Tag Archives: Sports

My Vocation Story: Father Jason Smith, LC

If not for a hockey game, I wouldn’t be a Legionary of Christ priest today. As a good Minnesotan, I naturally considered hockey as divinely inspired, a sign of God’s love for us. But it’s what happened after the game that took me by surprise and lead me to know my priestly vocation.

During my first year at college, I often went to the rink at the University of Minnesota with my friends. After one such event —ending in a double overtime victory for the Golden Gophers, and a long celebration— I returned home in the wee hours of the morning, too tired to get out of bed until Sunday afternoon.

Stumbling upstairs for something to eat, I found my Dad sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper. Opening the fridge, I heard from over my shoulder: “Jason, did you go to Mass this morning?” I swallowed hard. I hadn’t. Quickly I tried to think up the perfect excuse. None came. Trying to hide behind the refrigerator door, I quipped “No, I didn’t go”. Without looking up Dad replied solemnly, “Go tomorrow then.”

It was my first Monday morning Mass ever. I was struck by how quiet the Church was, and how empty. I sat about halfway up and waited. Little by little people began to filter in. Then an attractive girl sat down a few pews behind me. How is it I find a girl like this now and not last Saturday evening? It must be God’s providence! I decided the sign of peace was the perfect time to introduce myself. When the moment came I turned around and, to my surprise, she passed me a note. I put it in my pocket pretending it happened all the time.
When I got home I opened the note. It read something like this: “It’s good to see someone young attending daily Mass. You must really love your faith! I want to let you know about a group of young people who pray and study scripture Wednesday evenings. If you would like to come, here is my number.” I decided I could find time in my packed schedule to go. That’s when it occurred to me I hadn’t seriously looked into my Catholic faith since Confirmation. What would I say? What would I pray? Where was my Rosary? I found it stuffed in the bottom dresser drawer along with a pamphlet of prayers.

As to what I would say, I went to my Dad’s study and checked out his library. It had books on music, history, politics —but the largest section was religion. I found one book called True Devotion to Mary. It seemed like a good place to start since it was short. The book changed my life. It explained how St. Louis de Montfort, a priest who tirelessly preached the Gospel and underwent extraordinary trials, spread devotion to Mary throughout France. It was my first encounter with the life of a saint. I marveled how someone could dedicate himself entirely to Christ, even to the point of heroism. It inspired me to truly seek God and sincerely live my faith.

A few months later I went on a retreat with the youth group. It was the first time the priesthood entered my mind. During the consecration, as I gazed at the elevated host, I thought to myself —in words that were my own, but which carried a remarkable resonance I will never forget: If there is one thing I should do, it’s that. It was the defining moment of my life and it came entirely by surprise. I knew I had to look into the priesthood, but I didn’t know how or where. To make a long story short, the same girl who gave me the note in church then gave me a brochure on the Legionaries of Christ. It had testimonies of the young men who entered the year before. I read it and was convinced. I called and asked for an application. A Legionary came to visit. I went to candidacy. I joined. My younger brother followed the next year.

Since then 25 years have passed by like a whirlwind. There is much more I could write, but the essential is simple: Christ crossed my path, called, and by His grace —definitely not my own strength— I found the courage to drop everything and follow him. I have never looked back. Our Lord’s presence and the needs of the Church have captivated my attention ever since.

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Originally posted by Catholic Convert. Reprinted with permission of Fr. Jason Smith LC.

God Does Care About Your Sports Team

Recently I saw a video making the rounds on Facebook. One of its claims was that God does not care about whether your sports team wins or loses.

This brought to mind an excellent article which I read on a Christian parenting website some months ago, and which I lamentably cannot locate. It was written by a father reflecting that he came to understand God’s love for us and every detail of our lives, by thinking about his own love for his children and their beloved possessions, in particular three ratty old stuffed toys.

Because he loves his children, he loves what they love. What they care about matters to him, not because of the intrinsic value of the objects, but because whatever concerns his beloved children, concerns him. Their happiness and fulfillment concerns him.

Certainly, as God is transcendent, He possesses an awesome majesty that goes far beyond the nitty-gritty of our mundane lives. In one sense, it really does not matter to Him if a sports team wins or loses. But at the same time, God is Love. He is the God Who made Himself vulnerable to us, sacrificing Himself in order to save us from eternal damnation and separation from Him. He cares profoundly about every detail of our lives. Jesus listened when His mother observed the lack of wine at the wedding in Cana, and He provided it in abundance, performing His first miracle and beginning His public ministry. Little things can have a profound impact which we cannot foresee.

“Let us not forget that Jesus asked his disciples to pay attention to details. The little detail that wine was running out at a party. The little detail that one sheep was missing. The little detail of noticing the widow who offered her two small coins. The little detail of having spare oil for the lamps, should the bridegroom delay. The little detail of asking the disciples how many loaves of bread they had. The little detail of having a fire burning and a fish cooking as he waited for the disciples at daybreak. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ A community that cherishes the little details of love, whose members care for one another and create an open and evangelizing environment, is a place where the risen Lord is present.” – Pope Francis via Gaudete et Exsultate ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #TheCatholicWoman // Photo by Annie Spratt

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When I was about 12 years old, I was upset when my mother gave away a little packet of sherbet powder from Disneyland, not because of the sherbet itself but because I had planned to use the tiny spade-shaped spoon inside for my Barbie dolls’ garden. A decade or so later, my brother returned from a trip to Disneyland with a packet of sherbet for me. I didn’t really appreciate the sherbet itself, but my heart was filled with joy because he had remembered that detail from my childhood. As the Chinese say, 爱屋及乌 (ài wū jí wū): if you love someone, you will love even the crow on the roof of his house.

The Church has given us the wonderful gift of patron saints for every possible profession and situation. God’s heavenly family cares about every member of the Church on Earth, and they are always available to us, encouraging us on our earthly pilgrimage (cf. Hebrews 12:1).

So, although God may not be as invested in the outcome of a sports match as you are, He definitely does care about it because He cares deeply for you, and He takes joy in sharing every aspect of your life, no matter how trivial it may seem to others. God, the ground of our being, sustains us in every moment, the magnificent and the mundane, and through each moment He grants us the outpouring of His sublime love.

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Image: PD-US

On St. Paul, Sports, and Sanctity

My high school batch at St. Paul College of Pasig, a Catholic school for girls here in the Philippines run by the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, just celebrated its homecoming.  We prepared for it for a year, a year that was spent reminiscing about high school memories and organizing a grand celebration dinner.

Among the fond memories of our high school days, a favorite is that of the Intramurals. The Intramural athletic competitions were, and still are, a big thing in our school. Rivalry between batches in volleyball, softball, track-and-field, swimming, and chess events was intense, although everyone played fair and clean most of the time. Even members of the non-athletic majority, such as I, were expected to take the Intramurals seriously as we formed part of their batches’ pep squads in the cheering competitions. The cheering competitions were the biggest events in the Intramurals. We practiced hard for hours amidst the demands of high school homework, and each batch tried to outdo each other in coming up with the most sophisticated and most artistic pep squad and cheer dance routines.

From the conversations and social media interactions among my batch mates, it is clear that the spirit of the Intramurals is still alive among us – especially since we could never forget that we were the champions of the cheering competition during our junior year.

It seems that sports competitions were a big thing, too, to our school’s patron saint. In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he used athletics as an example to illustrate the determination and sacrifice it takes for a Christian to reach the highest goal in life, which is union with God: “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.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 10:7).

In other words, St. Paul was cheering on the Christian community in Corinth, “Go! Fight! Win!”

I like the way St. Paul viewed the struggle for sanctity as a sport.

Often, we balk at the suggestion that we should aim to be saints.  We tend to think that sanctity is reserved for an elite few, and that the rest of us are doomed to either spiritual mediocrity or damnation. We want to be good but we find it hard.

St. Paul himself knew how hard it is to aim to be a saint. His writings reflect his awareness of his sinful past, and even post-conversion he wrote about “the thorn of the flesh” and having had to be delivered from his “body of death”.

Perhaps it is because he knew how discouraging the struggle against oneself can be, that he wrote about it in terms of sports to encourage his readers.  Sports are tough and demanding. They involve pain and hard training. But they are fun, too. They are all about a sense of accomplishment when one wins, hope for another second chance of victory when one loses, and camaraderie with one’s teammates in any case.

It is depressing to examine one’s conscience every night and discover that one has committed the same faults and sins as the day before.  But it is less discouraging to see one’s repeated falls as the reps that an athlete must do to master a technique.  The struggle for sanctity is not about loathing oneself for being a sinner and beating up oneself to become what one is not.  The struggle to be a saint is a spiritual sport.  One can win with training (developing virtue), proper nutrition and hydration (the Eucharist and the other sacraments), proper treatment of injuries (the sacrament of confession), following the advice of one’s coach (spiritual direction and the teachings of the Church), the right mental attitude (the theological and cardinal virtues), and teamwork (the support we get from each other as members of the Mystical Body of Christ).  Like any other sport, it is enjoyable; one fruit of training in this spiritual sport is joy.

St. Paul’s reference to a “perishable wreath” refers to the fact that during his time, victorious athletes got nothing more than crowns of leaves for all their efforts. Today’s athletes receive more durable prizes – metal or plastic trophies, or medals of gold, silver, or bronze – but just the same, these prizes serve no further purpose than to be displayed. Nevertheless, athletes invest a lot just to win these prizes. The prize for winning the spiritual sport of pursuing sanctity is priceless, and surely worth all the effort involved in attaining it.

When we are defeated in the struggle to be good, we can either give in to discouragement, or we can, like a true athlete, train for the next match and try again as many times as needed to win.  One day, we will be able to say, like Saint Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith “ (2 Timothy 4:7)

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Image: PD-US

God is my (Life) Coach

Heads up high… I gotta see your eyes.” And so David Belisle began a speech to his team that has been hailed as one of the most inspirational sports speeches ever. Part of its power comes from the fact that we can see the faces of the little boys he’s talking to. We see their pain and their disappointment and we hear Coach Belisle try to take that away and impress on them the pride he feels in that moment. It wasn’t a “rah rah guys we’re all winners!” speech. It was the truth, from a man they clearly admired, telling them to hold their heads high because they gave it their all.

Youth sports coaches are a special bunch. They dedicate their time and talents to help countless children develop lifelong skills. They teach and inspire and motivate and cajole. They often impart knowledge and abilities that parents aren’t able to. Typically, they’re volunteers and have to tolerate impassioned parents and groups of excited children. Herding cats is often a simpler task.

We’re a pretty involved sports family. And we’ve been blessed with marvelous coaches every step of the way. There’s no faster way to a mother’s heart than to be kind and dedicated to her children’s development. I’m always touched and impressed by how many men, in our cases, are out there, willing to help pass along their love of the game to the next generation. It’s not a small amount of time and effort they invest in my children; it’s a gift no amount of Buffalo Wild Wings gift certificates can repay.

I found myself particularly moved watching the video because my kids have had the coach who teared up when it was time to say goodbye and watch them move to the next level. And this video came on the heels of my daughter’s fourth consecutive soccer tournament championship this summer, a feat (if I may say so) unparalleled by any other team in the local clubs. Typically, my daughter’s coach is a laid-back man who is more interested in player development at this age than stats. But he definitely wanted his four tournament sweep. Instead of sitting observing the game, he was standing, possibly pacing just a little bit. Instead of high-fiving his players as they left the field, he patted them on the head, a move more paternal than anything. He wanted the victory, not for himself, but for those little nine-year-old girls who were trying so hard to please him.

It’s experiences like these, watching my own children play and listening to coaches speak to their “kids”, that cause me to liken our relationship with God to that of coach and player. At least when I talk about it with my kids. I love the image of God the Father, but it wasn’t until I had my own children that I could really understand how powerful that relationship is. For children, parents are those who care and nurture, while also disciplining and forming. Sure mom and dad love them, but they have to, that’s what parents do. But coaches… they’re different. See coaches, especially the volunteer ones, don’t NEED players in their lives. They invite them in so that they can share their love of the game. Coaches share their abilities and knowledge. They both give and expect from their players. They push and require hard work. They allow for the fun of the game but there are also the drills, which aren’t always as enjoyable. They teach their players to focus, to drown out the voices of the sidelines, to listen only to them. If the players do what they are instructed to, if they listen to the coach and work hard, they can reap rewards, enjoy success.

Coaches, good coaches, don’t do this for their own benefit but rather so their “kids” can achieve success and share in their love of the game. So too, God doesn’t need us, but He created us to delight and enjoy that which He has to offer us. He challenges and blesses us. We work to hear His voice through the din on the world and when we do, when we are able to follow His instructions, we can often see the benefit. God wants us to be happy; if we can follow His “game plan” we can enjoy over victory. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s one I find my children relate to. Maybe because the give and take of the sports world is faster than the rest of life. If they listen to their coach, use the skills developed through those annoying drills, they can make those all important, save-the-day plays. The kind that bring those huge smiles to their faces. They see the benefit in the hard work, the discipline and efforts. They relish the victory more than their coach does, and he knows it. It’s his gift to them.

Sometimes a good coach has to be tough on his players. But it’s for their own good. And his players can see that, maybe not in the moment, but they have enough trust in him to believe that he’s doing it for their sake. My kids trusted my judgment when I told them to trust and listen to their coach. And I hope that this trust carries over to their relationship with God. They might not always appreciate the parent/child relationship or understand the power of those bonds, at least in childhood. They might be better able to see how their coaches choose to help them and willingly do so, for their benefit, and that listening and following will bring long term rewards. And trust that God has even more care and wisdom to impart.

And so my children might just think of God as the Big Coach in the sky. Calling plays, directing them, seeing the big picture, working towards a satisfying end. Knowing that in the end it is all done for them, for their success, for their victories. And they are appreciated, even loved, not just for how they fit into the team, but for what they bring themselves. Hopefully this will help them believe and follow, even when the game plan isn’t clear. And to fight the good fight, even when the odds don’t look good. To never lose faith in their Coach, just as He always believes in them.

NCAA Basketball and Seeking Glory

By the time you are reading this, we will have crowned a new NCAA champion; since the final four has not yet happened while I write, that team could be Kentucky, Florida, Wisconsin, or Connecticut. Most of us are familiar with the events which will happen this weekend: Saturday night will have two games (one of which will probably be exciting and the other a little bit boring) and then Monday night’s game will have all of the pomp and circumstance due to a championship, where we will crown a winner.

Moments after the game, we will see a “One Shining Moment” montage – clearly the best part of the entire NCAA tournament – where we have an approximately 3 minute video showing us all of the memorable events from this year’s tournament. If you’re unfamiliar with these videos, go to this link and enjoy the one from 2006, which I picked because of Joakim Noah (but be careful, this is a potential wormhole of you being completely unproductive at work today as you watch every one of these which can be found on YouTube): One Shining Moment 2006.

Sorry, you’re going to have to give me a minute to gather my emotions after I watched that video.

Okay, we’re back now. I could spend all day reflecting with you on sports and the way that we can be drawn into a team of men or women and their collective effort to reach their sports’ pinnacle of success and what that feels like for them and for us. I could also talk all day about underdogs and narratives, the way that a cool story-line – say, for example, 2013’s Florida Gulf Coast team, or 2014’s Dayton team – can draw us in and make us root for a group of individuals we have no experience with or prior knowledge of. Maybe those thoughts can come later; for now, what I think we should focus on is the search for glory on earth and how that reflects God’s glory.

In sports, glory is all about finding that one shining moment, the one shining moment which might be the hoisting of a trophy, the defeat of an opponent, or the chance to, for at least a moment, rightfully claim to be the best at what you do. Whether that’s an Olympian standing on the platform receiving a medal, a 19 year old kid leading his team to an upset in the college basketball tournament, or a batter hitting a walk off home run and being greeted by his teammates at home plate, sports provide a very specific arena for those moments of glory.

At the risk of taking a turn with a cheesy and obvious segue, I feel that we must ask the question of what all this glory is for. I think it is too drastic to say that this glory is not worth noting because it is on this Earth. Each day we pray for the Lord’s Kingdom to be made manifest on this Earth, so things that happen here can be important and truly meaningful.

While the winning of the NCAA tournament will not get us to heaven (nor the perfect bracket, which is good because mine was extraordinarily bad), the chase for glory in that moment can tell us something. In basketball, as well as many other sports, a person cannot win a championship on their own. While it often takes a supreme individual effort to win (as Shabazz Napier is attempting with UConn this year), it is a matter of a team buying in together and realizing that they can only succeed if they do so as a unit.

This, my dear friends, is what is so important for our faith journey: our search for glory must not be for our own individual glory, but must be for something (more specifically, someOne) outside of ourselves.

Let me explain my thought process a little bit further. When a team wins a championship at a high level, they are interviewed by various members of the media. In this interview, they usually begin very quickly to thank people (in the Super Bowl, you can bet on who they will thank first, because of course you can), almost always including coaches and teammates, possibly after family, but often even before them.

Why is this? Some might say it’s a false humility, or it’s just what they’ve been told to do; I find my view to be a little bit more rewarding and a fair amount less cynical.

I think that athletes thank the other people who were a part of their journey to this point because they realize that their one shining moment was not simply made possible by their own effort, but by the working together of many people. This even applies in individual sports; in Golf, for example, whoever wins the Masters next weekend will certainly thank his swing coach, probably a trainer, maybe a sports psychologist, and certainly his family and friends who supported him.

In this moment of glory, the athlete’s mind is drawn outside of their specific accomplishments to the hard work and dedication of so many people which amounted in this glory; or, you could say, in this moment they realize that the glory is not their own.

And so, for us, the glory is not our own. We may have a shining moment on earth, and we may not. The deepest reality, though, is that there is a shining moment waiting for us in an eternal banquet of love and glory with our Heavenly Father. That knowledge should be enough to move us forward, always seeking His glory.

In moments of glory on earth, may we always remember that this earth is passing away and that eternity awaits, not discounting the glory we’ve been given, but always realizing that it is not our own. And, in those times when we feel that we didn’t receive the glory we deserved, may we look to our God and His Son, realizing that we were not made for this world, and that all the glory this world has to offer cannot compare with what He has in store for us.