Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Celebrating Sports, Spirituality and Catholic Schools Week 2018

Drive by your local Catholic grammar school and my guess is you will see banners and balloons, posters and promotional materials for the annual celebration of Catholic education in the United States: Catholic Schools Week. Catholic schools typically observe this week with Masses, open houses, and other activities for students, families, parishioners and community members. Through these events, school communities focus on the value Catholic education provides to young people and its contributions to Church, local communities and the nation. One should not underestimate what Catholic schools have given—spiritually, ethically, intellectually, physically (some great sports programs!) and even financially (based on the average public school/pupil cost of $11,066, Catholic schools provide more than $20 billion a year savings for the nation). Saint John Paul II affirmed this truth when he said to an audience of Catholic educators in New Orleans, "Yours is a great gift to the Church, a great gift to your nation." 
I have wonderful memories of this week from my time at St. Mary's Elementary School in Walnut Creek. I remember wondering why Carondelet, my high school didn't do more to honor this tradition. And, when I became a college student at the University of Notre Dame, an institution tremendously proud of its Catholic identity, Catholic Schools Week was in absentia. Why? I think this question is worth considering.

I believe Catholic education is one of the most vibrant and vital ministries of the Catholic Church. Our schools seek to inform, form and transform. This year, the motto highlights another truth: Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed. These schools are serving nearly 1.9 million students—and that's just in elementary, middle and secondary schools. They educate students with special needs, non-Catholics (18.4% of the total enrollment) and have become increasingly more diverse. Their National Secondary School Graduation Rate is one to promote and celebrate: it's 99.3%.

But I believe one of the greatest gifts of our schools speaks to the relationship of Sports and Spirituality. Not all schools can form young hearts and minds with the Word. Not all schools can teach young people to love and serve God and their neighbor. They cultivate a life of prayer and service for the poor and marginalized—all of which can be done in the classroom as well as our athletic programs. And so, as I watched the Notre Dame men's basketball team visit St. Anthony of Padua school, I couldn't help but appreciate not only the surprise visit but the message behind it. 

Watch it here

One local Catholic school is visiting another.
One Catholic school—up the road—is ready to scrimmage with some kids.

Students at one Catholic school are visited by students of another Catholic school they might attend one day.
Both schools share a common tradition, a tradition worth celebrating
Both schools are places where young people: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed. This is their week. ENJOY

Stats from Momentum, publication by the NCEA

Saturday, January 27, 2018

When It Comes Time for Prayer, Make It Your Own: A Prayer for Coaches

I get asked quite often by coaches and by athletes for prayers—formal prayers, written prayers, meaningful prayers, sports prayers. They are seeking a good one to say before a big game. Others have to lead prayer in a public space—before the national anthem, prior to the Homecoming contest, as a way to frame "Senior Night" and they want words that will resonate with the larger school community. Fortunately, there is no shortage of resources readily available for praying with your team, before/after a game or in the context of Sports and Spirituality. Indeed, the prayers one can find online are as varied as the sports and the athletes who pray them; this can both a good and bad thing. Some prayers are not age-appropriate. A few sound more like a poem that a prayer. Still, others echo of a rallying cry or team chant. What to do? My only recommendation for captains and chaplains, coaches and players is this: choose a prayer that resonates with your heart and your voice. Even when prayer is formal, it can and still should offer a message that you want to say and believe others should hear....and if it doesn't, amend...modify....edit...and make it your own. It's your prayer—your communication with the Lord—why not.
Coach Pat Riley prayed at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem (1999).
The Miami Heat traveled to Israel play a friendly against Macabbi Tel Aviv.
Coaches, please pray for your athletes
At the conclusion of the Jesuits West Colloquium for newer teachers and faculty, the students of Loyola Academy at Brophy Prep handed me a prayer card that follows my recommendation. The Prayer of St. Francis, one of my very favorite prayers, was adapted for teachers. As I read this prayer with my colleagues, I was touched by its beauty and its authenticity. Its message spoke to the wants, needs and desire of me as a teacher. And, I saw how it might speak to coaches. 

I urge coaches and athletic directors to pray for their athletes in every presentation I give on the topic of athletic ministry. This is a beautiful way to do that.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is frustration, let me show patience.
Where there is confusion, clarity.
Where there is struggle, support.
Where there is success, celebration.
Where there is doubt, faith.
And where there is hurt, love.

Oh Divine Masters, grant that I may
Greet each student-athlete as a child of God,
Find joy and fun in my relationship with them,
And seek to learn as much as I coach, model and teach.
The goal: to pray together as a team
Photo Credits
Pat Riley
John Harbaugh

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Prayer Practice: Scripture and the Senses...Sports and Spirituality Style

Last October, I joined my friend Eileen for a women's retreat, "Taste and See: Praying with the Five Senses" hosted by St. Ignatius Parish at the University of San Francisco. Ginny Kubitz Moyer, an award-winning writer guided us in using our senses to deepen our prayer lives and our relationship with God. In sharing personal stories, anecdotes and Scripture, Ginny demonstrated how the five senses are a powerful, biblically-based means for us to encounter God, not only as we practice our faith, but also as we participate in the “messy splendor” of daily life (taken from the retreat description). As she spoke, I wondered—as I always do—how I might incorporate the usage of our senses into prayer for athletes. 
The teachings of this retreat came to my mind earlier this week as "Murph and Mac," my beloved Sports Talk Radio hosts discussed their favorite sounds in sports—a topic I have written about quite often. A short commute was made super brief as I heard their examples: the swish of the net in basketball, the cut of the ice from hockey skates, the echo from a hard hit in football, the buzzer that ends the game or the dreaded whistle from the ref who had to call the foul. I seriously thought about calling in to add to their list...and to invite them to consider the other senses. Indeed, sports offers a feast for all five.

What our eyes can see:
great hops, the receiver who gets not one but two feet down all but centimeters from the sideline, the ballplayer who won't leave the referee alone (saw this at a high school game last night).

What our body feels: the first break of sweat while working out, the strain of a muscle you've worked to get stronger, the pat on your shoulder from a teammate for a job well done and the high every runner relishes in recovery.
What we taste: I often say "hunger is the best sauce," and so is a good workout. Yes, water quenches my thirst, but nothing beats the bitter taste of that fresh and first cup of coffee after my morning session. As a runner, I have been never convinced the pasta feed truly was the best pre-race meal, but it sure did taste good, in particular, that garlic bread! Gatorade, Powerade, Vitamin Water—yummy electrolytes!

What we smell: the smell of sports may be an unwelcome thing....the stench of the boys' locker room or the back of the bus after a game or my car if I leave my golf shoes in there after a muddy round. Not good! But, I can still remember the smell of a freshly opened can of tennis balls—too bad golf balls don't have an aroma like that. What baseball player doesn't recall the smell of freshly cut grass? What rower doesn't remember the smell of brackish water on the shell? 

If we teach and promote that God can be found in all things—including sports—why not invite our teams to not only see God, but hear God, taste what is holy, and feel God's presence in those places and spaces.

The beauty of this exercise is that every athlete and coach will come to see the unique ways their sport engages the senses. AND how God's Word can speak to each one of them. Therefore, listed below are a few Bible passages to guide your prayer with your sport...and the senses. Enjoy!

From the retreat packet:
Reflect on the words, repeating them to yourself slowly and letting them sink in. Be open to any ways that the words speak to you. Reflect on what God is telling you through these words and your response to them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Psalm 34:8

And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:10

Let anyone with ears to hear listen. Mark 4:9

On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines. Isaiah 25:6

Photo Credits
Yankee Candle
Sounds of Sports

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Fabled Five Words in Sports: I've Never Seen That Before

As a loyal sports fan, I have come to realize one of my favorite things to say or hear is five words: "I've never seen that before." Yes, we give our time and spend (sometimes inordinate amounts of) money to see our favorite team win. Victory is just so satisfying, but those fabled five words are too. And I was able to say them Friday, January 12 as the St. Ignatius varsity boys' basketball team beat the Serra Padres, 70-61. 
I've never seen the Wildcats defeat the Padres in their house. Known to the San Francisco Bay Area as "The Jungle Game," this contest lives up to its hype. In the past 14 years I have taught at SI, I have attended 13 Jungle Games, and I had never seen a win for the Red and Blue. The one year I did not attend, the Wildcats' got the "W." So, to see this team come back from a 9-point deficit in the third quarter was satisfying and sweet. My new record: 1 for 14. Things are looking up.

With about 20 seconds remaining in the game, and the Cats up by 8, both the players and the fans realized what was about to happen. The pressure was finally off. Those on the courts kept their composure and their focus, while the SI players and coaches on the sidelines smiled and breathed deeply. The student sections yelled cheers and jeers from one side of the gym to the other. I made a point to open my eyes and take it all in. Why? it's not often you see something you've never seen before.

One of the first things that caught my attention was the student section anxious and eager to storm the court. Limited to standing room only seats, they were chomping at the bit; everyone could feel their restless energy. We all knew where they wanted to go. The words of Ron Rolheiser were being revealed before my own eyes. In "What is Spirituality?" he writes,
Sigmund Freud, for example, talks about a fire without a focus that burns at the center of our lives and pushes us out in a relentless and unquenchable pursuit of pleasure. For Freud, everyone is hopelessly overcharged for life. Karl Jung talks about deep, unalterable, archetypal energies, which structure our very souls and imperialistically demand our every attention. Energy, Jung warns, is not friendly. Every time we are too restless to sleep at night we understand something of what he is saying. Doris Lessing speaks of a certain voltage within us, a thousand volts of energy for love, sex, hatred, art, politics. 
Indeed, a thousand volts of joy—of satisfaction on steroids—confined by close quarters was ready to crowd the gym floor. 

I have written about this issue many times in the past; people both agree and disagree with me. I knew that our deans' were emphatic about not taking the hardwood until both teams met in the post-game ritual: lining up, shaking hands and in some cases extending even more. I wondered if our administration would put its money where its mouth is. What did I see? Again, something I had never seen before.

Not only were our deans' present to hold students back, but the head coach—who always stands at the back of the line, turned to the students and made sure they stayed put. His team and their efforts got the win—and he had the vision and the ability to see the bigger picture. No student was going to cross that line. They waited, albeit impatiently for both teams to thank one another. All players and coaches had their moment to do so. #AMDG

Moments later, Coach Marcaletti walked over to the section of parents, teachers, and fans—to look for his wife, He gave her the thumbs up. I know she comes to nearly every home game; I wouldn't be surprised if he acknowledged and reached out to his wife at some point during every game. But this win was special and that moment was too. 

It would be hard for me to argue that the Jungle Game isn't a spiritual experience. That fire isn't friendly—which is an important way to think about spirituality. And, once the contest is over, the energy that had flooded the gym dissipates—finding its face as what Rolheiser describes as "aching pain" and "delicious hope." Pain for the team who couldn't get the win and hope for the victors of what is to be.

I suppose what we love about sports is that we can say those five words every day, or every time we take to the starting blocks, first tee, jump ball and so forth.  But those games that have a spirituality like that of the Jungle Game? Perhaps that's the recipe for seeing things we have never seen before.

NB: 2018 has been ripe for a few of these games! The Rose Bowl and the playoff game, featuring the Vikings vs. the Saints—I don't know a single person who can't say that have seen THAT before!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Andrew McCutchen: "Gift of the Magi"

If you haven't heard someone echo the words of the late American broadcaster Keith Jackson, who died on January 12, 2018, then you haven't been listening. Known for his intelligent yet folksy coverage of college football, Jackson contributed "Whoa! Nellie" and "Hold the phone!" to the cadence of sports talk. His passing, not unlike Stuart Scott's from stomach cancer in 2015, made me pause to consider the language I love to speak: sports. 

I am sure that someone, somewhere has a list of the great terms, cliches, metaphors, and expressions used by athletes, coaches, broadcasters, and fans. I dare say, their words extend beyond hyperbole and alliteration. These expressions add color to the commentary and endear us even more to a certain team or sport. And the signing of Andrew McCutchen, one of my favorite athletes, from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the San Francisco Giants, reminded me of one of my favorite sayings. If I ever make it into the broadcast booth—though I can't take full credit, I hope I will gain some for this ingenious phrase. 

Vince Tringali, a long time football coach at St. Ignatius High School was the first person I heard say "gift of the magi!" in the context of sports. In recent weeks, I have thought him and his words as I prepared my seniors for the second contest in the Bruce Mahoney rivalry, Through an NFL Film about Tringali's tenure of excellence in football, my students came to see that Tringali was a great many things—tough, demanding, and old school, and yet personally he was whimsical and witty. 
Tringali coached the Wildcats to a 19-game winning streak from 1962-1963 seasons, earning a number one national ranking in the 1962 Imperial Sports Syndicate Poll. He captured four league championships, one of which was in no small part because of a student transfer from Marin Catholic High School. This future NFL Hall of Fame player wanted to live with his father, who resided on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. He enrolled at St. Ignatius as a junior and the Wildcats benefitted. After Tringali said his name: Dan Fouts, he added "Gift of the Magi." 

And with that comment, one of my favorite expressions was born.

"The Gift of the Magi" is a wonderful phrase for reasons that resonate with both sports and spirituality. The Feast of the Epiphany, traditionally on January 6, This Christian feast day celebrates the "manifestation" of God in Christ Jesus. In the west, the Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi—the wise men—to the Christ child, and thus Jesus' Incarnation to the Gentiles. Now celebrated on the second Sunday after Christmas, I wish this feast day was remembered and revered as it once was. Wise men from the East traveled a great distance...following a star to bring gifts to Emmanuel. We don't know what the Holy Family did with the gifts they were given, but we know what they were: gold, frankincense, and myrrh and we know who gave them: Balthasar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia and Gaspar of India. Their gifts were unexpected. They were gratuitous, They were regal and they were royal. 

Life today isn't always that different. We too receive gifts from near and from far. Some of my favorite gifts have been totally unexpected. They come without a price and have been given freely, They are often given in celebration and others are worth celebrating.
So, it makes sense that those same words: Gift of the Magi would characterize my response when I heard the Giants acquired outfielder Andrew McCutchen in the final year of his contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I have written about the Bucks' #22 three times and have always delighted in his success, even though he does not play for "my team." Though I had heard rumors for some time, I wasn't sure that we would land this former NL MVP. Confirmation of this move was unexpected....a true gift from the East. His skill set is varied; it is rich and it is regal. No need to look for a star in the night sky, Cutch offers his own vibrancy and shines brightly. Giants fans welcome him—this gift—with open arms.

So next time you receive a gift from the East....something unexpected....one worth talking about, you know what to say. And while you're at it, keep listening for other expressions. The sports world is full of good ones.

Cutch Postings
Three Things You Might Not Know....

My Social Experiment: Andrew McCutchen, NL MVP
What MLB is Wearing Around Its Neck

Photo Credits

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Celebrate and Remember: The Life of Steve Phelps.

A new year, a new semester. I came to class eager to see my students rested and yet reluctant to start again. Updates and (better) expectations, reminders and recommendations, our first day together in 2018, started with a prayer for someone they never knew—but whose legacy still looms large. The beat of his heart—and its complications that led his death—can still be heard and felt throughout the communities he served. Steve Phelps was a husband, father, brother, friend, educator and the President of Bishop O'Dowd High School (since 2004). He died on December 26, the Feast of his patron, St. Stephen. 
There are many graces to the profession of teaching and one of those is to teach young people about extraordinary people. Steve left SI long before any of my students arrived and yet he left an indelible mark—one that has a greater impact on their lives than they might ever know. His obituary states,
From 1972 -2004 Steve was a teacher, coach, and director of professional development at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco. He labored to improve the diversity of the school by creating programs that attracted students from every area of the city and the surrounding areas. Everything Dr.Phelps approached was aimed at building excellence in school programs, staff, and students. He was the recipient of numerous awards, both local and national for excellence and innovation in Catholic education and for service to youth.
Truly he is a life worth celebrating and remembering

With those two words in mind—celebrating and remembering—I realized how I ought to be teaching my students to pray. 
  • What are we celebrating today? Bring those events to God.
  • Wh0 do we want to remember in prayer today? What do we want to remember? Offer their names to the Lord. Give thanks to God for those events.
I shared with these kids the video created for his induction into the CYO Hall of Fame. Always an educator, Steve sought to leave the audience with truths he had discovered through athletic ministry. Amused by his nickname, "the White Shadow" I invited my classes to listen to his message and respond. 

He believed: 
  1. When we give freely of ourselves to other people we gain more than we give. 
  2. I think one of the biggest problems today, is a lack of physical fitness—and I see that, refereeing.
  3. Learning how to coach and relate to students takes time and experience in a way that is positive, doesn't belittle them, and doesn't involve negative interactions.
Steve had a great mind and a great heart—both are evident in this tribute. I'm confident that anyone who knew Steve as a coach or referee would not be surprised that he said, "to honor me is really honoring all the students, the boys, and girls who played CYO."

I'm so grateful Catholic Charities—CYO has made this video available. Those who knew Steve have been given a visual testimony that he is a man to remember and celebrate. And, for my students who never met him, they can now pray in this special way for him and for those grieving this loss.

Monday, January 1, 2018

God Doesn't Care Who Wins, But His Mother Does....

January 1 is not only New Year's Day, it is the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary. Without a doubt, today is the toughest of all Holy Days of Obligation to attend. Staying up well past midnight to ring in another year, celebrations of bubbly and booze, as well as holiday hangovers, makes it tough to get into Church for morning mass. But for those who do...or as of now, who did, it's a worthy one, for the universal Church honors our Mother Mary. And on a personal note, I would like to honor her because, in spite of what anyone says or believes, the Blessed Mother plays favorites. That's right, Our Lady—Notre Dame—like me and many others love the Fightin' Irish. 
Lou Holtz once said, 
Now I know you're going to say God doesn't care who wins. I say that's true, but I believe His Mother does. I firmly believe this school has been blessed. When men ask why this school is great, they'll need only to look at the Lady on the Dome.
This Dome is the center of campus. It sits as the crown jewel on God Quad. An aerial view of this space reveals a heart, to signify the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The University makes it known that it aims to be an institution dedicated to serving Our Lady. Is it fair to say that devotion is mutual? Can we all have some fun with this and think that Our Lady pulled for the 14th ranked Irish in the Citrus Bowl? Is it too much to believe they made her proud with an exciting game and big win over 17th ranked LSU? And might she have more sway on a day dedicated to her role in Salvation history? It totally is...but I'm still going to roll with it.
According to Busted Halo,
The use of the word “Solemnity” here is not a statement about Mary’s personality. It is a designation used for certain days within the liturgical (church-based) calendar of the Church. Solemnities are the highest rank of liturgical celebration, higher than feast days or memorials. By celebrating a solemnity dedicated to Mary’s motherhood, the Church highlights the significance of her part in the life of Jesus, and emphasizes that he is both human and divine.
Jesus' dual nature is art is quite evocative. My favorite image of Christ, the mosaic you see here depicts two different eyes to demonstrate the binary way Jesus sees us. Some might take solace in the fact that God sees us, period. However, I am comforted in knowing the Lord sees me as God and a fellow human being. Images of Christ the Teacher show an all-knowing God in a role that is familiar to us. I recently learned the symbolism behind the two fingers he holds upright beside a book. I should have known...or guessed....no, not that is is a playbook but that this simple gesture reminds the viewers 1). of his humanity and 2). of his divinity.

USC fans, however, contend that these artists got it wrong. There should not be a separation between either finger; they should stand together. He's holding these fingers like Trojan fans do to signify FIGHT ON. Why? Jesus was clearly a USC fan. I have to admit, that's pretty good. AND This makes for an exciting debate come football season.

Ginny Kibutz Moyer of Busted Halo concludes by adding
Though New Year’s Day may seem more like a day for football than for Mary, there’s a beautiful spiritual significance in celebrating her during the heart of the Christmas season. Pope Paul VI, in his apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus (1974), called the Solemnity of Mary “a fitting occasion for renewing adoration of the newborn Prince of Peace, for listening once more to the glad tidings of the angels (cf.Lk 2:14), and for imploring from God, through the Queen of Peace, the supreme gift of peace.”
Christ the Teacher/Fight On!
When I really stop to think about the significance of Mary—who she was, what she did, how she lived and who she loved, I can't help but think how fitting it is that the first day of a new year is dedicated to her. I appreciate that the Church makes this day—when hope has fresh feet and resolutions run strong—a feast day for her. We ought to name churches and schools, universities and institutions in her honor. We should sing songs of praise and offer prayers for her intercession. I want to know her better, live more like she did and ponder the same things she held in her heart. I might be a little more inclined to do that if I could get some confirmation we share a certain bias...but I think I got that in a great start to 2018. Way to Go Irish. You did Our Lady's University Proud.

Photo Credits
Christ the Teacher
Christ Mosaic
ND Football Pix