Spirit and Sports

It’s a proven fact that I would estimate 55% of NFL players, upon scoring a touchdown, will give some acknowledgment to God.

You get the fingers pointed skyward, the knee and a moment of stillness, the chest tap, and so on.  I think I’ve seen the “grenade launch” where the players forgot to throw the grenade, so I suppose that one was attributed to God.  They’re lucky the whole stadium didn’t blow up.

Anyway, I have no problem with this, and sometimes find it touching.  I realize these players, typically, won’t represent the depth of religious devotion that many religious, parents, and children demonstrate every day.

Yet, like life, the most impressive displays of religious devotion come from the valley.  (Here, by “impressive,” I mean something that makes and/or leaves an impression).

Growing up, I admired a friend of mine, Dave, who played every game as hard as he could.  He simply would never give up, and fought tooth and nail to stay in every contest.  (I’m not kidding about the nails.  I was scratched on several occasions).  His ferocity was a contrast to my more even demeanor, and I frequently wondered if I was lacking in spirit.

While at St. Joseph Seminary, I had the marvelous opportunity to participate in a few of the annual basketball tournaments at Mundelein Seminary.  It was a great opportunity to meet men considering the priesthood from all over the Midwest, and for strong competition.

Our team was never a favorite.  Nevertheless, we made some impressive stands, and for some reason these were occasions when I found my spirit tested.

Two years in a row, each time following our elimination loss, I made my way to the basement locker room, where I could be alone.  Sitting on an old wooden bench with my head bowed, the sweat dripped from my face in slow, thoughtful drops.  Waves of heat and the sound of my breathing filled the room.  If you listened carefully, you could hear a slight shudder as I took my exhausted limbs and my stomach that seemed to be eating itself and the pulse that I could feel and hear in my neck and head and offered it all to God.  This was among the very feeble offerings in the history of our faith, but for me it was the undeniable sign of an unrelenting spirit.

Out of this fundamental experience, I have found ways to let that spirit spur me on to good works (or at least better works than I used to be doing) and greater love (or at least less-worse love than I formerly demonstrated).  I can’t knock those NFL players because I’ve seen that it’s important to acknowledge God after every contest of the spirit, win or lose.

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