Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Saint Drew Brees: Sportsman of the Year

The month of November began with the Feast of All Saints and it concludes appropriately with a feast day for the Most Valuable, Most Inspirational New Orleans Saint: Drew Brees.

Today, the Saints Quarterback was named the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. In my world, sporting awards trump all the others. At Notre Dame, the distinction of class valedictorian was a distant second in importance to who was named Mr. or Ms. Bookstore. Today, like the rest of America, I smiled when I learned that Drew Brees won this coveted title. I was in no way surprised. In a small way, this simple recognition affirmed my belief that from time to time—the universe and humanity get it right.

 I could write and read about Drew Brees for days (for example, a fun fact reveals that he played tennis in high school against Andy Roddick. I think Roddick won). He is without a doubt an interesting and compelling figure. I almost hate to go on record with this, for fear of what may be revealed in years to come—but I truly believe he is the real deal.

I think we all believe this. When the Saints won the 2010 Super Bowl, it was impossible not to recognize the significance of this title for both the team and the city of New Orleans. When he held his son Baylen and hugged his wife Brittany on the victory stand, his words that “faith, family and football are what matter most, and football is a distant third” weren’t so hard to believe.
And as he accepts Sports Illustrated's 57th Sportsman of the Year award “for not only leading the New Orleans Saints to the first Super Bowl title in the franchise's history, but also for helping lead the city of New Orleans' rebirth after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina” they still aren’t. Faith, family and football. Thank you Drew Brees for truly defining the criteria of this prestigious award: Sportsman? What exactly does that mean? “We can agree on some things. A sportsman is talented and driven. He is selfless in a way that makes his team better. But there is something more, something larger.” And for what it’s worth, I think you should be included in People magazine’s 100 Most Beautiful People.

Photo Credits
Sportsman of the Year Superbowl Victory

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Great Way to Give Thanks--the Turkey Trot

I recently heard that U.S. hunger at highest level in 15 years. Moments later, I read that studies continue to report that the happiest people exercise—and they do so in the morning.  While this information may seem incongruous, I couldn't help but connect the dots. Thanksgiving is a time to give gratitude, yet overeating on this national holiday is the norm for millions of Americans. What to do? There’s one simple answer—the St. Ignatius Turkey Trot (or one near you!)

For thirteen years now, St. Ignatius students, alumni, families, friends and a number of dogs have met at the circle at Lake Merced to begin Thanksgiving Day with a Turkey Trot of 4 miles around the lake. This year’s cold morning temperatures didn’t keep nearly 150 runners, joggers and walkers away from this tradition.

All proceeds from the Turkey Trot go to the St. Anthony Foundation. Everyday "St. Anthony’s provides over 1000 people with food, clothing, alcohol and drug recovery help and medical care. To date, they have served over 36 million meals to the hungry." For over 60 years, they have managed to serve our brothers and sisters in the Tenderloin community without any federal, state or civic monies.
Every St. Ignatius sophomore becomes familiar with the mission of the St. Anthony foundation through the sophomore retreat—an urban plunge. And those lucky juniors who take part on the San Francisco Immersion can attest to the breadth and depth of St. Anthony’s justice education and outreach programs. Truly, they can bear witness to the ways and means by which the mission of St. Anthony’s put their own faith into action.
The Turkey Trot is a win-win tradition. Not only does it allow St. Ignatius to continue its support of the St. Anthony Foundation, but participants are assuaged of any guilt from the impending Thanksgiving meal. And, as reported in The Weekend Edition blog “The Happiest Place in America” reports “The effect of exercise gives a person a 10 hour happiness boost, so you want to do it early in the day. If you spend time on outdoor recreation, your endorphins are jumping! With its 9:00 a.m. start, the Turkey Trot is the ideal way to start the Thanksgiving holiday.

There are a number of Turkey Trots throughout the Bay Area. This year’s Silicon Valley Turkey Trot raised a record amount of money for the Second Harvest Food Bank. The Turkey Trail Trot in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park aims to promote the sport of running and youth athletics and benefits a different public school each year. Bottom line, I think it’s a great way to gather friends and family before the day long festivities, food, and football.
My only recommendation is once the run is over, wherever you are—throw a football.

All photos are taken by Eric Castro

Friday, November 12, 2010

Don't Stop Believin'--The Giants and Prayer

Many people know that Giants closer, Brian Wilson celebrates his saves by thrusting his tattooed arms in the air and crossing them. The X, however, stands for more than execution. As admitted during his interview with Jay Leno, the right-handed reliever is a Christian. His unique gesture first honors one God--the Father, and his own father--Michael Wilson who died of cancer when Brian was 17 years old.

Wilson isn't the only player who displayed overt gestures of his Christian faith on the field. World Series MVP,Edgar Renteria made the sign of the cross before he came to bat and several players said words of thanks to God upon their NLDS, NLCS and World Series victories.

I should take a poll on Americans thoughts with regard to
public displays of faith (a new acronym??--PDF?!). I know reactions would be mixed--responses might raise more questions than answers. My guess is the same would be true in light of intercessory prayer. How should we pray for the Giants? Should we? Here is one humble reflection...

“And for what shall we pray on this World Series night?” asked Fr. Gary at the monthly Young Adult Mass at St. Dominic’s parish. Considering what was taking place at that very moment across town on Third and King Streets, there was a nervous laugh from the crowd. Should we pray for the success of the Giants? At least out loud? This is a common question of the faithful—faithful Catholics and those Giants fans that didn’t stop believing.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church cites Saint John Damascene's definition of prayer as "...the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God." Once the pennant race began in earnest, “my mind and heart” were preoccupied with this team, replete with personality and heart. “Requesting good things from God” resonated with my hope for the 2010 Giants but in light of the world’s greater needs—even those of our own San Francisco community, my prayers felt hollow.

Prayer is however a gift, it is a grace, and in prayer, we are always called to dig deeper into our hearts and to realize where God may be working in our midst. For me to sit with this understanding is to open myself up to the reality that God is in the big and the small, the trifling an the critical, my resting and my rising, sports AND spirituality—not either/or.

That evening some prayers were easy t0 pray. I didn’t have to dig very deep to pray in gratitude for the model the Giants have been to us as a local, San Francisco community. Teamwork, hard work and celebration have been so apparent. The sense of connectedness that October baseball prompted was a gift. I met those prayers that I found challenging to pray in a new light. At that moment, I thought that praying for the Giants to win and bring some needed joy to our community was an appropriate prayer. We don’t live our life in compartmentalized boxes. Even a professional sports team can leverage a community. “God gives the increase.” How true this is!

At the conclusion of the Prayers of the Faithful, Fr. Gary didn’t shy away from what everyone in the church was thinking. He said “we pray tonight for both teams participating in the World Series—for good competition and the health and well being of all participants. And we ask if God should be so generous as to put the series in the favor of the Giants, so be it.” Again, a nervous laugh accompanied a robust “Lord, hear our prayer.” Fr. Gary modeled for me to bring to God what preoccupies my thoughts—the big and the small. He called the community’s attention to what was taking place in the church—from the world’s greatest needs even to those of the San Francisco Giants. And why not? For THIS is what we pray to the Lord.

Photo Credits
Brian Wilson
Don't Stop Believin'
The Other Bruce

Monday, November 8, 2010

Saints and Athletes: Similarity in Difference

Saints and sinners. Professional athletes these days seem to fall into one category or the other. But Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Saints are sinners who kept on going.” And no one knows the virtue of perseverance more than saints and athletes. The lives of the saints are one of the great treasures of the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, it is one tradition that is largely unfamiliar to my students. They know Peyton Manning, Buster Posey, and Serena Williams and yet I think they would benefit from meeting Thomas Merton and Therese of Lisieux. Can we learn the value of saints through the example of athletes? I think so.

Saints, like professional athletes, are known for their achievements and endeavors. Both have fans and followers; they make great sacrifices and more. Technically a “saint” is someone who has been canonized; officially recognized by the church as having lived a holy life, enjoys life in heaven with God and is worthy of public veneration by the faithful.

To me, canonization is similar to enshrinement in a sports hall of fame. Many a baseball fan that has made the pilgrimage to Cooperstown is grateful the sport has gone to great lengths to ensure a system for public veneration of the “legends.” We may not retire their number, but the relics, feast days and festivals that take place where they were born or ministered indicate a similar desire to honor their lives and livelihood. And once inducted, these men and women are referred to as a “Saint” with a capital “S.” Truly, they are spiritual heroes.
Yet, many of the “greats” in sports go unrecognized in history’s hallowed hallways. And, the same is true in the spiritual life. There are everyday saints among us; these are saints we refer to with a lower-case “s.” In his recent visit to the United Kingdom, Pope Benedict said, “he hoped that among his listeners there would be future saints. What God wants most of all for each one of you is that you should become holy.” Indeed, we are all called to be holy, to be saints.

The best-selling book, “My Life With the Saints” by James Martin, SJ is a spiritual memoir of capital “S” and a lower case “s” saints. It chronicles the lives of 16 holy men and women who lived, struggled and died for their faith. “My Life With the Saints” begins with the biography of Joan of Arc--the first saint that Martin really “met.” After traveling to her hometown where she and was martyred, he decided to learn more about her life. As a result, she became for him, the first saint that was more than an image in a stained glass window or a name over a church door.

As I read Martin’s book, I asked myself “who was the first saint I really met?” Who is a holy man or woman whose story made an impact on me? I was drawn to St. Clare because of her beautiful name, blond hair, and love for St. Francis. I took Clare as my confirmation name but I didn’t know much more.
Dissatisfied, I thought about the first athlete I “met,” and that was easy to answer—Will Clark. I literally and figuratively met the Giants first baseman at Spring Training in Scottsdale, Arizona as he signed autographs. I read everything about “The Thrill.” –where he was born, what his hobbies were, where he played college baseball, what his achievements as a rookie were etc. William Nuschler Clark, Jr. will not be enshrined in the baseball hall of fame, but he is still beloved by Giants fans. At any game, you will see a robust number of “Clark 22” jerseys in the stands. Fans were delighted when he joined the Giants front office as a special assistant in 2009. “The Thrill” was no longer gone.

Is it wise for young people to “meet” the saints? Not only are the Saints one of the great traditions of the Catholic Church, but they are holy examples of those who have reached their full human potential. It is easy to measure that great athletes reach their potential, it is much more difficult to see that in everyday life-- the way we love one another, care for creation or serve those in need. But through meeting the Saints and saints around and before us, we may see otherwise.

Photo Credits

Therese of Lisieux
Peyton Manning
The Babe at Cooperstown
Will Clark

Saturday, November 6, 2010

October to November: Sports & More Sports to Spirituality

October is a robust time of year for sports and for spirituality! The tenth month of the year, the heart of autumn brings football standing surprises and the Fall Classic—the World Series. It is also Respect for Life Month, the month of the Rosary and the feast days of some beloved saints—Francis, the Archangels and more. It concludes with America’s second most widely celebrated holiday—Halloween, also known as “All Hallow’s Eve.” Although one would think the connection between Halloween and All Saints Day might also be robust, according to James Martin, SJ author of “My Life With the Saints” it’s not.

In Saints and All Hallows Eve a video clip featured on “Busted Halo James Martin SJ states “the Celts believed that day, October 31 marked the demarcation between one time of the year and another time. It was the day when the dead and the living were very connected. There was a kind of thin veil between the dead and living. That is one reason we wear masks on Halloween.”

I hate to disagree with one of my favorite authors, but I find the duality of the two days quite striking, and therefore the relationship quite strong. We celebrate Fat Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, we know the light because of the darkness, and we celebrate life even in death.
The Saints are holy men and women who have gone before us. We believe they enjoy life in heaven with God and are people who sought not to wear masks in this life. We venerate the saints because they lived holy and authentic lives. Thomas Merton said, “For me to be a saint means to be myself.” Simply put, they became what Michael Kelly encourages all Catholics to be “the best version of yourself.”
On Halloween, perhaps we fear those evil spirits that rest uneasily. Perhaps we recognize we too wear our own mask(s) and are not ready for eternal life with God. We have more work to do. But we wake up the next day, to the Feast of All Saints. Something we can all strive to be and to become.

Therefore, this month of November will be rich with blog postings related to the saints. And not to worry New Orleans Saints fans—your story is too rich, too incredible—I only hope my writing is worthy of what happened when you came marching into Super Bowl XLIV.

Photo Credits 
Fat Tuesday

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Language of the Saints: Pitching, Torture, Hustle...?

“Hardly any practice is so distinctively Catholic as the cult of saints.” As we read Avery Dulles’ “The Catholicity of the Church” I was disappointed that my students were exponentially more interested in the notion of a “cult” within Catholicism than in the saints. Matthew Kelly states “it is true, some people have placed too much emphasis on the role the saints play in Catholic spirituality.” But this is not the spirituality of the young people I teach. And it is unfortunate, for saints have made the same journey we are called to explore for ourselves. I believe if we learn their language, we can gain a better understanding of how a person is transformed in Christ.

What is the language of the saints? And how have those in this “cult” been transformed in Christ? My students are seeking answers vis-à-visMy Life With the Saints” by Jesuit priest, James Martin. It is more than the biography of sixteen holy men and women. To an extent, it is autobiography, yet it is ultimately an invitation to discover like the saints, how one can overcome struggles, faults and failings and still draw closer to God.

Martin’s companionship with the saints began in an unlikely place, at an unlikely time. Because of his passion for French, Martin traveled several times to France. One particular journey led him outside of Paris to Orléans, a city set free in 1429 by Joan of Arc. A Catholic Saint whose story was largely unfamiliar to him suddenly became a little more familiar. He decided to read more about her short life. He writes “Joan’s story introduced me to a new language: the special language of the saints—verbs like: believe, pray, witness and nouns like: humility, charity, ardor.”
I decided we would read each biography seeking new verbs and nouns—this language of the saints. My students met my request with a bit of a blank stare. What saint doesn’t “believe” and “pray?” What saint isn’t “humble” or a model of “charity.” They were right, even if the saints were largely unfamiliar to them. In response, I decided to apply this quest with the familiar—the San Francisco Giants to determine if could gain a better understanding of this “cult” and a new language. The 2010 Giants are a dynamic and talented team. They have been deemed “lovable” nationwide, but Martin’s language of saints doesn’t include adjectives. Descriptors are easy; but choices and actions—verbs—and what they have or possess—nouns—are different. It’s a nuanced way of thinking, but it invites a creative reflection. When I think of the Giants, verbs like: hustle and execute and nouns like: heart, pitching, torture and victory come to mind. Every game in the NLDS series was decided by one run. If the Giants didn’t hustle, the outcome could have been much different. All players, the pitchers, offense and defense, executed. If you’re a Giants fan, you understand the team’s unofficial motto: torture. (For NLDS) No game was lop-sided or decided early on. In fact, the final two games of the four games series were determined in the final two innings. At times it was torture for me to watch. But this team has a lot of heart. It lacks the strong personalities of the past. Because of outstanding pitching and teamwork, victory is ours!

This example prompted my students to seek the language of the saints familiar and unfamiliar to them, in the text and beyond it. Nouns: With the Blessed Mother we think of grace. We give hail to Mary, who was full of grace. With St. Monica, I think of persistence. She relentlessly prayed for the conversion of her son, St. Augustine. Thanks be to God she did! Because of him, we have a great theology. Verbs: Let’s be honest, many of the saints are extreme. St. Francis, St. Ignatius of Loyola are but two examples of men who were able to renounce luxury and privilege. Their stories may be too severe, but they are viable examples of people who chose otherwise. Furthermore, many of their stories incorporate the supernatural. Padre Pio was able to bi-locate. He was seen at two places at once. Natural law indicates this is not possible; supernatural law allows for it. St Thomas the Apostle doubted. What person doesn’t struggle with their faith? Despite his doubt, He was also the first apostle to recognize Christ Jesus as the Risen Lord with his words “My Lord and My God!” And the list goes on… 
The unofficial theme song of the 2010 San Francisco Giants is Don’t Stop Believin’ I think the same is true for one of the great spiritual treasures of the Catholic Church—the saints. Let us learn their language, for they can lead us to victory in Christ.

Photo Credits
Tapestry of the Saints
Joan of Arc
Giants Win the Pennant
Posey & Baum