Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Different Take on Super Bowl Sunday

I have heard some pundits scorn the "World Series" because it is a contest limited to American teams (occasionally one from Canada) of sport that is played internationally i.e. Japan, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, etc.  The Super Bowl, however, is ours—right? Correct me if I'm wrong, but what could be more American?!
Sister Whit. Will take a lot of convincing to get me to consider anyone can sing this any better than she did.
A game between two championship teams, the entertainment is in no way limited to what transpires on the grid iron. As written in Rolling Stone, "The Super Bowl is an enormous night for television. Last year, an estimated 111 million people watched the game, its advertisements and its halftime show. It all begins with the performance of the National Anthem, a tradition that has been carried out by some of the greatest voices in pop music history. The song isn't easy to deliver – as Christina Aguilera discovered last year – but there have been some exceptional performances." To me, Whitney Houston's performance of the Star Spangled Banner in 1991 reigns supreme. 

Perhaps you have a favorite memory of a half time show as well. In "Bruce" Peter Ames Carlin reports that Springsteen "turned down the invitation to play for over 10 years." In 2009, he finally agreed to play the half time show of Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa. 
"It wasn't what I expected," he says. I wasn't sure I expected it to mean something. But it had a little strange sacrament to it. For weeks afterward, everybody came up and told me what they thought. The guy handling baggage on the airlines, this person, that person, the nine-year-old kid on the street. "Hey didn't you...You know" It was quite wonderful and meant quite a bit to all of us." 
After watching Tom Petty, the Boss said "I can do that!"
The Super Bowl, replete with "a little strange sacrament to it" offers something for everyone. From gaming opportunities—$5 squares anyone? to your favorite Super Bowl party or snacks, its truly a day of celebration. In fact, after Thanksgiving, Americans eat more on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year. And the snack industry stop at nothing to see that is true—Souper dips, salty snacks, M&Ms candies in colors of the opposing teams. Skittles the unofficial candy of the Seattle Seahawks must be ecstatic.

Being that 111 million people watched the Super Bowl last year, I think it's time that amidst our celebration, we bring awareness to a pressing reality that too many Americans face on a daily basis: Hunger.

Feeding America the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity puts this in context. This non-profit organzation helps provide food to over 37 millions Americans each year. Formerly known as Second Harvest Food Bank, it consists of a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks and food rescue organizations that serve virtually every county in the United States as well as Puerto Rico. 

It's website offers excellent information, identifying who in our country is struggling to put food on their table and where.. They have an interactive quiz to test your knowledge. Here are facts we can and should all consider.
  • Hunger in America exists for over 50 million people. That is 1 in 6 of the U.S. population—including 1 in 5 children.
  • Children who are malnourished or hungry are at greater risk for failing in school and at work, marking them for a lifetime.
  • One in four children in America is at-risk of hunger.
  • The National School Lunch Program provides lunches to an average of 31.3 million children each school day.
  • The percentage of households with food-insecure children is the highest at 19.3 percent for female-headed households.

It is important to realize just how many people live in homes that are "food insecure." This is the notion that many Americans may not have enough food in their pantry to provide for a full day's meals. Soup kitchens, Federal food assistance programs (SNAP), and The National School Lunch Program are of great assistance to those who may not be sure where or how they will get their next meal. 

Hunger is a reality for too many of our brothers and sisters—the same folks who will also enjoy Super Bowl Sunday and the traditions that come with it. It's not that I don't want you to enjoy your 7-layer dip, your special chili and Fritos or Coors light, but in the spirit of Pope Francis, perhaps you will consider donating half of your earnings from Super Bowl squares to your local food bank. Or maybe you will make a spirited Super Bowl dish/treat for your local soup kitchen to share. My hope is that the strange little sacrament that characterizes Super Bowl Sunday feeds those who go hungry not just for victory but those in our community on a regular basis. Enjoy the day, enjoy the game...and the half time show! 

Photo Credits
The Boss and E Street at the Super Bowl
Rolling Stone: WH
Feeding America

Thursday, January 23, 2014

In Defense of Richard Sherman

There's one person who would tell me I need not defend Richard Sherman louder and stronger than the millions of Americans who feel this way, and that is #25 himself. But, it's high time this story was told from another angle, another perspective. Here we go.

I've known exactly who Richard Sherman is since I first saw him play at Stanford. It was hard not to considering his speed, his long dreads and starting in a high profile position. This dual sport athlete (a track star at Stanford, he specialized in the long and triple jump—that says speed and acceleration to me) was named All-American as a wide receiver his Freshman year. He switched to cornerback after a season-ending knee injury in 2008. Perhaps that's one reason, the Irish lost to the Cardinal in the next three match-ups. 
Richard Sherman being Richard Sherman; Sunday was nothing new.
If you know a thing or two about this wide-out, his attitude, his mouth, his swagger are always part of the package. In addition to his 38" vertical unassisted (#unreal), ESPN's Sports Science make a point of identifying his mouth as one of his biggest assets. "He's not afraid to use it to motivate." And I'm here to say I wasn't the least bit surprised by what happened moments after the game. I'm not saying it's not important, but Richard Sherman was being...well, Richard Sherman. 

ESPN's "Richard Sherman: I'm No Villain" reports "I was on a football field showing passion. Maybe it was misdirected and immature, but this is a football field. I wasn't committing any crimes and doing anything illegal. I was showing passion after a football game." And I believe him. It's consistent with who he is and what he does. To me, it is also reflective of one thing: the personality and spirituality of a cornerback.
The Spirituality and Personality of the Cornerback
I think cornerbacks are one of the best athletes in all of sports. You must have speed, agility, acceleration and good vision on the field. But in addition to those physical characteristics, you must possess some key intangibles. You must be both confident and resilient. You are an island out there. While the wide receiver gets the attention and glory, the cornerback gets little of it. One of my students, a former CB referred said "You are a shark...lurking...waiting to snap quickly on their prey. They must chum the water and be ready for the attack. And many times you miss. It's almost a lose-lose situation." I loved his take on this critical defensive position.

You may not agree, but I want my cornerback to have the attitude of Richard Sherman. I want him to think he is the best player out there. I don't want you to take all the credit and lose sight of the fact that you are part of a larger system, but I want you to do your job and do it well. He did; Niners lost because of that. That's a tough pill to swallow.

Timing is Everything
Third, I think it's important to consider the timing of Erin Andrews' question. The NFC Championship came down to literally the final 30 seconds of the game. Kaepernick's pass to Crabtree was tipped by Sherman and resulted in an interception that is sending Seahawks to the Super Bowl. Less than one minute later, as I was still trying to process all the happened, Richard Sherman was standing in front of the microphone. I was surprised how quickly everything went down.
This floor is just too hot.
As I was trying to then make sense of that, I kept returning to what happened this past weekend at the De La Salle vs Monte Vista High School boys' varsity basketball game. A game of rivals, the gym was standing room only—a near fire hazard. Teams were ranked second and first in their division and this game also came down to the final minute. When Monte Vista won, the entire student body flooded the gym floor. I watched as a massive mob of kids ran to hug the players. My dad said "that would have never happened when I was in high school." I wish it hadn't. I watched Coach Allocco trying to shake hands of  the other coaches and players. Neither team could even approach each other; it was sad to see them forced off the floor. These guys had battled it out for 32 minutes and they were unable to even say "good game" or give their respects to one another. 

At our rivalry game, the players and coaches complete this post game ritual and then the winning team runs up the bleachers to meet their classmates in the stands. It gives some time and space from the opponents and the hot floor. As a fan, I love to observe all of this.

I wish that today's media would allow just a few moments so professional athletes could do the same. So many of the players have been on teams together in the past. The place where they stand is full of aching pain and delicious hope. One team is going to the biggest dance of them all, the Super Bowl; the other team is packing their bags until summer camp. 

That floor is burning. Cameras could easily show an aerial view of the field and stadium. They could focus in on how players are talking to one another or not. They could allow the athletes themselves to gain some composure, shake it off and celebrate with one another. In Sherman's defense, this hot player on a hot floor got caught in the hottest moment possible.
All this being said...
Richard Sherman didn't have to talk to Erin Andrews. If Erin Andrews hadn't found Richard Sherman someone else would have. Richard Sherman lost sight of the fact that he is a member of a team that made the win entirely possible. His anger was "misdirected and immature" and his words were selfish. We all know there's no "I" in team, but there certainly is a "me." 

I know that many people believe athletes are endowed with a responsibility to serve as good role models because so many of us—young people in particular—look up to them. But once again, in this regard I would like to thank Richard Sherman. I have found sometimes the best way to teach teenagers how to be, is to show them how NOT to be. Football players at the school where I teach are coached and repeatedly told to keep calm under pressure. That can be incredibly hard to do, especially in the highest profile moments. But, with the story that has erupted from the 2014 NFC Championship, we see why it is necessary. Thank you Richard Sherman; Go Broncos.

Photo Credits
At Stanford

Sherman Wallpaper
Andrews & Sherman

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Message for the NFL on MLK Day

I'm good at preaching. I try to practice what I go ahead and preach, but often times life gets in the way. Please tell me you understand.... However, today I have a messages about the significance of the national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a role I think the National Football League can play in that. Preach on...?

As a teacher, it's easy to dish out the adages, give advice, make recommendations and more. Every year, I tell my students the same thing: "the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday isn't a day off, it's a day on." It is a day to join in one of the many church, school or community groups that have organized a "Day of Service." It's a day to do something to build justice and to live MLK's message. When I gave my annual reminder to my students on Thursday and Friday, I didn't think I would heed my own advice. I'm so glad I did.
Funny thing is, Dr. King's message: "keep moving forward" is of critical importance in XC, football and of course, life.
As written on the SI website, "To commemorate the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, we honor Dr. King with a 1.5 mile march from the CalTrain Station to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts." I drove a van of students and found a large number of others from different clubs and teams, their parents and friends who I sat with "at the conclusion of the March for an interfaith commemoration." The San Francisco Interfaith Council, brought "together the region’s faith leaders to commemorate the vision of Dr. King and to lead participants in a spiritual reflection on his message." It reaffirmed the truth that King's message was one for all people.

The second half of the day was community service at one of two sights. I landed at the Quesada Community gardens with one expectation: I would be pulling weeds. I never knew the NFC Championship could add meaning to a task I loathe.
A great "Day On"
One reason I appreciate sports is because of the places they can take you. I have run trails all over the Bay Area. I have played basketball in gyms old and new. Golf courses are tucked into some interesting terrain. Service isn't all that different.

Located in the heart of San Francisco's Bayview district, we parked our van on a street that once hosted in-numerous drug deals on its sizable median. The crime brought violence, the violence brought pain and death, the pain and death brought despair.  As written on their website

What do you do when you live in a place so choked with pain and danger that no one seems to remember better days?

If you lived on Quesada Avenue in Bayview Hunters Point a few years back, you would have pulled down the blinds and dreaded the inevitable dash to the bus stop or your car.

But that changed in 2002 when Annette Smith and Karl Paige started planting flowers and vegetables here and there around the block.  Other residents jumped in to help them, and to create art, share history, organize block events, and commit to working together to strengthen the community where they live.   

Looking at it today, you might not know its sordid past, but it's important to understand, because it's a space—a wondrous garden—worth protecting. An intentional "Day of Service" is one small way to make sure it is.

As I was pulling weeds and packing dead leaves, I heard neighbors rehashing the Forty-Niners vs. Seahawks game in the same way that sports fans always do. Folks were raising questions, complaining about the referees, hating on Richard Sherman and Seattle's beloved "12th man." 

The more they talked the more my frustration grew. I didn't want to relive the game, but I was subject to their on-air session. I noticed something interesting though—the angrier I got, the harder I worked. The longer they complained the faster I pulled. The more they rehashed each quarter, the lighter the load seemed to me. I wish they had joined us; it would have been a very productive way to deal with 23-17 loss in the NFC Championship game.

A little can go a long way. 
I think service can be good for everyone, in the same way exercise is of personal and social benefit.

I don't know why there isn't a national movement towards formalizing the MLK holiday as a nationwide day of service. Thinking about the power and popularity of the NFL, I believe they should be a the forefront of this effort. 

Each team could easily set an example. Two weeks out from the Superbowl, it would not be hard for any football player to give but a few hours of their day to their local communities. Rather than prepare for the Pro Bowl or for those teams whose season ended one day, one week, or one month ago, today need not be a "day off," but a "day on." Glad I can preach this with a little more practice behind me.

Photo Credits
Niner tutoring


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Truth in Advertising II: 49ers Colin Kaepernick & Seahawks' Derrick Coleman

It's sad that it took a commercial for Duracell batteries for me to learn the story of Derrick Coleman the only legally deaf offensive player in the NFL, but I have a sense he wouldn't want it any other way. The San Ramon Valley Times reports "he's proud of the ad's soaring popularity." The fullback and core special teamer says "It's creating an awareness not just for the hearing-impaired and deaf community but for everyday.  Everybody has a problem, but we can still do what we want to."
Bob Condotta of the The Seattle Times writes, 
At the age of three Coleman's hearing mysteriously began to disappear. 
“It just kind of went away,’’ Coleman said. “We don’t really know why.” 
But hearing aids and an uncanny ability to read lips — he’s trained himself to look there first — have allowed Coleman to adapt to the point that many who know him forget he’s deaf, and many who meet him don’t realize it unless they are told. 
It's amazing to me that "his official UCLA bio made no mention of his hearing issues other than the simple notation near the bottom that he 'can read lips'.’’ Barring that reality it's fitting that the focus of the commercial isn't on what he cannot do but rather, what he overcame.
One of his coaches said "Sometimes I forget about his hearing loss."
Like Colin Kaepernick, Coleman has continually had to prove himself, but he's done so quietly and consistently by performing and defying expectations. “I don’t ever use it as an excuse,’’ he said. He played both basketball and football in high school. According to Condotta, "Coleman makes sure to ask quarterbacks or teammates a second time to make sure he understands the play if it’s unclear. And he simply has to keep his eye on the center snap to know when the play begins."

He's also like Kaep in that he does as the Beats Dre X ad suggests "Hear What you Want."
Coleman even says he thinks it gives him an edge when stadiums get especially raucous and players have to rely on hand signals and other non-verbal methods of communication. 
When it gets loud I feel like I have the advantage,” he said. “I can tune that out.”
When he first began playing, sometimes the hearing aids would pop out. So he now wears two skill caps to assure they stay put. He also says he makes sure to replace the batteries in his hearing aids shortly before kickoff so they don’t run out during the game. 
"I always say that God blessed me this morning and I can do what I do."
Enter in the case for Duracell and their creative conclusion. When Coleman takes the field today in Seattle he will hear all of the fans—and he'll want to. This is yet another truth from advertising. 

In the article "What Advertising Does to Us," Susan Josephson writes. Advertising is structured to cause us to imitate and want what we see. It stimulates desire and asks us to act. This makes advertising potentially more dangerous than any other art form. If there is any art that is capable of killing America's soul, it is advertising. While I agree with her overall claim, I would invite her to consider these two advertisements. Pretty cool that they are matching up in today's NFC Championship game. I'm sure the sponsors are overjoyed....

Photo Credits
Great quote

Sign Language

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Truth in Advertising: 49ers Colin Kaepernick & Seahawks' Derrick Coleman

I'm almost scared to write this. I think there is truth in advertising. Two of the more popular ads right now feature two NFL Football players that will face off in tomorrow's NFC Championship game. One is Duracell's "Trust Your Power" wtih Seattle Seahawks' Derrcik Coleman and the other is Beats Dre X Headphones' "Hear What You Want" with Colin Kaepernick of the San Franciso Forty-Niners. With all due respect to the home team, today's posting will address the latter.
#7
My dad is in love with Colin Kaepernick. I think I'm only half kidding. The young quarterback will play tomorrow in his second NFC Championship game in his second year in the NFL. Not bad. In his amorous craze, my dad wanted me to see an advertisement that features "the man." I watched it again and I thought, I think this paints a fairly accurate portrait of who he is. 

First, Kaepernick doesn't like talking to the media. Yahoo! reported that he averaged just 27 words per answer at media day. He's private, to the point that we only know what we perceive. Real or not, his distance has led fans and haters alike to guess what's he really like. In this ad, no one gets to him.
Second, he's guarded. This ad shows a dramatic depiction of when and why he may have reason to be. The crowd is angry, nearly hateful. They are launching obscenities and trash at him. At times, life may be no different—literally and metaphorically.

His own life provides plenty of sad and true examples. His birth father wanted nothing to do with him. His birth mother got in touch with him only when he was drafted. A phenomenal high school athlete in not one, but three sports—the big three: football, basketball and baseball, Colin had nominal scholarship offers from D-1 schools. Again and again he has had prove himself. I'm better than that. I can do this. I have what it takes. I am something. Tomorrow will be yet another test.
Kap has lived his whole life having to prove himself. #payoff
In light of it all however, Kap looks calm, cool and collected as the outside world is screaming negativity at him. The song that underscores the ad, is no longer "You Can Tell Everybody, This Is Your Song" but rather "You Can Tell Everybody: I Am The Man." This mantra is repeated over and over to a great beat. It helps him keep his focus. His teflon cocoon remains unbroken. He looks fit and focused. Women can appreciate his swagger, dudes too (nod to "Sideways"). The quarterback has to be "the man." And if his headphones help believe it—and to a large degree I think they do— so be it.

I also think Kaepernick hears what he wants to hear. My sense is that the list of people he listens to it short: his adoptive parents (his mother in particular), his coach and himself. That might not be a bad thing. But I also know that the words "obedience" means "to listen to." There are times I should have listened to wisdom figures in my life even when I didn't want to. My disobedience resulted in hurting others and myself. Although the "take-away" of this ad is a bit too strong for me: Listen to what you want—in this context, it's fitting and fair.  Scary that an ad could remind me of this? Maybe. But in this case the messenger is just as effective as the message. Well done.

I believe every lie that I ever told.
Paid for every heart that I ever stole.
I played my card and I didn't fodl
Well it ain't that hard when you got soul.

Somewhere I heard that life is a test.
I been through the worst but still I give my best
God made my mold different from the rest

Then he broke that mold so I know I'm blessed

Stand up now and face the sun
Won't hide my tail or turn and run
It's time to do what must be done
Be a king when kingdom comes.


And you can tell everybody.... Aloe Blacc

Game Day Posting: Derrick Coleman. The man listened in an entirely different way.

Photo CreditsAll are from the 49er Facebook Page
Youtube Video clip - love that song!

Aloe Blacc Lyrics

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Headphones of Colin Kaepernick: An Invitation to Prayer

My dear friend left me a voice mail excited to share the success of both of our local NFL football teams. For her it's the Denver Broncos and for me, the San Francisco Forty-Niners. She also wanted to know what I think of of the Niners' quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. I know exactly why she was asking this question. If I didn't live in the Bay Area and if I weren't a 49er fan, I'm not sure what my impression would be. To the outside world he is a young and talented quarterback who—can be smug? often appears disinterested? is a bit of a punk? is misunderstood?  I have yet to answer her question.
From Kaepernicking to Superman to the ESPN Body Issue, Colin Kaepernick is....
I decided it was worth breaking open with the student athletes who are part of a faith formation group at the school where I teach. As our local hero, the Kap-bias leans positive. They love that he is a great performer. They marvel at his sheer athleticism. The majority of these students mentioned the tattoos and headphones he wears. The principal did not know that his ink (his word, not mine) features passages from the Bible. A missed opportunity for this group on my part—I should have looked at his body art to help us pray! Next time... 

Instead, I used the headphones for imagery to guide our prayer.

These days headphones are everywhere. Anyone can dictate what they hear thanks to iPods, iPhones and more. The headphones that #7 now advertises are more than comfortable; they import the highest quality of sound and block out—fairly effectively—the world. Like it or not, they are a barrier; they keep the insider in and the outsider out.

Thinking a little more about these headphones, I thought of a question I was recently asked at the Archdiocese of San Francisco's Faith Formation series: Do you ever feel like God is wearing headphones? You ask for His grace, you come with special intentions and it's hard to believe God is listening. If you do, and I have, this might be the appropriate image.
I know I have felt that way time and again. God is distracted. God is listening to other, more worthy needs. My song is not in God's rotation. I know this is far from the truth, but it helps to put an image to my sentiments.

Perhaps you believe God gives you another reaction and response—the smug, "try me" look. You might feel that God would say to you "You want this? Really?" If you do, this might be the appropriate image.
One message from Pope Francis's first Angelus points to a much different reality. He said, "The Lord never tires of forgiving. We are the ones who tire of asking forgiveness." I suppose the opposite of generosity is smugness. Help me never to be complacent with my shortcoming and failings oh Lord! 
This photograph was taken in the press conference following the play-off win over Carolina. Kap had a great game and took the podium with ease. He maintains strong eye contact and invites all questions. Is your image of God like this? Do you come to Him with questions? Do you feel as though God is an engaged listener? Is God eager to answer?
This final photograph captures CK in a moment of delight. In Tattoos on the Heart, Jesuit priest Greg Boyle says "God created us because He thought we'd enjoy it." I love nothing more that to see someone I love enjoying a moment—that brings me joy. I have a sneaky suspicion that God isn't much different.

Sit with these images and determine which one speaks to your perception of how you see God. And when you're done, turn the tables. How does God see you? Are you wearing headphones? Are you smug? Are you inquisitive and curious? Are you smiling in delight? I hope so...Go Niners.

Photo Credits
Headphones Commercial

CK Delight
CK Inquisitive
Superman

Monday, January 13, 2014

Saints, Sportsmen, Sports and Spirituality Two of the Five Things You Might Not Know About the Sacraments

In addition to the fact that there are seven of them, what do you know about the sacraments? Likely answers include: a priest administers most of them, but a deacon and anyone of the baptized faithful can administer a few others. The writer of this blog can never receive one (Holy Orders), but has already received an unlikely other (the Sacrament of the Sick). For Sports and Spirituality purposes, let's consider five things you might not know, or if you do, perhaps this will be in a new context....
1. There are Sacraments and there are sacraments.
The proper noun refers to the seven Sacraments in the Catholic tradition: Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders and Sacrament of the Sick. These Sacraments are signs through which the Church manifests and celebrates its faith and God's saving grace.

The common noun "sacrament" in the Catholic tradition can be anyone or anything. For example, pictured here are two prominent symbols in a classroom: the crucifix for Christianity and the hockey stick for its sport. But what if I told you that the hockey stick was a sacrament. How might that be?

Suppose that hockey stick was given to this teacher by his wife on his birthday a year after their twin daughters were born. He loved to play hockey every single day if and as possible, but in the last year, that free time is a thing of the past. Each daughters' special needs trump the need to show up at the rink. 
His sacrifice however has not gone unnoticed. In gratitude for his love, support and assistance, his wife went out of her way to get his hockey stick signed by the great Wayne Gretzky. It says "Congratulations on a big year!" That hockey stick is much more than a finished piece of wood, it's a sacrament.

2. Sacraments are a visible sign of God's invisible grace.
Proper and common noun alike verify this reality and the Nicene Creed attests to it: I believe in things visible and invisible. I do. I believe in things I can never see—like love, God, and the Resurrection, yet God knows us too well. Our humanity demands that we see in order to believe. And that is why the Gospel passage of the Doubting Thomas is of great import.

In John 20: 24-29 we read
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
I first encountered this painting on a retreat. Seeing it in person was a highlight from my trip to Rome
I absolutely love Caravaggio's painting "The Incredulity of Saint Thomas" because it depicts a sense that God is willing to meet us more than half way. The Risen Christ has let Thomas, deep into his wound. He lets him touch that which is painful and real. In spite of Thomas' skepticism, He invites him to share in His pain, His Humanity, His Divinity— His resurrection! We often forget that Thomas carried his own wounds. He loved the Lord deeply; Jesus' death was a great loss. A popular public speaker Michael Pritchard says that "pain shared is pain divided." God gives the increase.

Furthermore, the Lord knows we are earthly creatures—we must touch, taste, see and hear to understand. We need the invisible made visible. Sacraments do that. I hear my sins out loud when I confess them to a priest, I taste Jesus' body in the Eucharist, my forehead was dripping with the seal—the chrism oil—used to affirm the promise my parents made at my Baptism. And with the Sacraments come God's grace—a gift, literally a favor. Grace attends to what we need—faith, forgiveness, love, peace, healing, nourishment, etc. 

But we need not go solely to a priest or a church to encounter God's grace. The sacraments can be found in unlikely people and places. Perhaps it was a Yankees baseball game after 9/11 (healing) or a framed picture of Payne Stewart at Pinehurst No. 2, U.S. Open 1999 (love and peace). The sacraments abound if we have the eyes to see them.

Between now and the next posting—the remaining three things you might not know about the sacraments—look for them. Perhaps you will avail yourself to one at daily Mass, perhaps your prayer tonight will be for another. God's grace abounds.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Saints, Sportsmen, Spirituality and Sports: Five Things You Might Not Know About the Sacraments

None more deserving of this honor.
The recent nomination of Pope Francis as Time magazine's "Person of the Year" and Peyton Manning as Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year" makes me think of many things, but one in particular: sacraments—yes, sacraments. That is also the topic of a talk: "Saints, Sportsmen, Spirituality and Sports" I am giving tonight to a confirmation class.  I think that milieu is a fun way to make some creative connections and think differently about sacraments—a great gift of the Church.

I think it's important to consider what one already knows about the sacraments. Many Catholics are likely to reply "there are seven of them." Good answer! And this group of 20 freshmen and sophomores is about to receive one, but there is much more. 

For their purposes, it is important to know that confirmation is not graduation. For some reason, it feels that way, but we never graduate from our faith. As stated in "Life Teen," "Jesus is always forming us, and there is always more that we can learn. There are more ways to grow. Our faith is a life-long journey, We can always experience deeper conversion, and Jesus continually calls us into a deeper relationship with Him."  


Who was the best man? Cooper or Eli?
Another sacrament can serve as an important example to help us understand this truth about confirmation. The resource guide states "Two people do not stop falling in love the day they get married. There's a beautiful celebration, family and friends have gathered to witness the sacrament a couple has been preparing for. But those two people don't look at each other the next day and say Finally, we graduated from falling in love." To stay married, a couple commits to continuing to love, cherish and respect one another. Certainly, that requires God's grace. That grace is given in the Sacrament, but sustained in community, the Church, its liturgical celebrations and prayer.

Confirmation then, is a sacrament of Christian maturity. As one of the three sacraments of initiation, we are reminded in this sacrament that we received the grace and gift of the Holy Spirit at our Baptism (the flame from our baptismal candle represented this). This grace, and initiation into the Holy Spirit is not yet complete. That grace, from Baptism, is completed and sealed by the Sacrament of Confirmation! This Sacrament signifies a greater outpouring of God's grace—one that is given for a purpose. Our gifts and talents point to what that may be.


What a year.
And the Sacraments are one of two great gifts we receive from the Catholic Church. The Catechism states that "Jesus commissioned the Apostles first to make people disciples through their preaching, in other words, to awaken their faith and only then to baptize them. There are two things therefore, that we receive from the Catholic Church: faith and sacraments." Increasing our faith by worship, community and of course the Sacraments is something that we can seek out all of our lives.

In his First Angelus, Pope Francis said "the Lord never tires of forgiving. We are the ones who tire of seeking forgiveness." How true are his words! My humanity binds me to imperfection. I hurts others and myself. I sin and mess up. God's mercy ever flows, his grace is gratuitous. It has strengthened my journey in spite of my ways. Thank you Lord!

And so the next posting will include the "Five Things Your Might Not Know About the Sacraments." The Pontiff and #18 will provide some fun examples and insights, those creative connections I am hoping for!

Photo Credits

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Of Golf Instruction and the Confessional

Halfway through the women's golf clinic, the pro called on one attendee at at time to walk with her from the driving range to the small building where we would get personalized instruction. Anxious for my turn, I looked around me and saw fear on the faces of those about to enter the land of individualized instruction. I had this expression before. Each woman approached the mystical, magical shed replete with its sophisticated technology suited for one's golf swing with trepidation. It was all too familiar. It was precisely the same look as those who approach what some consider a "torture chamber;" it was the look that many men, women and children take to the Sacrament of Confession.
I would so love to go to this...

In "A Big Heart Open to God," Pope Francis said,
In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing. 
“This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. 
What an honor it must be to have the Holy Father listening
one's confession
I agree. For many, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is scary and unwelcome. But it's also important to recognize and name we are all in need of God's healing. We can all do better—I'll take whatever motivation I can get. And motivation by way of mercy? God's grace? Sounds beautifully holistic to me. And I don't mean to diminish the beauty and significance of the sacrament by comparing it to a golf clinic. But, it helps to start with what is familiar so we can grow more comfortable with what might be unfamiliar to many Catholics.  

Nothing magnifies the notion that we can all do better than the sport of golf. Careful evaluation of one's swing by a professional is necessary for improvement. Golf asks me not to be so hard on myself; I do better when I relax, take a deep breath and let go. I think human life isn't that much different.

As a teacher, I accompany my own students to confession once a year. During Holy Week, we spend an entire class period in the chapel for a reconciliation service. It includes an examination of conscience, time for journaling, a mediation on forgiveness and students are invited to partake of the sacrament. 

Its humbling for me to witness this grace—from start to finish. It's also important to note, that it's not easy for students to stand up and avail themselves to the priest in front of their peers. They approach the Confessional with that (same) trepidation. Everyone is watching; everyone is looking to see who will go where. And yet everyone emerges with the same expression, the same sense of peace, the same sort of quiet after the storm, the same sense of there is work to be done—but in this moment—all is okay.

I saw that similar relief as every woman returned to the golf range. They were ready, willing and able to give it another go. A task was given, a wrong may have been righted and each was called to swing anew.

And the similarities don't start and stop at the entry and exit. For example, one tactic that helped this crew of newer golfers was the reminder from Jess, the pro, to secure contact with the ball with G.A.S.P. in mind. Four fundamentals for the golf swing include:
G = grip
A = alignment
S = stance
P = posture
Golfers already have enough to think about, but framed in this way, we could proceed with the "Full Swing Clinic" with a better sense of direction. She demonstrated how to execute each one properly.

I like golf because we can learn and seek improvement at every age.
At a reconciliation service on our faculty retreat this week, the presider informed us of the three B's for a good confession.
1. Be Brief
2. Be Bold
3. Be Gone

These were welcome words to many. It's hard enough to get many to participate in the sacrament in front of our own adult peers, but invitation to brevity made it that much more manageable for many.

This year, I hope to get to Confession more than twice a year—Lent and Advent. I am in need of God's mercy, forgiveness and grace. It is the primary path to becoming more loving, holy and fully human. I don't know how any of those attributes will lower my golf handicap, but I also know I need to get lessons and personalized instruction time and again. The bad habits I develop affect my score, my lower back and how much I enjoy the round. I suppose in that way, life isn't all that much different.  

Here's to what is to be learned from the confessional and the course. Cheers.

Photo Credits
Pope Francis at Confession

Women's Golf Clinic
Young and Old