Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kate Middleton & Prince Wills: United in Marriage & Skiing

I can’t tell you how many women have confided in me these very words “I’m secretly obsessed with the royal wedding.” It’s not a secret ladies, a great many of us share your sentiment. Please don’t apologize or feel the need to explain yourself. It’s a fairytale wedding. If you were to script one, this would set the standard.

Beautiful (understatement) and admirable bride-to-be weds long time friend and beau, the handsome and soft-spoken prince. His life story may be one of opulence and privilege but we know it’s colored by tragedy.

And we love Kate and Wills’ story. Classmates at University of St. Andrews in Scotland, they were friends for a year before a romantic relationship developed between them. As much attention as the tabloids put on the of the beginning of their relationship (the Prince saw her in a new light after watching her strut her stuff, dressed in a bikini for a charity fashion show), I think it’s more important to emphasize what has sustained it in their 8 years together. And from what I understand, a common love for winter sports has played a significant role in that.Take one look at the lovely Miss Kate, and it’s obvious that she is an athlete. She ran cross country and played field hockey in Marlborough College, a boarding school. And for every photo of Prince Wills participating in charity work or flying for the RAF, you will find one of him playing polo or rugby. states "Always the consummate athlete, William continued to play sports in university, representing the Scottish national universities water polo team at a tournament in 2004!"

Together, Kate and Wills love to ride bikes but they most especially enjoy a ski holiday. I contend, even as a non-skier, that no other sport builds and nourishes a relationship in the way that skiing does..

To ski is to engage in a physical challenge while surrounded by God’s beautiful creation. The Pope, himself an avid skier in his younger years, has advocated the mountains as a great place to be, saying, “This is an environment that in a special way makes us feel small, returns us to our true dimension as creatures, makes us capable of asking ourselves about the significance of creation, lifting our eyes to the top, opening ourselves up to the Creator.” What a wonderful setting to develop a loving relationship.

One can spend the entire day skiing, and people who love to ski want to do that alone. For as much active time as there is skiing, there is considerable down time: sitting on the ski lift, making the trek to the ski lodge, amassing and assembling ski gear. You may learn something about someone by the way they ski, but it’s the added dimensions of the sport that reveal someone’s character. Pope Benedict added, “In all sporting activities, a person understands better that their body should not be considered an object ... but that it allows them to express themselves and establish relations with others.”

I see it as a positive, that Kate and Will take great joy in sharing a physical activity that is healthy, challenging and well for all intensive purposes—normal. So much of their lives is not normal. Skiing is a sport of privilege but it’s something millions of people enjoy.

And make no apologies or excuses for it. Millions of us will watch and enjoy the nuptials of the happy young couple. We will enjoy it because of the pomp and circumstance, the ritual and tradition, the pageantry and more. But ultimately, we’ll enjoy it because of the bride and groom—a young couple to unite in love and friendship. I hope they ski for many years to come!

Photo Credits
Loving the slopes
Pope Benedict with Skies
Prince William Plays Water Polo

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What's good about "Good Friday?"

What’s good about “Good Friday?” It is my least favorite day of the liturgical year. I suppose it should be, considering the magnitude of what occurred over 2000 years ago. I struggle each year with how I should honor this holy yet somber day.

I know what I am called to do. This is one of the two high holy days of the year when Catholics fast—which permits two small meals and one full meal. We are to abstain from meat. I believe most Catholics, myself included, are total wimps when it comes to this traditional spiritual practice. Muslims fast for nearly a month during the high holy season of Ramadan. I will forever thank Hakeem Olajuwon for his strict observance of it, which occurred during virtually every season of his NBA career. It is a serious challenge for me, and I’m not even a professional athlete. His example inspires me.Liturgically the Church offers no shortage of ways to celebrate the Lord’s Passion. My parish, St. Dominic’s began the day with Tenebrae. It also held Stations of the Cross, Seven Last Words, Confessions and concluded the day with the Liturgy of the Word, veneration of the Cross, and a Communion service. Each practice is colored by the burden of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Each one evokes the reality of Christ’s suffering and death on the Cross. We leave in silence.

Whether or not I am at church mid-day, I try to be in silence from noon to three. I don’t spend the evening of Good Friday like other Fridays—no happy hour, no going out to dinner with friends. I hate to admit it, but it’s almost a relief when Good Friday has passed! So again, what’s good about Good Friday?

Lorne Hanley Duquin of Catholic San Francisco writes "In the English language the term “Good Friday” probably evolved from God’s Friday in the same way that “Good-bye” evolved from God be with you." I challenged myself to make this year’s Good Friday, God’s Friday.I began the day working at Martin de Porres House of Hospitality. As I served hot steaming bowls of oatmeal I was delighted to hear “It’s Good Friday” more than I expected. To hear “Happy Good Friday” from our brothers and sisters on the street was a humbling experience. Many days are Good Fridays for them.

I went from Martin’s to Tenebrae, I fasted as best I could and concluded the day by joining a friend to see the documentary film, Bill Cunningham: New York. The New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, a Catholic, has been obsessively and inventively chronicled fashion trends and high society charity soirĂ©es for the Times Style section in his columns “On the Street” and “Evening Hours.” The film was a portrait of "a dedicated artist whose only wealth is his own humanity and unassuming grace." And the irony is that it was a tremendously poignant way to conclude Good Friday.

What could the story of a man who has dedicated his life to fashion possibly have to do with the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus? What could be more distant from our Lord's passion and death?

Cunningham’s success is largely because of what his eye can see. He sees clearly because he has eliminated most distractions from his life. He is not weighed down by cell phone, iPad or laptop. He navigates his bicycle through Manhattan as if it were a residential park. He is unaffected by wealth, class or privilege. His body of work bears witness to his belief "He who seeks beauty will find it."

And in a small way, I think this mantra applies to Good Friday. I feel challenged to seek the truth this day reveals, but also the beauty in it.

Some beauty is overt and easy to capture. For example, I was enamored with the gold lettered jerseys the San Francisco Giants wore on Opening Day. These special uniforms were to honor the World Series Championship and the accolades that continued into the 2011 season—the ring ceremony, raising of the Championship pennant, even the presentation of the “Rookie of the Year” award. But beauty can also be found in unlikely people and places, as Cunningham proves.Martin de Porres at 6:15 a.m. is one of those unlikely places. On Good Friday, I found it as an African American man in his mid 20s asked me for his second bowl of oatmeal. Here before me was a man who had spent the night either in a shelter or on a street. He arrived cold, tired and hungry and yet he came for breakfast wearing the most striking yellow headband. For some reason, I paused and looked twice at him. His handsome face, his beard, this canary yellow headband. It served as tremendous visual reminder that the dignity of the human person is truly inherent. Life events and people may compromise it, but as my faith professes, it cannot and should not ever be taken away.

And that subtle truth reminds me of Christ on the cross. Crucifixion was so horrific a punishment, that the Romans ordered it to non-Romans alone. It sought to the eliminate the dignity of God made man, but Jesus triumphed.

Jesus hung in agony and despair for three hours and yet, he had the strength to forgive the “good thief.” With his own mother at the foot of the cross, He was able to order her future care and well-being to His beloved disciple John. He even had the ability to utter seven final words not of hate, but of surrender and grace. He said “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

The beauty of the cross is in a great many things, but I came to realize this Good Friday, that it rests particularly in the revelation of Christ’s human dignity until the very end. This year, Easter will only be that much more beautiful.

Photo Credits

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rejoice, We Conquer: Alberto Salazar, Boston Marathon Champion
Part IV

Has anyone noticed just how many female distance runners seem to be having children and competing shortly after giving birth? Even if they weren’t succeeding, I think they still deserve press for what these female athletes have accomplished. I could stop at the operative verb of racing 26.2 miles, but the fact that they doing so after enduring pregnancy, labor, postpartum, blows my mind.
Well, tomorrow marks the 115th Boston Marathon and the talented and lovely Kara Goucher, who gave birth to a son Colt in September, is a top seed. This American mom hopes to capture the olive wreath, she missed victory by 9 seconds in 2009. She was the closest an American has come to winning since 1985.

One could make the claim on Patriot’s Day, nothing could be more appropriate than to root for this elite runner. Goucher developed under past champion, Alberto Salazar in Nike’s Oregon project—a training group created to support and develop long distance running in the US.

Last year, I ran a three-part reflection on Salazar’s life and faith. To honor the past champion, here is Part IV. Regardless of whether or not Kara Goucher wins on Marathon Monday, expect a piece on working moms like her as well.

Part IV: Due to injuries, health issues and his age, there was a shift in Salazar’s relationship with competitive running as well. No doubt, his faith led him to discern what his new role/second career might be/entail. “God gave me a gift and I get to coach. I want to help athletes not only become better athletes, but hopefully to become better people. That is what I believe God is leading me to do.”

Today, Salazar works with high profile runners—Galen Rupp, Adam and Kara Goucher as well as others via Nike’s Oregon Project, who are aware of his deep commitment to his faith and to athletic excellence. In no way does Salazar believe one commitment compromises the other. He says, “Being competitive as a coach and wanting my athletes to win—there’s nothing wrong with that—so long as we’re doing it in the right way. Yeah, we’re out there to win every day but we also want to glorify Christ through good hard clean competition. And when practice is over, we can be friends. We can be warriors for Christ. Warriors in that we will battle courageously.”
In fact, Salazar believes what he has learned from coaching serves as a practical analogy for developing a mature spirituality and strong faith. He said, “When I coach, I am looking for every possible advantage—weight training, plyometrics, flexibility cross training, all these sorts of things to help you be successful. I came to realize, being a Catholic is like having all these great advantages. There are so many different religious practices—the sacraments that are so readily available like confession and Holy Communion; we do have these great benefits and we have been promised these graces. I don’t believe you have to be Catholic or a Christian to go to heaven, obviously not, but I don’t know about you, but I need every advantage I can get.”

Those who know Salazar well recognize that such candid humility and honesty is a positive change. Salazar’s incredible work ethic however has not changed; in fact he it has helped him develop and strengthen his faith. He believes, “Faith is a gift but you have to work at it. You have to pray for it God asks us to pray, but even in prayer, it’s not about striving for perfection. We all have time throughout the day by which we can do something, even if it’s just for two minutes that we can say a prayer.”
“Again, applying it to athletics, many of my athletes will say ‘I didn’t have time to work out, lift weights or stretch.’ I will ask them, or even myself: ‘So I didn’t have time to go do a half hour? You didn’t have 10 minutes to do pushups and sit-ups? Side ups? Ok, you didn’t have the weights with you, but you could have done something.’ There is the idea that unless can’t do something perfectly, it’s not worth doing. You shouldn’t think like that. Turn off your cell phone, turn off the radio and in the 20 minutes that you’re driving home, you can pray the Rosary. It may not be perfect, but it’s better than nothing, and God will reward you for that.”

One must call into question Salazar’s notion of perfection, as he has set the bar high. Yet he has never done so without great effort, as no one wins a marathon easily or naturally confronts death without fear. Salazar’s life reveals the story of a man committed to tremendous spiritual, physical and mental discipline, to trial and error, even death and resurrection. And with that commitment I cannot help but think it is obvious that God has rewarded him as a Christian and as a runner. But even more, I believe God has rewarded us with a life like Alberto Salazar’s where death hath no victory—rather, faith in God and belief in yourself does.

Earlier Postings related to this posting
Rejoice, We Conquer: Alberto Salazar, Boston Marathoner Part I
Part II
Part III

Photo Credits

Goucher & SalazarKara Goucher American Runner
Nike Oregon Project Team
Coach Salazar in Eugene

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Drug of Choice: The Masters

In the back of my mind, I remember my grandfather watching a lot of golf on TV. Growing up, I could not understand how or why he did. What could be more boring than to watch individual men and women hit a 1.68” golf ball hundreds of yards? Today, I stand before you as someone who spent nearly three days on my couch intravenously taking in the Masters. It’s as if Augusta National pumped some sedative through my television set, and fixed my attention to 18 holes a day.

I am more of a “type A” personality than I want to admit. I do not watch one regular television program. In fact, I have not done so in four years. And yet, I logged in 15 hours with the first major of the year. So the question is obvious. What is so appealing about the Masters? Why is it my drug of choice?

My first response to this question is: ask anyone who feels the way I do. We are easy to find. On Monday, we were itching to talk to any and everyone at the water cooler about the rise and fall of Rory McIlroy, Tiger’s chase for the title and the beauty of seven men battling for the title on Sunday. Give us an inch…or a slight scent of preoccupation with it, and we’ll give you a yard. 

Bill Simmons of ESPN writes 
I love so many things about the Masters, but ultimately, what makes that tournament special is that we know the course so freaking well. There are laws with the Masters. You can't peak too early on Sunday. You can't miss momentum-swinging putts at Amen Corner. You can't lay up on 13; for whatever reason, it pisses off the Golf Gods. Your second shot on 18 has to land dead-even with the hole; it can't be too short or too long. It's the only course that feels like a living, breathing organism. 
The TV camera flies over each hole before a featured player tees off and captures the beauty of this organism. No wonder we care. 

When we realized it coincides with our spring break, we immediately gave one another a high-five. Our enthusiasm for “what could be” rivaled the enthusiasm of a player who just sank a great putt. Had we been standing up, I think there would have been a chest bump in the faculty workroom. This tourney does that to people; The Masters gods are crazy.

I love the Masters because it signifies that summer is right around the corner. The beauty of the course—azaleas in full bloom, the pure green that even the Irish could envy— shows that spring is making way for a season of warmer days and longer nights. This year, I added Augusta to the cities on my iPhone weather app. My jealousy towards those fans that walk the grounds turned to envy when I saw each day was in the mid-80s. Even the nights were warm. Sigh.

And yet, the greatest lure of the Masters is that it is crawling with tradition: the green jacket, the Champions Dinner Tuesday night where last year’s winner gets to set the menu..even the uniform white jumpsuits for caddies. And if there’s one thing that Catholics know, it’s tradition. 

From time to time, it seems that tradition is all we’ve got. Catholic Theologian, Richard McBrien teaches that 
Tradition refers to the whole process by which the Church “hands on” (literal meaning of the word tradition) its faith to each new generation--both the process of “handing on” the faith and that which has been handed on. Tradition (upper-case) includes Scripture, the essential doctrines of the Church, the Eucharist and other sacraments, and so forth. Tradition (lower case “t”) includes changeable customs, institutions, teachings and practices.
In a small way, I think the Masters offers both upper and lower case “t” for the sport of golf.

Some true gentlemen and some elite athletes have “handed on” the game to who we see playing now—young players, so many of who are fit and conditioned. Many of the customs, teachings and practices have changed as needed and many haven’t. Even Augusta National, an institution in its own right, was slow to make a change for the better when it allowed its first African American member in 1990.

We should not preserve Tradition/tradition for the sake of keeping tradition. It has to have value and integrity. It binds people to those before and sets a place for those to come. That binding can be both positive and negative. It’s an interesting way to think about what might just be a wonderful way to spend a weekend, no?

In a small way, I love that what I am watching my Grandfather watched. I am sure he looked at it with the same wide eyes of appreciation. I even think of those friends and family members who I have shared couch space with over the years to view my favorite of the Majors. Thanks for the memories! For 361 days of the year, I am proud to say that I am drug free. For that fateful weekend in April, the tradition that is the Masters, however, is my drug of choice. I hope this tradition is “handed on” for generations to come. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sportsmanship 101: Fundamental of the Game

I hated seeing the Notre Dame Women’s basketball team lose the National Championship to Texas A&M. But, I am more upset that Skylar Diggins, sophomore guard of the Lady Irish left the floor without shaking hands with the Aggies.As point guard, Diggins has considerable power on the court. She is the offensive orchestrator, creates plays and drives the ball. And yet this tourney revealed that her social power is significant. Through social media like Twitter, her own personal blog and photogenic self, Diggins became the face of the team. This dual axis of power reminds me of the now overused but truthful line from Spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Diggins had a responsibility as a leader on her team to acknowledge the feat of her opponents with class and composure. As a member of a university that seeks to cultivate in its students…an appreciation for the great achievements of human beings, she had a duty represent its mission. Who would want to say, “We are ND” after that?No one will second-guess that Diggins wants great responsibility during the game. Undoubtedly, she was upset because she had a costly turnover late in the game. But it’s no excuse for her behavior. Sportsmanship 101 dictates thanking and congratulating your teammates and opponents despite the outcome. You may disagree, but as an athlete, coach and sports fan, I believe good sportsmanship is as fundamental to the game as passing, dribbling and shooting. In the same way that those skills are tested at the high level during a national championship game, so is sportsmanship.

I watch a lot of high school basketball games. Believe it or not, on of my favorite moments is just after the game is when players line up single file and shake hands with the opposing team. It may seem like a useless formality but I think this ritual reveals a whole lot. I believe it’s a snap shot that captures not only what just took place on the hardwood, but the character of a team and of each player.

For some athletes, this is the last thing they want to do. They may remain angry or upset by how they were treated, pushed or hit during a game. It may be a challenge to look at your opponent to say “good game” or “thanks” when temperatures are still high. Amazingly though, many do. I love to watch the moment when an opposing coach congratulates a player who has been double-teamed the entire game. Both parties know the challenge that was placed or taken. To me, the sign of ultimate respect is when these two exchange a hug.

Never was I more proud of my former student, Varsity boys’ captain and SF All-City team player of the year Johnny Mrlik than after the St. Ignatius WCAL league playoff loss to Bellarmine. SI could have and should have won this game before a home crowd. When the ‘Cats lost, Johnny had tears in his eyes. He had to regroup and walk back a few steps before he could get in that line to shake hands with the Bells. I want my favorite player and best athlete to feel totally disappointed. Despite age and gender, I want a loss to bring tears to an athlete’s eyes. But I also want him or her to have the chutzpah to stay in that line and demonstrate good sportsmanship.

I wish I had seen a Notre Dame team, laden with talent prevail. I wish I had seen the face of the team with tears in her eyes and every bone in her body aching with pain and disappointment shake the hand of the Aggies. Instead I saw the words of local sports talk radio host Damon Bruce come to life: “sports don’t build character, they reveal it.”

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw was asked if she would talk with Diggins down the line and help her gain perspective about her success and her disappointment in Indianapolis. "I think it's going to be a while for her to get that perspective," she said. "I think she's extremely hard on herself. And she will spend the entire summer, I'm sure, thinking about this game. And that's probably a good thing for us." I hope she also spends the entire summer thinking about Sportsmanship 101.

Photo Credits
Women's National Championship
Diggins: Face of the Team
Johnny Mrlik
Coach McGraw

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Youth is Not Wasted on the Young--Not in This Year's Tourney!

If you caught the first of Saturday’s NCAA men’s basketball double-header I know what you saw. Youth—right? That’s a given in college basketball (and even more so with players being drafted after their freshman year). What you should say is "green leadership." Both teams were led by 33 and 34 year old coaches. Shaka Smart of VCU made his first Final Four appearance. The opposition was led by a man who probably gets carded anytime he's not wearing his glasses. Brad Stevens and his Butler Bulldogs returned to the Final Four; they play in the championship game on Monday! And inexperience seems to be paying off these days. An interesting piece from the "Wall Street Journal" raised a question, many people have been asking in March Madness Who Says Experience Matters?

The key to surviving the madness of March, supposedly, is experience. Having senior leadership and players who have "been there before" is often the difference between the teams that wilt in the NCAA tournament and those that move on.
This is college-basketball dogma. But this year's tournament, with a cascade of upsets of senior-laden teams and late-game blunders involving veteran players, is forcing a reevaluation. It might just be that experience is overrated.

I contend it’s not that experience is overrated, but rather that youth is underrated. Wisdom, after all, can be found from a multitude of sources, something that St. Benedict acknowledged when he urged an abbot at a monastery to solicit the opinion of even the youngest member of the community: “By the Lord’s inspiration, it is often a younger person who knows what is best.”Prior to the Connecticut vs. Notre Dame women’s basketball Final Four game, the media coverage featured, almost exclusively senior forward Maya Moore. No one would have thought sophomore point guard Skylar Diggins knows best. Indeed More held her own she scored 36 points, putting up the third-highest total in a national semifinal. But, it wasn’t enough for a Huskies’ three-peat. Instead, Diggins led the Irish onward to victory with 28 points. This is her first Final Four and championship appearance.

1 Timothy 4:12 tells us Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. I heard Diggins speak after the game and she was full of poise, joy and class. In her personal blog she wrote about her love for her teammates and faith in them.

These young players and young coaches—it is exciting to think of what they have achieved with the Lord’s inspiration. It’s easy to look down upon youth and chide them for their lack of experience or purported wisdom. But if there’s one thing this March Madness has made clear, it’s that youth really is NOT wasted on the young.

Photo Credits
young coaches
Women's Final Four