Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Prayers of Thanksgiving After Mass

St. Vincent de Paul 6:30 pm Mass
November 26, 2013

Good evening. Fr. Danny has asked that I give a reflection this evening. I thank you in advance for your patience in hearing this short reflection.

I wanted to take this moment, this occasion to speak to y’all about prayer, and in particular praying in thanksgiving after having received communion. Indeed, most if not all have just received the body and blood, soul and divinity of our dearly beloved Lord Jesus Christ. And if the celebration of the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith, as so beautifully articulated in the Catechism, then this moment after its reception is the arrival point. This moment is objectively the closest encounter we can have in this life with our Lord. We touch. We eat. We receive His very body and blood. We have climbed the mountain. We have partaken of the font. Here and now in the silence of your inner most self the LORD dwells. I find it hard now to even speak and disrupt this moment of intimacy with our LORD.

Yet what are we to do? What are we to say in this moment? How are we to respond to such a gift given to us in such a humble manner? The Church has long suggested the holy and venerable practice of saying prayers of thanksgiving after mass. Many saints have taken up this practice throughout the centuries, staying after mass if even for just a little while so as to abide with Him, so as to remain in Him. They stayed behind in order that they might give thanks to God the Father for having received the gift of love, the gift of Jesus His Son, the gift of God Himself.

Scripturally, we find see Jesus giving high praise to those who return to Him in thanksgiving. When He cured 10 lepers and only one returned in humble gratitude, He asked, “were there not 10 healed; where are the other 9?” Then turning to the one who returned He said, “go, your faith has saved you” (Cf. Lk 17:11-19). Jesus desires for us to remain with Him, if even for just a few moments. He desires us to allow Him in the most intimate of moments a chance to speak to our hearts, and for us to do the same. But what do we say? How do we give thanks?

When we know not how to pray, we Catholics turn to those good old memorized or written out prayers. These can be really helpful in teaching us how to pray. Much like learning math, before we can sit down and solve problems with algebra and beyond, we must first memorize multiplication tables, and division charts. Indeed, most of elementary math is just that, memorizing. And how such memorization comes in handy when trying to concentrate on much bigger and complex problems? Prayer is much the same way. After memorizing and practicing the basics, we are able to pray in a deeper way from our hearts. Fortunately, there are many such prayers of thanksgiving after mass. Some of the more famous are written by St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Ambrose, and St. Bonaventure, but there are many others. Even praying a simple “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” and “Glory be” can go a long way in allowing us to enter into this act of thanksgiving. 

If we do not have these readily available for whatever reason, we can also just speak to the Lord expressing our simple yet sincere gratitude for this gift of Himself in the Eucharist. In realms of this kind of more fluid prayer, I would suggest the logic that many of our mothers instilled in us when we wrote thank you letters growing up. Say thank you, but be specific. What have you received and why are you grateful? Then, as you would in the letter, tell God how you enjoy the gift, what you plan on using it for, and how you look forward to using it. In other words, you have received the gift of God’s infinite grace and mercy, how do you plan on living that out? How do you want the Lord to help you live it out? Here we can ask the Lord to bestow upon us specific virtues, or gifts. Don’t be afraid to ask. Go big! Ask for everything and anything, your deepest and most hidden desires. God wants you to ask Him.

This logic of the thank you letter is fundamentally the basis for those written prayers of thanksgiving I mentioned earlier. In one way or another they all have the same movement: giving thanks for the gift received, and asking for specific ways to enjoy or keep the gift.

With this in mind, I encourage you to take the time after mass today to make these prayers of thanksgiving in whatever way you can. Life is busy and calls us in every direction. But if even for only 30 seconds, enough to say an “Our Father,” come back to the LORD as did that one leper and give thanks to Him for the gift of salvation He has bestowed upon you in the Eucharist. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Household Structures of Virtue and Vice

“Household Structures of Virtue and Vice”
Part 2 of 4 “Living the Divine Life: Bringing Holiness into the Day-to-Day”
St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Nov. 24, 2013

Introduction: Good morning and welcome to the second of four sessions on “Living the Divine Life: Bringing Holiness into the Day-to-Day.” Now you need not worry if you were not at the first of these four sessions. They do not build upon each other. They do, however, stem from the same logic, that is, how the mundane or everyday aspects of our lives can become means of holiness. For if holiness is to be like God, then we are called to act in a divine way; we are called to live a divine life. How, then, do we live such a divine life?

We will try to answer this question by taking on our homes. The title of this session is “Household Structures of Virtue and Vice.” Or our beloved Sister Maria Fatima has dubbed this topic: “Catholic Fung Shway.” Needless to say there is more to it than that, but it will certainly include some aspect of furniture moving.

Scripture: As always we will begin by listening to God’s Word in the scriptures, for it is by receiving His Word and meditating on it that fruit is brought forth.

The Holy Spirit teaches us in the book of Proverbs this lesson about building a house: 

By wisdom is a house built, by understanding is it made firm; And by knowledge are its rooms filled with every precious and pleasing possession (24:3-4)

Here the Holy Spirit tells us that by wisdom, understanding, and knowledge is a house built, and not just any house, but the house of a just man, a righteous man, a man who knows the will of God and acts upon it. What, then, are these three aspects by which a house is built?

“Wisdom” in some commentary traditions is always interpreted to mean one’s knowledge or understanding of God; wisdom regards the ways of God. Think here of when Jesus rebuked Peter. He said: You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do (Mk 8:33). Jesus said this because Peter had just rejected the first prediction of the passion. Peter lacked the wisdom or an understanding of God’s ways of saving men. He was ignorant of God’s ways.   

“Understanding” here means something more like prudence. In fact, the Latin translation of the Greek and Hebrew is just that, prudentia. Prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues. Indeed, it is the most important for it influences every other virtue. Often times it is called the queen of the virtues. Prudence in short applies right reason to action (Cf. Summa Theologica II-II q. 47 art. 4).

“Knowledge” following this same commentary tradition concerns the ways of men, that is, science. Indeed, the Latin root of science, sciencia, means knowledge. In comparison with wisdom, knowledge could be seen as knowledge of God’s creation, how the world works.

Moreover, a house is built by Wisdomaccording to God’s ways, by understanding—acting in accord with right reason—, and by knowledge—in accord with physics. The question up for discussion today becomes: how do we build our homes in this way by wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. In so doing we will begin to see our homes as means of holiness, as part of living a divine life?

As you will notice, we are in small groups. My hope is that after a small introduction to each one of these three aspects, we can then turn and discuss amongst each other ways of implementing them into our homes, sharing our own wisdom, understanding, and knowledge with each other. For there are many families out there that already live in such a way. We can learn from them.
By Wisdom is a house built: We said that wisdom is the knowledge of the ways of God. How can our homes be built in accord with the ways of God? While this question touches all aspects of what we will discuss today, for nothing falls outside of our relationship with God, the most clear and practical answer to this question is how our homes are conducive to prayer. The fundamental center of our lives is our relationship with God the Father through His only begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. We are sons and daughters of God. This is our core identity. There is no other identity more real or true to who we are. Therefore, prayer is an absolute. We must communicate, talk, express desire, and listen to our Father in heaven. A house built or organized according to the ways of God (who Himself prayed!) hosts a room or space for prayer. Thus, how can our homes encourage, entice, call us back to this relationship in prayer? Is there a place in our homes that is conducive to prayer? Some dedicate their night stand, praying on their knees at the foot of their bed before they sleep. Some keep small shrines to our Mother Mary with statues and flowers. Some construct small altars in memorial of a loved one who has passed. Monks all have a kneeler and crucifix in their cell (or room).

I bring this up because the reality is that most of us do not live near the Church. More, most of us do not pass by the Church on our way to and fro. Indeed, a stop at the chapel during the day is at the very least a 20-30 minute time commitment (without the actual time praying) which is hard if not impossible to spare most days. If we begin creatively making space in our homes for individual and family prayer, we can take that 20-30 minutes and just pray. 

by understanding is it made firm: “Understanding” we said refers to the virtue of prudence, that is, the application of right reason. How can our homes be made firm by organizing them according to this virtue? Part of prudence is foresight: being able to see it coming. When it comes to moral and virtuous behavior, this means avoiding occasions of sin and maintaining good influences. The phrase “the near occasion of sin” is something I think good to be mindful of. This phrase describes our proximity to sin and thus our level of temptation to act in a sinful manner. While we might be able to resist temptation in any given moment, we are bound to fall. We are not perfect. Thus, it is prudent or foresighted to remove ourselves from such situations. In our homes, this means arranging them in such a way that overbearing temptations to sin cannot be found or enter in through the various doorways and digital portals, so to speak. In other words, we can organize them in such a way that sinful behavior is not encouraged or enticed by its proximity or easy access.

More specifically, TV and computer access. Where are they located? Are they communal access, meaning cannot be watched without others being around? Or are they private access, meaning I am able to enjoy them without interruption or another set of eyes? Do we have the proper monitors in place? Proximity can simply be a click away whether it be a mouse or remote. Thinking more of family life, we all wish we spent more time together, do we not? Quality family time is hard to come by these days. Could we create an environment of talking and sharing amongst family members by making the TV less prominent? Maybe the chairs in the room could face each other and induce conversation, rather than imitate movie theaters and allow us to avoid each other. Consider how we might invite our families away from these machines by keeping computers and TV in communal, rather than private areas. It is hard enough as it is to find time to talk to our kids.

And by knowledge are its rooms filled: We said that knowledge here referred to science and understanding of the world. Hopefully it is a given that our homes were build in this way! Hopefully they are not falling down! But are they filled with it? Are they filled with learning? Study is one of the most difficult aspects of family life. Something I am sure parents all wish their children did more of. Study habits as we all know require a good environment: quiet, comfortable but not too much, uninterrupted, etc…As many of us remember from college, libraries provide the perfect place. Yet, as with the Church these are few and far between these days and the time going and coming is enough to deter any slight inclination to go. How can we fill our rooms with knowledge? How can we create good environments for our kids to study and to learn?

Consider where the kids study now: bed, kitchen bar, living room, dining room table…Why do they study there? Sure they want to watch the TV, have company around, keep food nearby, etc…But they also study there because they each have one aspect of making a good place for study: a comfortable chair, firm and large place to write, open area to lay things out and to organize. Consider combining these good aspects into one. A desk with a comfortable chair in their room could go a long way to creating a quiet comfortable conducive place of study. Could we keep more books around and in visible places? How many times do we grab the remote and turn on the TV because it is there? Could a book have the same effect? Artwork on the walls, and it need not be expensive, can help as well invite our kids to think deeper thoughts. In this way, we can fill our rooms with every precious and pleasing possession, for knowledge and learning are our truest and most beautiful possessions. We are made in the image of God by the gift of the mind, the intellect. Teaching our kids to engage their minds on a daily basis invites them to a true life of virtue and holiness filling our rooms with beauty and splendor.

In conclusion, I mention all of this as I said in the beginning so as to create a home which is conducive to living a divine life. Prayer, recreation, and study as well as the innumerable other aspects of life at home are integral parts of a life of holiness. As the Psalmist says: “unless the LORD build the house, in vain do the builders labor. Unless the LORD guard the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil” (Ps 127:1). We all want to build up a family, a household of virtue and holiness. The LORD must, then, be a part of this or we do so in vain. We must begin ordering our lives, even the furniture, in accord with this goal, the one true goal in life: eternal happiness with our Father in heaven. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"The Beautiful Gate"

“Beautiful Gate” Reflection
St. Vincent de Paul Youth Group
SENT Retreat
November 16, 2013

Guided Meditation on Acts 3:1-11

1 Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, which is an hour of prayer,

It is late in the afternoon on a nice spring day. The warmest part of the day has just past, as the sun slowly slides down past midday towards the arid mountains in the west. Soon it will begin its final descent and the cool of the evening will set in. It is the ninth hour of prayer (none). As you make your way down that familiar hill, the Mt. of Olives, where the LORD taught you to pray the “our Father,” and where you spent those sleepy hours with Him in prayer that fate filled night in the garden of Gethsemane, a slight afternoon breeze picks up and waves through the olive branches. Heading east, you pass through the valley and begin to ascend the well worn white stone steps which lead up to the Temple. As you ascend, you see the tall stark white stonewall which holds up the citadel that is the temple mount. It’s brightness, the reflected sunlight beaming down upon you, causes your face to wrinkle and eyes to squint. You keep your head down: Lord, you pray, my eyes [are] not raised from the earth; my mind does not dwell on high things, on marvels that are beyond my reach (Ps 131:1). Now beginning to bump shoulders with Peter and John and the crowd of pilgrims and scholars of the law, you join them in the recitation of the psalms of ascent: Welcome sound, when I heard them saying, We will go into the Lord’s house! (Ps 122:1). Excitement begins to build. You heart begins to burn with longing for the LORD. You are going to the Temple, the one true place of worship for Israel, the Holy City Jerusalem, where the sacrifice can and will be offered.

It is then that you remember acutely the meaning of this hour, 3 O’clock. It is the hour of the evening sacrifice, a sacrifice you know is no longer valid; it no longer holds meaning. For it is the same hour our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ gave His last breath, the ultimate sacrifice, the true and spotless victim hung upon the Cross for the salvation of the world: Into your hands I commend my spirit (Cf. John). You notice Peter and John glancing at each other only briefly as if to remind each other of that moment and where they each were.

2 when a man was carried by who had been lame from birth. Every day he was put down at what is called the Beautiful Gate of the temple, so that he could beg alms from the temple visitors.

Shielding your eyes against the bright sunlight, you cannot but notice looking down at a man 40 years of age (Acts 4:22) although he looks much older. Poverty quickens the years of one’s age. He is a cripple. He cannot walk. His legs and feet are shriveled and contorted and encased in wrinkled dark skin from lack of use. He had been so from birth. You notice him being placed by several men at the mouth of the gate, the “Beautiful Gate,” as it is so-called, and quickly flash back to when such a man was lowered before Jesus through the roof (Cf. Mk 2:1-12; Lk 5:17-26). This gate, the “Beautiful Gate,” is in all its grandeur the entrance for those who have come to dispute and to teach the Law of the LORD. It is the entrance that your Master the LORD Jesus frequently used coming to preach the good news and to be questioned by the Pharisees. Indeed, your coming this day is none other than a continuation of what He always did with you, coming from the Mt. of Olives where He had prayed with you, and heading up through the “Beautiful Gate” to dispute with the Pharisees in the Temple. You consider how heavy His heart must have been, knowing that at that same hour one day He would ascend the Temple Mount to dispute for the last time. You remember His words: But to-day and to-morrow and the next day I must go on my journeys; there is no room for a prophet to meet his death, except at Jerusalem (Luke 3:33).

3 And he asked Peter and John, as he saw them on their way into the temple, if he might have alms from them.

Alms, you think to yourself, do I have alms to give? You have nothing. Following the councils of the Teacher Jesus Christ, you carry not such things. You are poor as He was, owning nothing beyond the clothes on your back: Do not provide gold or silver or copper to fill your purses, 10 nor a wallet for the journey, no second coat, no spare shoes or staff (Matt 10:9-10; Cf. Lk 9:3). He died with nothing, so you shall live with nothing. Peter smirks at you remembering the only way they ever were able to pay the Temple tax by taking two coins out of the mouth of a fish (Cf. Matt 17:23-26). Filled with the joy of being united with Christ you Savior in this moment, you watch Peter take the lead.

4 Peter fastened his eyes on him, as John did too, and said, Turn towards us;

Peter, as if possessed really, fixates on this crippled man lying at the gate and commands His attention. Whom did he see? Surely the sorry state of such a man moved Peter and John with compassion as was Jesus so many times. His stench alone was enough to stop a man in his tracks. You recall the story Jesus once told of Lazarus and the rich man (Cf. Lk 16:19ff). Surely they saw something of their Savior Jesus Christ who not so long ago slumped in a contorted manner poor and naked at the foot of the Cross. Yet, it was clear that Peter saw something more, something deeper beyond the flesh and bone of this poor man. He looked on the crippled man with the gaze of God: men see but outward appearances, [God] reads the heart (1Sam 16:7). And there in the heart of this man, Peter saw true poverty, true emptiness, for this heart knew not its LORD and Savior Jesus Christ. There gazing into this heart Peter was moved with real compassion. You recall those words of Christ in His final days: You have the poor among you always; I am not always among you (Matt 26:11; Cf. Mk 14:7). Peter knew this poverty. In this heart ignorant of Jesus Christ its Savior, you see along with Peter and John all those around you who lack Christ. There in the crippled man you see that complacent athlete who cares about nothing but winning and the party afterwards. There in the crippled man that beautiful girl who defines herself by the man and make-up she is currently using. There the guy who is too cool for school skipping class and participating in non school sponsored extra-curricular activities. There the class clown, who, always looking for a laugh, knows nothing of Church. There the pregnant girl who is too embraced to show herself around others and at Church. There the weird kid, who silently plays his games alone every spare chance he gets. There the socially awkward kid who feels welcome nowhere not even at youth group. There the little guy who is always picked on by others. There the quiet reader who instead of talking prefers keeping her nose in those romance novels. There mister revolution bucking the trend, even if that means the Church. There Mr. and Mrs. Successful who are too into themselves to be truly concerned about the Faith. There the control freak who cannot allow anyone but herself to lead, not even Christ. There the faith filled and inspired youth band leader, who, although speaking about Christ, knows not of His Church. There the strange other who, while clearly religious, is certainly confused about Christianity. There the spiritual guru who is moved by any and all godly thoughts but has not begun to follow Jesus the way, the truth, and the life. There the mad atheist who covers up his pain with anger and frustration at everyone including God. There the mother or father who does not come to mass. There the brother or sister who is going down the wrong path.

Peter and John knew this poverty of Christ. It is the poverty which caused Peter to deny His Savior three times. It is the poverty which drove Judas to take his own life. It is a poverty which gnaws at the soul and will eventually lead it to ruin. It is a poverty which begs not for money or fame or status or pleasure or success but mercy and redemption and salvation. It is a poverty which knows not for what it asks. It is a poverty that only a love of Christ can overcome. 

It is to this man that Peter then called out, turn toward us, look at us. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter commands the crippled man’s attention. His voice is that of God’s calling out to the impoverished man’s soul. Indeed, like the voice of John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, straighten out his paths (Mk 1:3), Peter calls the crippled man to conversion. The crippled and contorted body of this poor beggar is only a sign, an outward manifestation of the poverty and crooked paths within. He lacked Christ as did the rest of the world. Thus, Peter cries out that the poor cripple might turn towards this divine gaze of love fixated upon him and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness by belief in His Son our LORD Jesus Christ. Peter learned well from his Master who many times forgave the sins of those whom He healed. While the Savior came to begin a new creation, He knew that such a creation must begin with the heart, giving them a new heart, and breathing into them a new spirit; taking away from their breasts those stony hearts, and giving them human hearts instead (Cf. Ezek 36:26). It is for this conversion of heart that Peter cries out, turn toward us.

5 and he looked at them attentively, hoping that something would be given him.

This crippled man feeling the heat of this gaze of love, turns his shriveled and limp legs towards Peter hoping to receive what he always does, money. He sees the pity evoked by his state in Peters face. His begging has worked as so many times before. He need only reach out his shaking hand and say a kind word, please, and the gift shall be complete. He will eat tonight. He will be satisfied, if even for today only. 

6 Then Peter said to him, Silver and gold are not mine to give, I give thee what I can. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.

Peter, unwavered by the sympathy entreating beggar, strides toward the cripple closing the remaining space separating them. Then, standing tall and full of the Spirit of the LORD, he billows out in the name of Jesus Christ his own poverty and commands the cripple to rise. Yet this commandment of Peter is not simply to the body of the cripple, but reaches to the depths of his soul as well. In one cry, Peter proclaims to this poor soul his LORD and Savior Jesus Christ and to his body health. In one word, the Divine Word, Peter reigns in the kingdom of God, calling for the salvation of a soul and the resurrection of its body: the blind see, and the lame walk, how the lepers are made clean, and the deaf hear, how the dead are raised to life, and the poor have the gospel preached to them (Matt 11:5; Cf. Lk 7:22).

7 So, taking him by his right hand, he lifted him up; and with that, strength came to his feet and ankles;8 he sprang up, and began walking, and went into the temple with them, walking, and leaping, and giving praise to God.

Still in haste, Peter follows his word with an act of love, reaching down with his strong right arm and grasping him so as to lift the cripple up off the ground with force. Full of compassion and love for this poor cripple, he stoops down, he humbles himself even such as to touch the man and in so doing bring him life. You see Peter grasp with utter strength and gentleness the forearm of the man and bring him up with the greatest of ease. You watch while, like a wobbly new born calf, the man finds strength in the once contorted and shriveled ankles and feet, and begins to rejoice with exultation. He walks. He jumps. He sings a hymn of praise to our God: the LORD’s strong right arm has saved me (Cf. Ps 60:7). He kicks. He twirls extending his new limbs and joints to their limits. Yet the jubilation without is far exceeded by the gladness within, for his soul which now knows the love of the LORD Jesus Christ has lifted a burden of sin which weighed down and crippled him far beyond that of his legs. For if the oppressing weight of his malformed limbs kept him earthbound, the guilt of generational sin and impending death formed a dark cloud of sadness and depression which would have never left. Yet, this captive was now set free; free from all that could harm him; free from the hands of his enemies; free to worship the LORD without fear holy and righteous in His sight all the days of his life (Cf. Lk 1:73-75).

Peter and John look to give thanks to the LORD for having been found worthy to work such wonders and proceed to the Temple. You and the New Man follow.

9 All the people, as they saw him walking and praising God, 10 recognized him for the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, and were full of wonder and bewilderment at what had befallen him. 11 And he would not let go of Peter and John, so that all the crowd gathered about them in what is called Solomon’s Porch, beside themselves with wonder.

As they passed through that massive gate, the “Beautiful Gate,” the now large crowd surrounding them began to cause a stir, for they recognized this man whom they saw and dealt with everyday at the entrance to the Temple. “Could this be the man…?” “Isn’t that the cripple from…” “What’s happened to the poor beggar?” “Was this the work of a prophet?” “or a healer?” “What are those two up to now?” “Aren’t they two of those that were with Jesus?” The crowds marveled and wondered not believing what they had just witnessed or were now seeing before them. They pestered and surrounded Peter and John separating them from you and the crippled man, who continued his jubilant jaunt through the portico area. Half in amazement, half incredulous at what they had done, they began to question Peter and John. And to this they testified of the works of the LORD.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Living the Divine Life: Sports

Faith Formation Lecture Series
“Living the Divine Life: Bringing Holiness into the Day-to-Day”
Session I: Sports
November 3rd, 2013
St. Vincent de Paul Parish

This series of lectures is titled “Living the Divine Life: Bringing Holiness into the Day-to-Day.” And while somewhat self-evident, I want to share with you briefly the logic behind these four talks. We as God’s people, His children are called to be holy, to be divine. As St. Peter reminds us in the scriptures: “But as He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am Holy’” (1Pet 1:15-16). Our activities, therefore, must be a means of Holiness; there must be a way to conduct ourselves as God does Himself, to be Divine. Indeed, many of the various activities in which we participate are good in themselves. How, then, can we make them holy; how can we make them Divine?

“Sports” is the topic for today. I thought this topic pertinent since fall is such a sports filled time for our families: football, volleyball, basketball, just to name a few. The first thing I would like to do is to take an account of the number of hours a week we as a family spend involved in sports: playing, watching, talking, etc…So I would like you to take in your hands now the paper and pen you took when you came in and count these hours per week. Now, this is not simply as a family, but each member. How many hours a week does each member of the family spend playing, watching, and talking about sports, even sport themed video games? Count those up.

Now, the idea is to get a grasp of just how much this activity permeates our lives. Does anyone feel like sharing? I know I got 63 hrs a week when I counted up my own family, which changes greatly depending on the season. Certain weeks that number might have doubled, if you count a tournament weekend.

The question, then, becomes: how can those hours be hours consecrated to God; hours in which I become more like Him; hours of Divine activity?

We will approach the answer to this question by viewing Sports in two ways: 1) sports as an analogy of Faith—in this way sports are a source of contemplation by which we can understand our relationship with Christ—and 2) sports as a means of holiness—in this way sports forms a school of virtue in which we can grow more in conformity with Christ.

Let us take up the first, sports as an analogy of faith. This aspect of sports comes from the fact that St. Paul makes an analogy in two of his letters (1Cor and 1&2Tim) comparing the life of faith to that of a sport, specifically the Olympic athletes. Each reference St. Paul makes points out a different aspect of how sports can help us understand our lives of faith.

There are two aspects to St. Paul’s analogy that I would like to point out. The first: something is at stake; there is a winner and a looser; there is a prize to win. Let us listen to St. Paul himself:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” (1Cor 9:24)

Now the beginning of an analogy is its limit. Thus there must not be a looser in the race for salvation; we can all win this race. Yet, there is a real possibility, however, of losing the race, that is, not finishing the race. This is an important aspect of our faith to remember. And St. Paul wishes us to recall this truth with the image of sports in mind. Not to scare us, but to remind us of the seriousness of the spiritual life and keep us on “track.” We are competing in a true fight, a spiritual battle, with an advocate, the Holy Spirit, and an enemy, Satan. Our team, the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, will win. Christ has already won it for us: “The gates of hell will not prevail against her.” But we must stay in communion. We must remain in Him, and so keep up in this race so as to make St. Paul’s words our own: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

We see this analogy of the race present in our tradition. The Bishop’s Miter has two tassels on it, two bands stemming from the cap. These two bands represent the loose bands of a tied head band which the runners wore during their race. Indeed, the bishop is running the race. He like St. Paul is leading us in the race. Can we keep up?

The direct consequence of this competition for salvation—the second aspect of St. Paul’s analogy—is that we are racing for a prize, a crown of glory, the heavenly vision. We are racing for salvation. For the early Christians this often meant martyrdom, which due to its physical nature was easily likened to an athlete. Thus the wreath or crown of victory, of which St. Paul speak in his letter to Timothy, is that of martyrdom.

“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1Cor 9:25)

“I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2Tim 4:6-8)

St. Steven's Martyrdom
The wreath has many aspects to its symbolism. It can be a wreath as on a bride, a crown of jewels for the wedding feast. Or it can be this olive branch wrapped around the head of the victor, the crown of glory, the crown of martyrdom. As we live our lives do we keep this in mind that the reason we do anything is to go to heaven? Do we strive after that imperishable wreath? Do we hunger for the victory of Christ in our own lives? Is our own salvation the end to which we toil and strive, having faith and hope in Jesus our Savior? Let us set our eyes to that finish line and race towards that finish line that we might be crowned with that crown of righteousness. 

We see this in our tradition in the paintings of saints, particularly martyrs. They are depicted with a crown of olive branches. 

The second aspect of participating in this race is discipline. All of St. Paul’s citations speak of a regiment, or required set of rules that one must follow in order to run this race, and win the crown of glory.

Paul says to the Corinthians that “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things….Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1Cor 9:25-27)

To Timothy: “Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1Tim 4:7-8).

Continuing: “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (1Tim 2:5).

Every athlete knows that in order to be great, one must sacrifice. There are rules to the game which extend past simply the whistle of the referee. There is a requisite discipline that one must take on: change in diet, exercise, schedule, sleep, social time. Athletes give up a lot to do what they do. And most everyone accepts this reality. The spiritual life, the race for heaven, is no different. There are rules which oblige us: the precepts of the Church, the 10 Commandments, etc…And there are certain disciplines we take on, most well known during lent: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving  These are our weights, work outs, diets, routines, our spiritual exercises (as St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits calls them). In this way we work out our body and soul conforming it ever more to that of Christ such that as we go through the test of life, that race, we might run so as to win.

Again, we see this in our tradition by looking at the opening prayer of the first Sunday of lent:

Almighty God, grant us
that, by means of the annual exercises of the forty-day mystery, we may both make progress in understanding the mystery of Christ and by worthy conduct of life imitate its consequences.

Having gone through in a cursory fashion sports as analogy of faith thereby setting before us the ideal—how we are to see sports in the light of Christ—let us set out now to speak of the practical and concrete ways that sports can be a means of holiness. Another way of say this might be, how can the actual playing of sports be a way of growing closer to Christ.

I would like to start with a quote from Blessed Pope JohnPaul II:

"The correct practice of sport must be accompanied by practicing the virtues of temperance and sacrifice; frequently it also requires a good team spirit, respectful attitudes, the appreciation of the qualities of others, honesty in the game and humility to recognize one's own limitations. In short, sports, especially in less competitive forms, foster festive celebration and friendly coexistence. While playing sports, Christians also find help in developing the cardinal virtues—fortitude, temperance, prudence and justice."[1]

From this I take the subtitle of sports as a school of virtue,” for it is by the virtues, good habits, that we are conformed to Christ and become holy as He is holy. The virtues in other words are how we live a divine life. How we live like God.

The Virtues as some of you may already know are: prudence, temperance, fortitude (courage), and justice.

Justice: rendering to another what is due. How do sports help us develop the virtue of justice? Well as we have already mentioned in the previous section, sports require rules both of the game and of life. Breaking or transgressing these rules has serious consequences, penalties, which set us back, making the game more difficult. More generally, there is our responsibility towards the team, our role. This carries with it a demand of respect both for us and for our fellow teammates and opponents. Rules, responsibilities, and mutual respect during a contest are very concrete ways for us to develop a habit of justice. Here actions such as cheating, unsportsmanlike like conduct, and individual efforts are actions of injustice taking from our teammates and opponents what is due them in the course of the game. Might I suggest that these are not simple infractions on the playing field, but actual sins. Yes, our actions on the playing field are meritorious or hindering our race towards heaven. If we think our attitudes and dispositions on the playing field are different or disconnected with those upon the playing field of life, we are misguided. Certainly, sports may provide us the occasion to blow off our top more than usual because of the intensity, mitigating culpability. But such a habit will flow over into our actions outside and diminish our life of holiness. The good news is that if we approach sports as an opportunity to grow in virtue, then these games and contests can be a time to learn these virtues and set ourselves up for good actions in life and further ourselves in that race for the future glory.  

Temperance: everything in moderation. How do sports provide us an opportunity to exercise the virtue of temperance? This is easy enough I think. As mentioned already the discipline of sports often requires athletes to change their diet and schedule: fasting before a wrestling match to get one’s weight down; drinking nasty shakes full of protein to bulk up; just being in cross country; hydrating, ice baths, you name it. All of this suffering teaches us temperance, and even more sacrifice. Blessed JohnPaul II says that in this way sports teach us “the logic of life”: “without sacrifices, important results are not obtained or even genuine satisfaction.” This “logic of life” will set us up well for “a logic of love.”

This virtue is invaluable when it comes to forming future mothers and fathers, priests and religious. Parents, you know the sacrifice required of you day and night for your kids. Consider how this can be instilled in our own children by taking these opportunities sports affords us to build this virtue. Kids, consider how much Christ sacrifice and gave up out of love for us, and how sports could be the place where we learn this virtue. Again, think of lent: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving.

Yet there is more in this virtue. Consider the number of souls that would fly from purgatory if you began offering up your sufferings in practice for them. Consider the grace given to fuel the various missions around the world. Or the sanctity of our communities. Consider that when pulling out to make a lead block, you are laying your life down for a friend. Or when diving on a ball be it a basketball or baseball, that you are doing it for Christ. In this way, we will never lose no matter what the score board says.

Courage: overcoming fear in action. I dare say that this is probably the most clear of all the virtues. Anyone who at anytime has played sports knows the fear of a high pressure situation. And it need not even be the closing seconds of a period or quarter. The crowd, expectation, teammates, opponents, time, scores, pride, all of this on the line. When that ball comes, the fear of failure can be paralyzing. Yet, through practice which instills in us habits precisely for these situations we can prepare ourselves to handle this fear with courage and overcome it. Learning this virtue in sports is an imperative in order to be successful. The same is true for life, and even more so for the spiritual life. The fear of saying “no” to immoral behavior (drugs, sex, and rock and roll stuff), the fear of overcoming peer pressure, test anxiety, the fear of praying before meals in public, of speaking out for truth and life in the public square, all of these can be learned on the field of play, if we approach it that way.

Parents, consider the courage it took to say yes to a child that may have not been expected or “affordable”. Or the courage to make that move, change jobs, and leave behind a bad influence. Could your own child now learn that same courage during a game of football? Kids, consider the scary reality of entering into a lifelong commitment called marriage or religious life, or the intimidating world of college and jobs. You can learn to overcome this fear in your sporting, if you approach it that way.

Lastly, Prudence: the ability to discern with right reason and judgment. Prudence is the queen of all virtue since in some regard she is included in all other acts of virtue. And is this not true in sports. Every act of courage in a last minute play or high intensity moment in a game includes a very wise and prudent decision on how to execute that play. Every act of temperance refusing a meal or forcing another, getting enough rest or overcoming the heavy eyelids, all of these require prudence in knowing when it is time to do which. Lastly every act of justice risking a big play that might result in a foul, stepping out of somebody’s role for a big play, or overcoming ragging emotions to shake someone’s hand at the end of a hard game, all require a good amount of prudence to see clearly what is right. This virtue will prove most useful if learned well in the context of sports. Life decisions, finances, job opportunities, moves, you name it. Prudence is our daily bread when it comes to virtuous acts. And is sorely missing in so many of our families and communities. 

[1] 25th World Day of Tourism
"Sports and Culture:Two Vital Forces for
Mutual Understanding, Culture and Development among Countries."
September 27, 2004