Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Student's Prayer for Jose Fernandez

For the past 14 years, the morning routine at the school where I teach has remain unchanged. After the first bell, a sea of students disperse from their friends, flirting and having fun and frantically head to class before the second bell rings. As they take their seats and unpack their book, a voice fills the airwaves with a rote statement: Good Morning St. Ignatius. Please stand for prayer.
In the following moments, students stand, many with their heads bowed in silence as a member of our school community offers a prayer—one that changes from day to day. Quite often, it is preceded by context. For example, if it is Black History month, a student will offer insight into the life of an African American and the prayer will relate to a message that person wrote, preached, lived by or taught. Many prayers are offered on the anniversary of important events, too many of which are tragic. We pray for places and people in the world in need of God's grace, God's mercy, and God's healing. We pray for the victims of natural disasters and all that ensues. We offer prayers for those affected by violence in our inner cities, in our homes and in war-torn areas of the world. And we pray for the needs of our own community. We pray that we may magnify God's glory in our school work and in our play, our competition and our song. And on Wednesday September 28, a junior student named Liam took it upon himself to pray for Jose Fernandez, the Miami Marlins pitcher who died on Sunday, September 25.

In all fourteen years I have taught at St. Ignatius, I don't know that a student has ever prayed for another person, let alone at athlete in this way. 
Quite often, students are still waking up during that first period of the day. During prayer, they stand in unison, they are respectful of the silence, but I wonder how often they truly listen, let alone internalize the words we share. I have to admit, there are times when I am no different. I am already thinking about the agenda for the day, who is in class and who is not, I ask myself What is that student wearing?! etc. But, Liam offered these words. They caught my attention. They called me to listen and pray. They brought tears to my eyes. I had to regroup and share with my own class how moved I was. He said, 
Let us remember... (pause for response)In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 
Lord, help us so to love you that we may see your hand working all thingsunto good. Quiet our fears, dispel our doubts, silence our murmurings. Putaway from our minds all sad and gloomy thoughts and inspire us to trustalways in your strength and your love.We ask this through Christ our Lord. 
I would also like to pray for a Latino baseball player, Jose Fernandez. JoséFernández was a very talented pitcher for the Miami Marlins. Starting hisrookie season in 2013, he always brought joy to the dugout and field whenhe played. Sadly, on Sunday, September 25, 2016, Jose Fernandez waskilled in a boating accident near Miami Beach. The Miami Marlins will neverbe the same without him, but he will be remembered as one of the best andmost inspiring players in the baseball world. May he Rest In Peace.St. Ignatius… (pause for response). 
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.Amen.
A sincere prayer, one that comes from the heart, is beautiful to hear. Even though it was shared over the PA, the personal message and offering that Liam, a junior wrote, said what hundreds of reports far beyond the sports media of Sports Center, MLB tonight, have offered.

Liam added, 
I just felt that the SI Community should pray for Jose Fernandez and his family. I cannot imagine what pain his team and family are feeling right now. 
The prayer that I said was actually a prayer by Pope Francis. However, the part about Jose Fernandez was written by me. I've always like this prayer by Pope Francis so I chose to do this one. As mentioned above, I also wanted to pray for Jose Fernandez and his family. I'm a big baseball fan and seeing him go that fast is very heartbreaking. He would always bring a smile to the field no matter what day it was or who they were playing.
And those words are affirmed in the October 3 article in Sports Illustrated entitled "A Beautiful Light." 
The purpose of this blog isn't to report what made Fernandez so beloved by baseball fans far beyond Miami. Nor is it to convince anyone of his talent and the loss of what his 24 year old loss means to the game. But both are noteworthy. Tom Verducci writes, 
The wickedness of his breaking ball was exceeded only by the wattage of his smile. His personalisty, not just his arm, made Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins one of baseball brightest stars in ascension. At 24, Fernandez not only played baseball well, but he also did so with elan. His 29-2 record ranks as the best home mark of any pitcher in baseball history. No pitcher in the game owned a more brilliant future than Fernandez.
No the purpose behind this blog is because I want to know if my students feel the way that I do. Today's journal prompt was "Is it a challenging time to be a hero in our country?" It sure feels like it. And yet, I suppose it's never easy to be a hero...I have a feeling that peril, hardship and strife are a significant part of what makes ordinary people stand out as extraordinary. But so does goodness, living life the right way—living it for others and much more.
This past week has given our country a moment to pause to reflect on two wonderful lives. Two men, both professional athletes. One had a full and long life and the other's ended too soon. Thinking about who they are and how they were with people, the way they chose to live and who they touched along the way has made me ever grateful for heroes like them...and the opportunity to pray in gratitude for what they have left. Grateful to know that the young people I share my days with feel the same way.... 

Photo Credits
In Memory

Sunday, September 25, 2016

What Our Favorite Athletes Can Teach Us in Life and in Death....Remembering Arnold Palmer

My paternal grandfather, Ed Stricherz, died when I was just 8 years old. A teacher, football coach and referee, he died too young—at the age of 72. I hold and cherish but a few memories of this great man. I remember him sitting in a certain chair reading the newspaper from start to finish. From this vantage, I could see that he wore colorful socks long before they were hip. He was religiously devoted to his Catholic faith and to the game of golf (in his retirement). Apparently "Easy Ed" didn't have a graceful swing, but he kept his index respectable by nailing 5, 10 and 20 footers on the greens. I also know that my grandpa's favorite player was "The King," Arnold Palmer, who died today at the age of 87. 
Every visit to my grandparents' home in the summer months was characterized by a backdrop of some golf tournament on television. Though I did not understand at the time how one could love this slow and quiet game, I was aware that he did. And anyone who knew my grandpa knew he was a member of "Arnie's Army"—a legion of Palmer fans.

As I have grown to love the game of golf, I feel as though I have actually gotten to know my own grandfather better. When I play with my Uncle Jay on a course where my grandpa once did, I think about what it must have been like for him (or my dad) to play with their dad, my grandpa. Was he fun to play with? What were his struggles? Was he honest to a fault? gracious in conversation? How was his pace of play? I wonder how he would have handled given holes—or rather, greens. And, as I have come to know and adopt my own favorite players, I have wanted to know why Arnie was his guy.
I have asked my dad and a few of my uncles why my grandpa loved Arnold Palmer. Their answers are not surprising. Arnie was a great athlete; his swing isn't that fluid or pretty either. He was exciting to watch and he wowed the crowd....which he loved to do.

As much as I have enjoyed learning more about my grandfather through his passion, I feel as though the legacy that Palmer left, lets me understand my grandpa as he would want me to. It's nothing that my dad or mom has to tell me is true; it's not characterized by their memories of him. Because I believe in the Communion of Saints, I understand that my relationship with my grandpa is on-going, though different. Through Christ, we remain connected in God's love. 

So, as I learned that Palmer gave up golf his senior year to serve in the Coast Guard, I realized my grandfather would have respected him for that choice. I know that his fairly humble roots—growing up in Latrobe, PA—were probably appealing to a man who grew up very poor on a farm in So. Dakota. I can see that his arm pump and interaction with the crowd would appeal to my grandpa, who loved sports and much as I do.
Our favorite teams, and in particular our favorite athletes reveal much more about who we are than one might expect. And the beauty of the relationship of athlete to fan is that it is one that need not end in death. We still celebrate the great ones...we love them...we miss them....much in the same way we do for those in our own families.

I'm grateful that on this sad but important day, I had a chance to play on one of the most beautiful golf courses in the United States, the Lakeside course at Olympic Club. It rivals the one that Arnie and my grandpa are teeing up for right heaven. My hat off to you both...thanks for sharing and leaving your mark on this great game, and more importantly the lives of so many others. 

I would also like to add, what my friend Dennis shared with me today, Monday September 26, 2016 the day after Arnie's passing to eternal life. I'm grateful that he took the time extend this beautiful insight: 
Anne, we shared a very significant memory on Sunday.  The question that golf lovers will be asking many years from now will be: "Where were you the day Arnold Palmer passed away." 
Well....we get to say that we were out working on our golf game and playing the Lake Course....a course that was not kind to Arnie in 1966....but to literally walk in his footsteps yesterday....a great memory.
Photo Credits

Monday, September 19, 2016

Bethany Hamilton: Be a Light for Him

If I woke up every day and asked myself "How can I be a light for Him?" I might live differently. I believe I would be more honest and kind to all those I meet. I wonder: Would seek and find more joy? I hope that I would radiate something so powerful that others would inquire about its source: What is it that illuminates your vision, guides your path and leads the way? Perhaps this light is what countless young people see in professional surfer, Bethany Hamilton. It's hard not to.
Being a light for Him is a question that Hamilton, the subject of the 2011 movie, "Soul Surfer" prayed about, intensely before she lost her arm in a shark attack on Halloween night in 2003. As seen in the video posted here, she had given her life to Christ at an early age. For as close as two weeks prior to the attack, Bethany and her mom were prayerfully discerning how she could glorify God through surfing. I love her prayer; it resonates with the four letters we invite every student at St Ignatius College Prep, where I teach, to place at the top of their work: AMDG. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. For the Greater Glory of God. Do what you do for God, to magnify God's greatness. 

Bethany was very specific in her prayer; she wanted to be more than just a surfer—she wanted to be a light for Him. Though she did pray that her surfboard could serve as a platform to be that light, she never imagined how it would come to be. Bethany is lucky to be alive; she lost 60% of her blood in the attack. And for anyone who surfs, they know it's hard enough to get up, stay balanced and ride waves with two arms, let alone one. 
I teach two sections of class called "The Challenge of Scripture" to sophomores. Though the Word can sometimes be foreign, strange or unfamiliar, when it is put in context, when it relates to our lives and when it's heard with open minds and hearts, it nourishes us in a way that little else does. We teach that Scripture can serve as: 
1. a bridge
2. a mirror
3. a light

As a bridge, the Word of God connects us to each other. It carries us over rough waters and to new places. As a mirror, it helps us understand who we are. It can reveal what we need to see in ourselves and often cannot. As as a light, it can guide us through the darkness. It can illuminate what God has in store for us and for all of God's children. 

And yet, I once heard you may be the only Bible a person will ever read. Well, for those who only learn the story of Bethany Hamilton, they will know how Scripture can work as a light and what today's Gospel is really all about. She is not shy about having just one arm; in every picture of Bethany—be it in a bathing suit, her wedding dress, or in a crowd, she does not hide her missing limb. She radiates a joy and light of love, God's great love that offered her consolation and the continued gift to be one with the water in surfing—one of the most spiritual of all sports. 
As my students and I read and prayed with today's Gospel, I offered prayers for Bethany Hamilton and for her family. I showed the Youtube video in class and let the Word come to life...and light.

Luke 8: 16-18
Jesus said to the crowd:
“No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel
or sets it under a bed;
rather, he places it on a lampstand
so that those who enter may see the light.
For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible,
and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.
Take care, then, how you hear.
To anyone who has, more will be given,
and from the one who has not,
even what he seems to have will be taken away.”

Photo Credits


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Serendipitous Friendships: In Springsteen and in Sports

I repeat the quote by Matthew Kelly in every class I teach and with each team I coach. He has said, "the friends you keep are more important than the books you read." I have yet to encounter any resistance to his words. Rather, I find an audience nodding in universal agreement. We know we can't choose our family, but we do have a say when it comes to choosing friends. And let's be honest, some of us get lucky—really lucky—when it comes to them. My mom always says "you make your luck," but I think there is something serendipitous about certain people that enter into our lives. 
I've made some of my closest friends through school, work, sports and my faith. Many of these relationships are nourished by common values, similar interests and a shared passion. But I would by lying if I didn't admit that some of my favorite people in the world have become my friends because of one particular preoccupation: American singer, songwriter and performer: Bruce Springsteen. And, watching the CBS Sunday Morning show's interview of the Boss offered me more than another opportunity to reach out to those buddies with whom I love to "speak Springsteen." 

From the conversation between The Boss and Anthony Mason, I was reminded that the miracle of friendship that can be born between two unlikely people, at unsuspecting time or in inconspicuous places. And, it is shaped, formed and sustained through sharing our talents, abilities and ourselves.
In what may be one of the more beautiful treatises on friendship, when asked “How would you describe your relationship with Clarence?” Bruce said:
“It was very primal,” he replied. “It was just, ‘Oh, you’re, you’re some missing part of me. You’re some dream I’m having. He was this huge force, you know? While at the same time being very fragile and very dependent himself, which is maybe what the two of us had in common. We were both kind of insecure down inside. And we both felt kind of fragile and unsure of ourselves. But when we were together we felt really powerful. 
“We were very different people, you know? Clarence lived fast and loose and wild and wide-open, you know? And I tended to be a little more conservative.” 
“You said offstage, you couldn’t be friends.” 
“I couldn’t because it would ruin my life!” Springsteen laughed. 
“But Clarence could be Clarence excellently. He was very good at it.” 
Until Clemons’ health went into a long decline. In 2011 he suffered a stroke and died days later. “Losing Clarence,” Springsteen writes, “was like losing the rain.”
I thought of the rare and wonderful chemistry that existed between Bruce and "C." At 6"5" and somewhere close to 280 pounds Clemons was a force, but that force was magnified by who it met and what it became on stage. It wasn't just part of the show, it was a gift for all who love both men and their music to witness the dream. 
Springsteen is indeed a poet, a performer and a I shouldn't be surprised by the loveliness of his words. His insight into friendship invited me to think of others who might share this type of gift. My mind considered former teammates like Steve Young and Jerry Rice, Chris Mullin and Manute Bol or Kareem Abdul-Jabar and Magic Johnson. These friendships pair two very different men who collaborate and create something greater than themselves. And then I realized perhaps that's exactly why Elie Wiesel said, "Friends are the jewel of life." 

True friendship asks us to be nothing more than we are...if we are fragile, we should be fragile. If we're insecure, a friend lets us be insecure. He or she may actually get what that means. And if the other is loose and larger than life, let him or her run with it. Know who you are, what you can do and delight in the other half. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

All Springsteen fans are grateful that part of Clarence lives on with the E Street Band in Jake Clemons, the new saxophone player. But, we also know that change that was made uptown when the Big Man joined the band, formed something "really powerful." Losing the rain has left us longing for the day when there's a Reunion tour of another kind....thank you brother man.

Photo Credits
Jerry Rice & Steve Young

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What Losing Does to Me....Thoughts on Notre Dame vs. Texas

On Sunday September 4, 2016 Notre Dame lost to Texas 50-47, in a game that went into double overtime. The Fightin' Irish, ranked number ten in the nation were were 4.5 point favorites over the Longhorns—in their house. Just last year, in another Labor Day weekend showdown, the Irish came out of the gate with gusto, defeating UT 38-3. Though that game ended the season for Irish running back and starter Tarean Folston, the 2015 season looked very promising. 
Today, even two days removed, I found myself still upset about the outcome of the 2016 meet-up. Certain encounters at work left me irrationally angry or frustrated. Though I have written about winning and losing, and in particular why losing hurts, I needed to make sense of my sentiments. So, here are but a few additional insights and take-aways....that I hope you can either a) relate to b) forgive me for holding or c) pass along to therapist near me. 

Nuances are important
I will admit, Sunday's contest was an exciting game. I would not however say it was a great game. I saw TONS of holes on both sides of the ball (by both teams) and a whole lot of mistakes and missed opportunities. Granted it's not October and we're not in full stride, so I should be kind...but I need to be honest, too.

So what can one say? How should a football fan talk about a game like that one?. I'm still not a fan of the pity party, but a number of people did offer a humble and sincere "sorry about the loss." It's the best thing they could say. Many of those who offered these simple words of consolation "get it." It helps....thank you.

Consider Timing.
A co-worker decided he would share for me that he lost his passion for Notre Dame football. Consequently, the loss didn't upset him in the way it once had or...remotely in the way I was feeling. I understand that our interests and passions change. For example, thirty years ago I would be glued to the TV right now watching the US Open. Tennis under the lights in New York really is electric. Today, I check in for but a few matches at best. 

But, the conversation he started is worth having at another time and in another place. The guy is smart and knows a ton about football.  He also knows that I am irrationally passionate and/or dedicated to my alma mater. I would have sincerely appreciated any of his thoughts on what he did observe or notice....not that his psyche wasn't the least bit crushed. #narcissist. 

Did I mention the Irish came back from an 17 point deficit in the 3rd quarter? AGH!
Never add insult to injury.
What may have been worse, is that another co-worker—generously listening to this strange conversation—(may?) have tried to relate to my colleague by telling him "you're a father now. That's what happens when you become a parent." Though I understand the message he intended to pass along, again my irrational anger and frustration did not leave me listening kindly. I started to wonder if he and I were inhabiting the same planet. Is this what parenthood does to adults? It makes them not care about sports? about their favorite teams? Maybe....but clearly he hasn't been to South Bend....or to any SEC stadium....#jackass

Be careful of the voices you listen to.
After a loss, it's important to debrief with people you know, trust and respect. Personally, I seek out those who I know a) care about my team—genuinely care about Notre Dame and b) know something about football. 

If you did not watch the game—and I've heard these people spew their venom—please refrain from polluting the airwaves. If you don't know much about football and what makes a good team work, keep your insights and words brief. A wise person knows what he/she does not know.

For those that do know—thank you for your time. I want to hear your thoughts on why our defense does not tackle and hear your thoughts on our defensive coordinator, Brian Van Gorder. I want to sing the praises of DeShone Kizer all day. Do you agree that if Torii Hunter, Jr. hadn't taken that hit in the end zone that we would have won the game? Do you miss Jaylon Smith and Will Fuller as much as I do? What do you think of Brian Kelly's play calling?

Griping and whining just doesn't assuage the irrational frustration and anger. Unpacking, reviewing, reconsidering and next steps does...a little.

Never Be That Person
I have always believed you can learn as much from the example of who you do not want to be as the person you do. 

There are teams and college programs that I despise. I have little to no respect for their program, their coaches, what they stand for and so on. As strong as those feelings are for me to share (and admit), I would not tell an alum from that institution in the way I hear those sentiments said to me about Notre Dame from time to time.

For example, someone said "I never cheer for Texas but since they're playing Notre Dame, I am now."  I suppose a charged statement like that beckons a glaring retort. I just don't want to be that person. Either one.
Be that Person
But who I do want to be isn't without a gentle internal reminder and peronal exercise in generosity. I have to remind myself—because it's not easy —that after a tough loss, I want to be a fan who takes the higher road. I want to reach out to Texas fans and say "exciting game, Congratulations." (Notice I didn't say great game). 

I was able to share that I am genuinely happy that their program seems to be on the up-and-up. I think they deserve to be ranked. I respect their coach, Charlie Strong. I sincerely wish him well and think he's good for the game. When you lose, it's easy to hang your head. Instead, look up and look at the winners in the eye. It's not an easy pill to swallow. You may have to fake it till you make it, but it's the right thing and the right way to be.

A very small part of me wishes I didn't care so much....but I do. It's in my DNA. Ask any Stricherz around. The cost of caring is that when you lose—at times when it matters A LOT e.g. against Stanford at the last regular game of the season or a lot, e.g. the season opener—there's a price you pay (one of my favorite Springsteen songs). Your emotions play with you, and it's not easy. But....being a fan of a team and a program like Notre Dame means there are many more stories to tell. And, not all of them end this way. Grateful for the many I've had and all those to come.

And our hearts forever......

Photo Credits
Texas Wins

Friday, September 2, 2016

Colin Kapernick: Questions and Considerations

I'm not really interesting in clogging the airwaves on a story that has gotten tremendous local—and to my surprise national—media attention. But, I suppose most writers feel that way. We believe we have a thought—or two—to offer. But opinions are like belly buttons: everyone has one. And Colin Kapernick's decision to sit during the national anthem has elicited a firestorm of them. The spectrum of  reactions, responses, questions and stories it has spawned is as diverse as our nation. However, what's been interesting to me about this particular story is not my opinion, but my reaction. When I heard about it via SportsCenter, I thought to myself, I'm surprised no one did what he did at the Olympic Games in Rio.
Do you agree? Have you held that same thought? In 2012 I heard Dr. John Carlos speak at the school where I teach about the decision that he and Tommie Smith made at the 1968 games in Mexico City. Given the social and racial climate in our country, I figured the time was right. Also, I know there is a black national anthem; I have wondered when or if an African-American athlete will request that song to be played in lieu of Francis Scott Key's masterpiece.

So it is with those questions in mind that I aim to address other ideas and questions Colin Kapernick's decision has invited me to consider. Let me be clear, the intention of this posting is not to take a stand on or share my view, but rather to add to the airwaves a humble thought...or two.

First, I think it's important to know that the Thursday night contest against the Packers is not the first time that Kapernick has refused to stand during the national anthem. I am not sure why it became newsworthy now, and not the first, second or third time he made that choice.
Second, the choice he made in the past and on August 26, isn't one that has gone unnoticed by his teammates. Alex Boone, now with the Minnesota Vikings said, 

“It’s hard for me, because my brother was a Marine, and he lost a lot of friends over there,” Boone told USA TODAY Sports. “That flag obviously gives (Kaepernick) the right to do whatever he wants. I understand it. At the same time, you should have some (expletive) respect for people who served, especially people that lost their life to protect our freedom.
With all due respect to Mr. Boone, his words make me cringe. He is not the only person who has shared that sentiment...or euphemism. 

Freedom does not mean that one can do whatever they want. As a society and a culture, we set limits and we evaluate and reevaluate the lines that we draw. When one breaks the rules, dishonors the law or pushes the limits they must be held accountable. And, there is a price to pay when we disagree. It's a cliche for a reason. Freedom isn't free.

To me, Kapernick was well aware of his right—given by the First Amendment—toward freedom of speech. He exercised his right and from what I have gathered, he knew there would be consequences. 
Historically, Kapernick has been terse with the media. Local fans have wondered if he studied at the public speaking school of Marshawn Lynch But in this instance, Kapernick welcomed the microphone and the opportunity to address the reason behind his decision. he said,
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
Kapernick's decision has prompted Americans to consider how else they express their national pride or disappointment. I had talked to a friend earlier this summer about the time in the late '80s or was it the early '90s when a number of Americans burned flags at Major League baseball games. That gesture ushered in a desire (by some) to add  a constitutional amendment, outlawing the burning of a the Star and Stripes. I started to question: Is the flag as a symbol more or equally sacred as our national anthem? 
CK kneels during the Niner vs Charger game on 9/1/16
As much as I feel frustrated by the shelf life that certain stories hold in the American news cycle and within popular media, I have grown to learn each one invites me to respond—ever new, ever challenging. I've been surprised by many of my reactions in the past. I have learned more about myself than I would if these stories never came to be. 

Kapernick's decision forgo an important pregame ritual has prompted—is it safe to say—the best and worst of us? I've listened to the spectrum of viewpoints and all that I truly have to offer are questions. Having taught ethics for 12 years, I conclude with a poignant thought from an introductory article we use each year.
Questions, you know, are not only the problems or paragraphs or multiple-choices on mid-terms and finals.  Questions can be teachers.  Questions can be like enigmatic but enduring friends; like someone whom you know so well yet still do not know but are thankful for. —Coleman Brown
What has Kapernick's decision prompted you to consider? What has been uncomfortable to talk about?  How could things be different?.......

Photo Credits