Friday, July 4, 2014

4th of July: Sports & Spirituality Style

I've always wanted to make an
Uncle Sam cake for this holiday
Independence Day—the 4th of July—is my favorite holiday. Upon learning this, a good friend of mine Father Lou once said "it's the only thing not religious about you." I still smile when I think of his kind and thoughtful response. But the two need not be separate, right? So here's my take on America's birthday, sport and spirituality style. 

Listed below are recommendations for what every American ought to consider on this national holiday one year or the next.

Run a 5 or 10K
Americans love a good Turkey Trot, but why not kick start this day with a stars and stripes run? It's something men, women and children of all-ages can complete. It allows a little more license for the impending eats at your afternoon barbecue and as I've written many times, for me, running invokes prayer.

I still treasure the memories of the "Go Fourth" 10K I ran from Alexandria, VA to Mt. Vernon on this day 14 years ago. Running beside places of such historical significance framed the importance of this day. Maybe your road race will take you through a city or state park? Perhaps it is on a trail completed by the WPA. Maybe it's beside the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean. America is expansive and diverse. Let your feet discover its awesome terrain. Don't forget to wear red, white and blue!

Attend Daily Mass on July 4
In the same spirit as Thanksgiving, the patriotism that flavors this holiday carries over into the Mass. The staff at your local parish would like to enjoy their own festivities as well, so there is usually but one common Mass on this day. And it's a special one because the petitions carry prayers of gratitude for our freedom, protection for those who serve our country and guidance for our leaders. The songs are ones that every American can and should sing: America the Beautiful, My Country This of Thee, etc. No Springsteen in that queue—but there could be...
I sit with my good friend Jackie every year.
Her family has been going to the Danville Parade for 30 years now

Attend your local 4th of July Parade
I have been out of the country on service Immersion trips twice and I regretted it—both times. I felt as though the heading of a new chapter for my book of summer was missing. For me, the best way to start the day (after my run) is showing up at the Danville Parade.

Your local parade gives you a real feel for the community, what it values and supports. Today I saw veterans from World War II on through a few from Iraq. We stood for "Blue Star Moms," a group of mothers who have sons and daughters active in the military. I always look forward to seeing the Little League All Star baseball players and what water pranks they intend to pull. 

But I'd like to make one small recommendation as you watch one float after another. Make a point to find the best "old school" NBA jersey in the crowd. You would be amazed what you will see. This year, we spotted a young man in a black striped Chicago Bulls jersey. #91. When he walked past, we were delighted to see instead of "Rodman" it said "The Worm." I told him it was a mistake not to wear one of the Detroit Pistons, from the Bay Boys Era. Give it a go. You'll like what you see... 

Pray to or read about the life of one American Saint
I would be remiss if I did not
mention the first Native American
Saint: Kateri Tekakwitha
Take your pick! There are so many holy and inspiring men and women whose selfless gifts indelibly shaped the Catholic Church in America. In addition to their feast day, take this day as one to thank them for the children they taught, the poor they served, the hospitals and schools they founded.

Canonized in 1946, St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart is the first American saint.* "Mother Cabrini," as she is known was born in Italy but immigrated to the US and served men and women like her. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is the first American saint who was born state side. She is known as the founder of the Sisters of Charity (and numerable associates) and the mother of our Catholic schools. St. John Neumann, a native of Bohemia immigrated to the US and later became Archbishop of Philadelphia. He once said "build a school and you'll have a church." I think "Field of Dreams" took his advice.

The rich tradition of saints is a treasure in the Catholic spiritual life. One component I love best is that we have Saints and we have saints. Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton are two exemplary American Catholics.  I'm sure you know of others...

If there ever way a time or place for a "no-no"
Listen to a baseball game on the radio
I write this because attending a baseball game on this day is a given. I will forever wish that I was in attendance at now Giants pitching coach Dave Rightetti's no-hitter as a New York Yankee on July 4, 1983. What could be more American than that? 

But, listening to a baseball game on the radio feels timeless, doesn't it? We refer to baseball as our national past time, but we know that time has passed. Hearing the narrative of the game through that magic box however, convinces me otherwise. It paints vibrant images, it transfers magnificent stories and recalls old memories. I like that past time on the long, hot summer days.

So as you drive to see the fireworks or head home from your pool party, turn on the AM radio and hopefully you'll catch a good game.

Play and compete in at least one sport or game...any sport or game
Horseshoes, ping pong (singles or doubles), volleyball, water balloon toss, belly flop contest, basketball in the pool. Something...anything. Nothing is more American that good old fashioned competition.

Three summers ago I traveled to Denver to spend this holiday with the Davis family. Their community pool and their large family had said games and more. I was so excited to be Sean's partner in the Mother-Son swim relay. I laughed when Pete's Dad and brother jumped in the pool with all the women for the beer toss. And I marveled at how some kids (and adults) sacrificed their bodies and their pride in the belly flop contest. 

My buddy Sean signing us up for volleyball. Forget that it mentions kids... ;-)
I could add to this list, but I'm going to sign off because I want to conclude this day by my final piece of advice. Watch a great American film. Tonight, I'm debating between "The Natural" and "Bull Durham." I'm leaning toward "The Natural." Why? It's soundtrack is so spiritual.

Happy Birthday America! And thank you for 238 years of Freedom.

Photo Credits
Uncle Sam Cake
St Kateri

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