January 29, 2021

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Retiring quarterback shared Gospel values on large stage

Sean GallagherI have to admit that I was decidedly not a fan of recently retired Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers in the early part of his 17-year career.

He and his then‑San Diego Chargers made a habit of beating my beloved Colts, including twice in the playoffs. In one such postseason game played in Indianapolis in 2007, Rivers was injured during the contest. As he walked back to his team’s locker room, Colts fans jawed at him. Rivers, then just 26, didn’t hesitate to talk trash right back to them.

It was then that I thought, “This kid is a punk. I don’t like him.”

Time and knowledge can heal all wounds, though. Through the years, I saw how gifted an athlete he was. I could respect that. I also learned about his dedication to his Catholic faith and his vocation as a husband and father of nine children. That was something I could get behind. (It didn’t hurt that the short-lived rivalry between the Colts and Chargers had faded with time.)

Last year, at the tail end of his career, Rivers signed as a free agent with the Colts and led them to an 11-win season and a berth in the playoffs.

Although his athletic skills had not diminished that much and he could easily have played another season with Indianapolis, Rivers announced on Jan. 20 that he was retiring as a professional football player.

The next chapter in his life will be as head football coach of St. Michael Catholic High School in Fairhope, Ala., the state in which he grew up.

In a statement announcing his retirement, he thanked God “for allowing me to live out my childhood dream of playing quarterback in the NFL.”

Rivers didn’t live out that dream merely for himself. He used the worldwide attention that the NFL receives to share Gospel values with millions around the world.

One way he did that was through his frequent talking about a Latin motto that guides his life: “Nunc coepi.” It means in English, “Now, I begin.”

It’s a statement of humility. No matter what triumphs we have had in the past, we must always start again and give our best in each moment, for past results do not guarantee future success.

It’s also a statement of determination. No matter how many failures we have had in the past, we must always start again, trusting that God can help us to follow his will more completely, despite our past difficulties.

It’s finally a statement about living fully in the present, not being a prisoner of our past nor fearful of the future. When we live in the present, our hearts are open to the many blessings God offers to us here and now, which we might miss if we are focused instead on the past or future.

Such an attitude surely helped a gunslinger like Rivers, who threw more than his fair share of interceptions throughout his career. That never kept him from throwing amazing touchdown passes afterward.

The attitude behind “Nunc coepi” can keep spouses and parents renewed in the daily living out of their vocations.

God’s will for husbands and wives, fathers and mothers is often crystal clear in daily family life. But I know from experience that it’s still easy to choose our own preferences instead of what God is asking of us in any one moment.

But even when we fail in those moments, we can say “Nunc coepi” in our hearts and, with the help of God’s ever‑present grace, start anew.

At the same time, some veteran parents might think they’ve got parenting down pat. Having a “Nunc coepi” attitude can help them give of themselves as if they were the parents of their first newborn. Such an attitude for longtime moms and dads can also keep their hearts open to the joys of parenting that they might have taken for granted.

Philip Rivers might not be suiting up to throw passes on Sunday afternoons anymore, but hopefully his example of faith and dedicated family life guided by his “Nunc coepi” attitude will continue to shape lives well into the future.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter and columnist for The Criterion.)

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