Sports & Spirituality
Using the lens of athletics to more fully understand the spiritual life
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Pope Francis on the "Memory of Grace"...and a Football Jersey
Among a great many things, Pope Francis is also a spiritual decathlete. In America Magazine's groundbreaking interview, the Pontiff discussed how he prays. In "A Big Heart Open to God" he says,
I pray the breviary every morning. I like to pray with the psalms. Then, later, I celebrate Mass. I pray the Rosary. What I really prefer is adoration in the evening, even when I get distracted and think of other things, or even fall asleep praying. In the evening then, between seven and eight o’clock, I stay in front of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour in adoration. But I pray mentally even when I am waiting at the dentist or at other times of the day.
I encourage everyone to read "The Joy of the Gospel"
I was humbled by the Pope's firm commitment to prayer. I should not have been surprised, right? But rather than feel encouraged that the leader of the Catholic Church is in such wonderful dialogue with God, I thought of my own inadequacies. I too like to pray with the psalms—why do I not do that? At least I go to Sunday Mass every week, but adoration? I went once in six months. Hmm...fall asleep praying? I do that almost every night. I know my scrupulosity was not the intention behind the questions of Antonio Spadaro, SJ or the Holy Father's response. Quite the contrary. Rather, in his prayerful disciplines, Pope Frank continues to impart a wonderful example. That's what a spiritual decathlete can do! He adds,
Prayer for me is always a prayer full of memory, of recollection, even the memory of my own history or what the Lord has done in his church or in a particular parish. For me it is the memory of which St. Ignatius speaks in the First Week of the Exercises in the encounter with the merciful Christ crucified. And I ask myself: ‘What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What should I do for Christ?’ It is the memory of which Ignatius speaks in the ‘Contemplation for Experiencing Divine Love,’ when he asks us to recall the gifts we have received. But above all, I also know that the Lord remembers me. I can forget about him, but I know that he never, ever forgets me. Memory has a fundamental role for the heart of a Jesuit: memory of grace, the memory mentioned in Deuteronomy, the memory of God’s works that are the basis of the covenant between God and the people. It is this memory that makes me His son and that makes me a father, too.
This revelation helped me name and understand what I do at the conclusion of every year. This "memory of grace" is a prayerful way I end the semester. I take time to pray for every one of my students. I give thanks for the relationships that have developed between us. I love being a witness to the new friendships that are born in my classroom. My students are not free to choose where they sit. With each partner is the invitation to create a new friend, strengthen an old one or reconcile with another.
Co-captain of the Football Team (OL/DL) and winner of the RS 300 Academic Award
I read this beautiful treatise on prayer, and I then thought of what the Lord had done in my classroom the year prior. In an unsuspecting place and in an unlikely way, one of the many relationships with my students was recognized in a special way. And, it was one of the highlights of this semester.
One tradition we have at St. Ignatius is a "jersey ceremony" that takes place at the pep rally before the Bruce Mahoney football game. Each senior on the varsity football team honors a teacher of their choice with their uniform. They thank their teacher and share why they want them to wear their jersey at the game. I love this simple act of giving. This year, it had more meaning for me because of the context of Pope Francis' words. Prayer need not be formal; it can be in the simple act of remembrance. Wearing #75 served as an invitation for me to pray for my (former) student. When Connor gave me his jersey I could not help but recall the real gift I received was having Connor in my classroom. Connor was not afraid to speak up for what was right and just. He sought truth and asked honest questions to find it. His peers admire him because he respects others as much as he respects himself. He laughed easily; I remember a few times when he would just shake his head... I would look over and know he either started the conversation which sparked good humor or needed to pass it on for me to hear. To wear his jersey was an honor for me because of who I got to represent. While Pope Francis actively engages and participates in the prayerful traditions of the Church, he is always inviting us to bring the face of Christ to every place we go and every person we meet. I never thought that action could involve something like wearing a high school football jersey. What a graced memory.