discipleship.