Sunday, November 28, 2021

Remembering Father Tony Sauer, SJ: Hope, Humanity and Holiness

The familiar sights and sounds of Advent greeted the faithful at Mass today. "O Come O Come Emanuel" was the entrance antiphon as we lit the first candle on the Advent wreath. This purple candle, sometimes called the “Prophecy Candle” symbolizes hope. Hope is the theme we are called to pray with this week.

But a few hours later, I got word that Father Anthony P. Sauer, SJ president at St. Ignatius College Prep from 1979 to 2006, died this morning. Though deeply saddened, I found peace in thinking how fitting. There is no better theme to describe who Father Sauer was and what he brought to students, families, colleagues and me. With Tony, hope sprang eternal.

I would like to say that I would take a bullet for Tony, but that just wouldn't be necessary. Why? I am sincere when I write I know no less than 100 people who would. Literally. Tony was a scholar, "so human and so holy" (to use the description that fellow Jesuit, James Martin has written to describe Thomas Merton).

In the days and weeks to come, much will be said and written about "Tone Babes." I would like to offer but a few recollections and remembrances of a man who changed me life (I am certain no less than 10,000 people would say that). What you see here is what I learned from his example and his leadership. 

The Power and Example of "Yes."
As many people have written about the power of "yes," it's quite possible there is more out there about the power of "no." For example, a friend said  to me recently, "my 20s was all about saying yes to invitations and opportunities. As I got into my 30s, I realized how important it was to say no."  I understand and yet, Tony did not live his life that way.

Tony always carried a small booklet—a pocket calendar—in his left breast pocket with pen or pencil in tow. This was his point of reference for where he needed to be and whom he needed to serve. 

Tony availed himself to sacramental ministry willingly and generously. He did this at St. Stephen's parish and at St. Ignatius College Prep. He was at hundreds of athletic contests, fundraisers and Friday Morning Liturgies. 

I remember countless times, Tony would encourage students to receive the Blood of Christ as well as the Eucharist. Many times when he was giving the Body of Christ he would tell a student he saw their grandparent over the weekend or at Bingo.

I will never forget a friend who found himself in a harried situation. The Godparents of his first born child flew into San Francisco for the baptism. With priests in short supply and high demand, the pastor asked if they could simply baptize the baby the next day and cancel the vigil service. Knowing how his wife had planned carefully for the christening, my friend went to Tony desperate to hear the word "yes." 

When he asked Tony if he could pinch hit, Tony pulled the calendar out of his pocket, looked at his schedule and wrote it down. He said, "See you at St. Agnes at what time? Got it." 

That story has stayed with me because we might not know the impact of a simple "yes." So many times, I fall into the temptation of protecting my schedule and organizing my day. Tony's generosity, availability and willingness to serve is just one reason he is beloved.

The Ministry of Letter Writing
Tony must have learned penmanship from his father, Kearney Sauer who was a medical doctor in Los Angeles. Although that  chicken scratch was tough to read, Tony Sauer hand wrote letters to every student and faculty member who went on a Kairos retreat. That = THOUSANDS of cookies.

He wrote thank you notes and kept regular correspondence with alumni, benefactors and friends, offering words of congratulations, condolence and more. His stationery featured a poem and his words were no different. 

To receive a letter from Tony was a gift for his words were heartfelt and sincere. I wouldn't be surprised if he taught this importance of that virtue—sincerity—in his AP English class (or in any FML homily!). I have a feeling Jack London and Tony are enjoying a malt Scotch right now.

One the More Powerful Messages
What do you get when you combine sincerity and the power of the pen? A message you will never forget.

Like many people, Tony struggled with his relationship to alcohol. I know this because he told the SI faculty himself. He wrote an email to us that said,  "I am leaving for an indefinite period of time to live at a rehab facility to work on my relationship with alcohol. I humbly ask for your prayers." His words were poignant, direct and sincere. So human. So holy.

In a world where people often deny or struggle to face this disease, Tony modeled for all of us the beauty of honesty and humility. He is one of the few people who named his plight without an excuse, recourse or blame. The unintended consequences of his message is that it left all of those who care about him with understanding, with compassion and with hope. The truth really does set us free. 

Don't Lose Hope, Don't Ever Lose Hope
I swear he wasn't quoting Jim Valvano....or maybe he was. 

For the purpose of context, I came to SI by way of athletics! I coached novice crew while I was still teaching at Moreau Catholic. I was so drawn to the community that I applied for a teaching position, as the academic dean anticipated two openings in the Religious Studies department. A series of events changed the numbers and still I found myself waiting for an official "yes" or "no." The holding pattern was fairly grueling.

Like most coaches, I attended the end of the year banquet—once held at the iconic House of Prime Rib—not knowing what my future would be. I found myself sitting at a table across from then principal Charlie Dullea, and back to back from Father Tony. 

At the end of the night, Charlie spoke candidly about the likelihood of a position opening for me. He said, "There's maybe a 25% chance it will work out. Be sure to apply next year." I left the dinner deflated but appreciative of his practical approach. He too spoke the truth. 

But a few minutes later, Tony walked out of the restaurant and was waiting for the Jesuit community's Jetta to pull up from the valet. He asked me where things were in the process. I told him what the principal had relayed to me but moments earlier. 

He looked at me and said "Don't give up hope. Never give up hope." He gave me a hug, got into that car with its personalized license plates that read "We Are SI" and drove away. 

The next day, the academic dean called me and said she had an opening. Four sections of Ethics, Morality and Social Justice. I taught that same course for 16 years in a row.

What kind of person leaves another with words such as those: "Don't give up hope. Never give up hope?!" Tony Sauer, SJ is who. His legacy is characterized by it. Hope. Sincerity. Generosity.Poetry.

Well done, good and faithful servant. You truly are, truly were a man for and with others.

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I encourage you to share your own life lessons from Father Tony here.
There are innumerable outtakes as well. Those are to be shared at his wake and along San Francisco's own Sunset Blvd.

Photo Credits
Blessing of SI student
Tony Sauer, SJ

Thursday, November 18, 2021

One of the Most Powerful Influences in our Culture: NFL Sundays

I traveled to Los Angeles this past weekend to visit a sports stadium. That's right, I booked a flight, hotel room and rental car all to check out the sleek, shiny, futuristic and magnificent SoFi Stadium. This $5 billion venture, rose from the ashes of the Betfair Hollywood Racetrack. It stands but a few miles from LAX in Inglewood, California. It is the home of not one but two NFL teams—the Chargers and the Rams—and Super Bowl LVI. The entire experience was well worth it—not just for what I saw and experienced but for what it has me thinking a little bit more about, as a sports fan and a Catholic Christian.

In the article "Good Sports," Rabbi Martin Seigel writes

If a millennium from now someone were to examine the artifacts of our civilization, he or she would discover that in many places sports facilities were the largest and most prominent buildings. This discovery might lead to the conclusion that sports were one of the most powerful influences in our culture. And that conclusion would be correct.

Past civilizations left behind colossal cathedrals to glorify God because for them ultimate power resided in religion. We will leave behind colossal sport stadiums, because these are, for many, our cathedrals. Sport is our shared religion.

This truth was made self evident during my time at SoFi. Not having any particular allegiance to either team allowed me to take in the experience a with a bit of objectivity. Without any skin in the game, I need not defend my team or fan base. I didn't have to explain or justify who or what I saw or what I heard. Rather I was able to observe and take note of this "powerful influence in our culture." 

I do love this tradition at the start of the game.
Some players take a knee in the end zone as a moment of silence.

To attend an NFL is to be a part of great, grand performance. It is entertaining and competitive, ostentatious and problematic. For those who think the American football is going away or that the NFL is in a bad place right now, think again. Perhaps you haven't been to a game recently. It will speak for itself....

What happened on the field is remarkable and it should be. These athletes are professionals. The level of competition truly is elite; it is a jump from what I see weekly when I watch Notre Dame / college football. The degree of marketing and hype, as well as the army of people both on an off the field is Fahrenheit 451. It is truly a multi-million dollar adventure...from start to finish. 

I was struck by the loyalty and passion of NFL fans. The 70,000 people in attendance were loud and proud. The stadium was a sea of purple and gold vs. baby blue. I saw hundreds of others in green and gold sporting the college jersey of franchise QB and Oregon Duck, Justin Herbert. Representing what must be the tallest fan base in the NFL, Vikings fans donned shirts that said "Skol!" (Cheers) and hats with horns.  These men, women and children cheered and jeered. They stood, they sat, they danced and made friends and enemies with those around them. 

My expectations for Chargers fans were lowered since the team moved to LA from San Diego. I went into SoFi expecting 70% of the fans to be from the visiting team. I was wrong. I couldn't believe their passion. And yet, I wonder how long Los Angeles can and will keep this franchise in town.

But what might be the most striking sight at SoFi isn't the futuristic roof or the massive, double sided scoreboard. Nor is it the view of greater Los Angeles, the palm trees, or sunset on the strip. What made me pause was what I saw across the street at Kareem Court: the Los Angeles Forum. Once home of the Showtime Lakers, this venue, has hosted legendary concerts and past championship games. 

To see it through the eyes of 2021, one must wonder: Was this possibly a destination? An indoor arena without windows, it looks like a circus tent. I asked myself, Were fans in the past  content with the game and athletes alone? How our cathedrals have changed.

Following the game, Vikings won 27-20, I headed to Mass at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. I have long wanted to attend a service at this Jesuit parish because I have heard about this community and their outreach to the poor and needy, the gay community and others. 

I loved the music and the warm welcomes I received. The preaching was outstanding and those in the congregation were remarkably prayerful. I was humbled by the attention and stillness of those seated near me; I would like them to know they helped me to pray better.

This beautiful church, built in 1928 can seat up to 1,400 people. I would guess that maybe 100 were in attendance for the 5:30 p.m. mass. Given the spiritual uplift and religious boost I gained from my visit to this faithful community, I left wishing more people had availed themselves to this opportunity.

In "Good Sports," Rabbi Seigel asks, "What power does sport manifest that has made it the “religion” of many contemporary people?" He is asking the right question. In the article, he offers five answers. Following my visit at SoFi stadium and to Blessed Sacrament, I have a few of my own...and more questions. Let's discuss.

Final Thought. In the spirit of full Disclosure: I was cheering the "home" team. Why? Two former ND players--Jerry Tillery and Drue Tranquill #BoltUp every Sunday.

Photo Credits
Inside the stadium
Charger Fans
Church of the Blessed Sacrament

Thursday, November 11, 2021

7 Things You Might Not Know About Buster Posey

The Atlanta Braves defeat of the Houston Astros in Game 6 brought the first World Series title back to Atlanta for the first time in 26 years. It also brought the conclusion of the 2021 season which always leaves me a little remiss. I find myself in search for a new normal the day after the Fall Classic. I carry feelings of malaise and sadness. Maybe I shouldn't, but that's what baseball does to its fans. 

This year, the mourning was punctuated by big news: Gerald "Buster" Posey, the 5-time all star catcher on my San Francisco Giants announced his retirement. Though fans were happy for #28 and his family, it is more than bittersweet. We carry grateful hearts, but tender hearts.

In the days since his breaking news, there have been no shortage of personal testimonies far and wide of what Buster Posey has meant to baseball and to the only MLB team he has ever played for. Fans here know a lot about him. I'll take a shot and offer 7 things you might not know... Enjoy!

1. Hails from the same small town as Luke Bryan
Although Buster Posey's walk-up song was the country hit "Burning Man" by Dierks Bentley, he could have had one by fellow Leesburg, GA native Luke Bryan. The country mega-star and the baseball all-star both graduated from Lee County High School. For a town of not quite 3,000 people, these men have certainly put it on the map. 

2. Is a lifelong Braves fan
I don't know Posey's competitive mindset well enough to know if it allowed for him to cheer for a team that wasn't his own in the post-season. However, given that he grew up a Braves fan (which is a surprise to no one) their victory might be—to him—the second best outcome to the 2021 season. 

In his open letter to Giants fans, he recalls the significance of that connection. He said,

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of stories from different fans about what the Giants mean to them. Or, what baseball means to them. When I think back on those stories, there’s usually one common denominator -- family and friends. When I was a child, one of my earliest baseball memories was Sid Bream of the Atlanta Braves sliding into home plate to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game Seven of the NLCS to send the Braves to the World Series. To be able to share in the joy with my grandad that Christmas as he proudly displayed a picture of Sid Bream sliding into home on his t-shirt is a memory that I’ll never forget.

Thanks Buster for the memories you have provided to countless families and friends!

3. Gave me two unplanned school holidays!
I know there are teachers who are still miffed that they missed that singular day of instruction (I'm seriously not kidding), but I would personally like to thank Buster for giving me and my students not one, but two unplanned school holidays. How? 

When the Giants won their first World Series title in 2010, half of the student body at St. Ignatius College Prep was absent from school. Why? They accompanied their families and friends, wearing orange and black, standing all along Market Street for the raucous victory parade.

Thanks to the WCAL III Cross Country meet, I was unable to attend. I considered at least 1000 iterations of how I could get myself near City Hall for but 15 minutes of the ceremony between class and coaching. It wasn't meant to be—that is until two years later, when the Giants did it again.

Rather than keeping the deans and attendance office from hearing false excuses and taking not of 1,400 kids, the administration decided to cancel classes. Thank you SI! and thank you for doing it again in 2014.

I would like for it to be known, I went to Bob's Donuts and purchased an apple fritter as my parade breakfast. Victory tastes so sweet.

4. Should be known for this personal motto: Why Not?
In what has to be my FAVORITE Buster story, Mike Krukow recalled riding in the elevator after the Giants defeated the Phillies in the 2010 NLCS. For the sake of context, this feat was unexpected. The Phillies had a pitching rotation like no other and were coming in off a loss in the 2009 World Series. 

Before he stepped out to go to his room, Kruk turned to Buster and said "Enjoy this, it doesn't happen very often." 

To which Buster replied. "Why not?"

Great question, Buster. You obviously put some teeth behind that...

5. Is the third best San Francisco Giant of all time?
My dad read an article in claiming that Buster as the third best SF Giant of all time. He was incredulous, nearly irate. He put down the local rag and said to not have Willie McCovey as number three is short-sighted...and wrong.

I ran this idea by another friend who replied, "But WillieMac didn't win it all. Hard to make an argument against three rings!"

And how we wish it were four.

Sports fans live for spars such as these. I personally think Madison Baumgarner might be #3. You?

6. Played four sports in high school and all nine positions in a collegiate game
Nothing really surprises me about this fun fact other than one sport isn't what I was expecting: soccer. My guess would have been the sport mentioned below. The others were what you can expect: football, basketball and baseball. Which leads me to wonder what position he played in each, given that he played all nine in a FSU baseball game.

7. Is an avid golfer
Look at this baseball swing and this fun fact should be a surprise to no one. Although golf was not one of the four sports that Posey played in high school, he began playing at the age of nine or ten.

In 2011, one year after winning his first World Series championship, he played Augusta National. Spoils to the victors!

In 2015, again, one year after winning a World Series championship Posey and his teammate Matt Cain were invited to play in 2015 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am. How's that for playing two top five courses in America. 

And when asked by 
PGATOUR.COM: If you could play with any player on the PGA TOUR, who would you like to tee it up with? He said, "That’s an easy answer. I think I have to go with Rory. I got a chance to meet him; he was in the clubhouse a few years ago. He’s not a very big guy and he just bombs it. And has great balance after every swing. He’d be fun to watch."

In Conclusion
Thank you Buster for your leadership, your talent and grace. We were lucky to have you in Major League Baseball as a Giant your entire career. Godspeed and God Bless

Photo Credit
Fare Thee Well
Cain and Posey
2004 Photo