Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Oprah's What I Know For Sure Meets Sports & Spirituality

I first encountered Oprah’s “What I know for sure” while watching Elie Wiesel share his life’s story, via his memoir Night on her show. Oprah concluded her interview with the Holocaust survivor, activist, author, professor and Noble Peace Prize winner with this question. I thought it was a fitting way to conclude a powerfully memorable episode.

Oprah got the idea from the late film critic Gene Siskel who “used to ask in his celebrity interviews, 'What do you know for sure?' The first time he asked me this question, it threw me. Since then the question has become a way of taking stock of my life—hence this monthly column, in answer to Gene."

The school year is winding down and commencement is near. My colleague Mary (Ms. A), ever sage, thoughtful, determined and faithful developed her own list for her seniors. It is her gift to these young and women as they navigate their lives beyond the walls of St. Ignatius College Prep. I have integrated her ideas with my own, as they relate to "Sports and Spirituality." I encourage you to develop your own!

Ms. A’s “What I Know For Sure/Top 10 Ways to Live the Good Life”

10. Keep “nurtured” – by both good and difficult experiences in life - (like a plant needs to be watered) – hang with people who love you for who you are and who will also challenge you to be the BEST you. Leave the people who do NOT do that behind. And remember: “we can’t do this alone, folks.” I am NEVER alone.


Indeed sports provide both good and difficult experiences. From the physical demands they can place on our bodies to the natural endrophin release upon completing a great workout, so much is made possible with support from others.  A good teammate and coach will challenge you to be the BEST you as a competitor, and individual.

As much as I enjoy running solo—I clear my mind, I review my day and creative thoughts seem to percolate with ease—it is also a treat for me to run with a good friend. Sharing the miles keeps me physically and emotionally nurtured.

9. Touch the poor – regularly, locally and globally. Be a “person with/for others” - always. They are my path to God.


Many people in the world are not free to recreate. I know of some parents who work two to three jobs to pay for their child’s tuition. These may be the folks most in need of free/extra seats to a game or an hour each day to work out.

Lady Poverty has many faces. Who knew she may be nourished not only with financial resources, but with time for play, recreation, or getting lost in the drama of a good sports match?

8. First know yourself – and (then), “to thine own self be true”. That you are a person of integrity is the highest praise someone can ever say about you. Bar none.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote Sport, especially for the young, and when practiced with passion and within careful ethical boundaries, becomes a training ground for sound physical development, a school of both human and spiritual values, and a privileged means of personal growth and interaction with society. We learn about much more than our physical strengths and limitations, we learn about our character—who we truly are. It’s much easier to be true to oneself when you know who you are.

7. Learn to distinguish between the voice from God and the voice from The Evil One. They may seem similar. This is what Discernment and The Examen are all about. There is a BIG difference between deep peace of heart (which may be present in suffering) and surface happiness. Go for the former.


This is a tough one for me to draw out and build a connection. The one thought that comes to mind is unfortunately, I know of many student athletes who play sports for the wrong reasons. They feel pressure from their parents; they believe it’s the only way they will get into a certain college. They are searching for an identity.

At some point, every athlete must confront the question—Why am I doing this? Discernment and prayer will provide a worthy answer.

There are good reasons for pursing a sport and others that are less than noble. Pay attention to what your heart is telling you. Is it fun? Am I challenged in a healthy way? Is my pursuit toward my athletic goal one I am proud of? Am I testing my physical and mental limits in a way that leads to growth?

6. Pray – often and in all ways. See God speaking to you in ALL THINGS and ALL CIRCUMSTANCES OF YOUR LIFE, both the comforting and the afflicting ones.

In some circumstances, athletics provides an ideal platform for prayer. Personally, I have always found that a perfect time to pray is when I exercise. Collectively, athletes at the high school where I teach pray before every game and attend Friday Morning Liturgy together.

Looking at various teams at Mass, one might guess these athletes are fulfilling another team requirement. However, I have come to understand in reading students’ reflections and input on retreats just how much those experiences mean to them. Indeed the Eucharist provides spiritual nourishment in a way we should never underestimate.

This list includes 6-10; the next posting will include the top five!

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