Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sports Mentoring Provides Lessons for Spiritual Mentoring

A woman once approached my brother at the end of mass and said to him "Thank you for your prayerful presence. I was a better pray-er today because of you." What a wonderful compliment. I don't know if I ever would have thought of saying that to someone else; I don't know that anyone would ever say that to me... I wish that same woman had been sitting next to me at tonight's Sunday mass. I'm sure she would have known exactly what to say. I didn't.

Disclaimer: I am always happy to see families at 5:30 pm mass. Unfortunately, I know that's not a given in today's world. Furthermore, the crowd at that mass is typically young adult heavy. But this family was mulit-generational—a 9-year old boy and his 11-year old sister were accompanied by their mother and grandmother. What I saw in this family was a striking contrast to the example my brother set as well as my experience on the golf course just eight hours earlier. 
Phil with one of his three children, Sophia
I joined a friend and colleague at a public course to play nine holes early this morning. Because they don't take tee times, it's first come, first serve. We were paired with a father and his 10-year old daughter. Often times when this happens, a duo of that nature prefers to play by themselves. They would rather not slow the play and hold anyone back. But the course was so busy, they had no choice but to play with us. I'm glad they did.

The father, Sonny, was a solid golfer and an excellent teacher/coach. His daughter Kate had good fundamentals and was very disciplined. For example, every time she went to putt, she took time to align herself with the hole by placing her putter parallel with her knees (so she could find the line!). Her father kept her focused and he had her laughing. He would quietly advise her on what to do and he encouraged after she mishit balls (we all need that!). They never took a shot out of turn. When Kate's mind was elsewhere and daydreaming, her dad brought her back gently but firmly. He raked behind her in the bunker and she did the same for him. He reminded her of the rules, and they played by them. Together, they made me a better golfer as they were respectful of the game, other players and one another. In that sense, everybody won! 

Kate wasn't laughing and smiling the entire two hours we were together. Her dad didn't even buy anything from the snack cart as it drove by, but I know they enjoyed being able to play golf together. She smiled. She made herself laugh a few times. She hugged her dad several times. And I know she not only knows how to play golf, but she enjoys it because her dad has been a mentor all along. Expectations are understood. Respecting the rules, the game and others is a given. Joy and enjoyment—the byproduct.

This is a striking contrast to what I saw at mass this evening—or rather, what I did not see at mass i.e. the mass itself, (sounds really negative, doesn't it). The girl in front of me was on her iPad and her brother was playing a video game on his iPhone for 85% of the service. Fortunately, each device was on mute, but neither child stood during the Gospel, during the kiss or peace or reached to put the family donation in the basket. 
I agree.

When it was time for the consecration, the mother had both children turn off their electronic devices and place them in her bag. Her son was unwilling to do so. He turned the iPhone off, but held it for three minutes until the temptation to play the game again was too great. Fortunately, when it was time to receive the Holy Eucharist, he put the phone in his pocket, but when he returned to his seat, he started to play his video game again.

I do not believe in determining who "should and should not receive the Eucharist," but I was genuinely saddened to see that these children were formed in a way that says receive communion but spend the rest of your time doing what you want.

I write this not to vent—okay, maybe—but in the same spirit of Sonny and Kate, I wish this family had mindfully mentored their children to participate in the great mystery of the Holy Mass. This is no easy task. It will require "quiet voices" in explanation of what's taking place. For children who can read, it may involve providing your son or daughter with an age appropriate missal so they can follow along. The power of example can never be underestimated—sing and encourage others to do so! Listen to the homily in such a way that demonstrates active listening—maybe a simple nod, a pensive gaze, even an occasional laugh (only if merited!). Explain "the rules" and respect them; they are not open for interpretation (see the USGA rule book for non-religious evidence). 

What I believe is most important to remember however is that we bring ourselves and one another to Sunday worship to give thanks. We are members of a community of faith and our presence matters! We come in joy and in sorrow, with hope and with fear. At our best, we help others become better pray-ers. At our worst, well, we provide an invitation for others to pray for us (not bad, eh?...this was the only thing I could do I was so frustrated. Remember—I am not a good person). 
I was thinking of why Sonny golfs with his daughter on a regular basis. For one, he enjoys the time with her, but I also know that he hopes she will one day become a golfer and play on her own. Maybe Miss Kate will make her own friends playing golf and travel to places far and wide to do so. Who knows, she could even play with her own spouse or children one day. I think the analogy stands firm. We take our children to mass because we enjoy praying with them (invaluable for families!). And the great hope is that our children are formed by their parents, teachers, grandparents and mentors in faith in such a way that it becomes something they do on their own... and ultimately who they become. God bless it.

Photo Credits
Dad and Daughter in discussion
Phillie with his daughter Sophia

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