Blog post published on focus.org/blog looking at the use of the body in athletes and pornography:
September 14, 2012
Blog post published on focus.org/blog looking at the use of the body in athletes and pornography:
August 21, 2012
By Br. Donald Rank
While I was a Varsity Catholic missionary I remember hearing Curtis Martin say something along the lines of, "Go hard in your faith and then see who's next to you." He was speaking of finding a partner in the vocation to marriage, but this is what happened to me for the vocation to religious life. I served for two years in Varsity Catholic growing in faith and service to those I could identify with; athletes. Within the second year I noticed a strong desire welling up in me to find and live in the calling and purpose God has for me. I soon met the Capuchin Franciscans, went on a few discernment retreats, and fell more deeply in love with Christ through the Franciscan way of life. I felt a surge of God's encouragement to enter into the community.
Through the Capuchin Novitiate, a year-long period of more contemplative prayer, I came to experience God's love and mercy more personally. I had to retrace that growing up as an athlete and high achiever, I tend toward perfectionism. God has helped me to see that this can be a gift that points me to Him or a stumbling block that can lead me to "false gods". I wrestled with the temptation to put the religious life itself and Saint Francis of Assisi, the Order's founder, on the highest pedestal. When I leaned in that direction I noticed that my prayer and relationships with others suffered. That was a wake up call to realize that Saint Francis would not want that. He desired that his brothers keep their focus on Jesus, who is true perfection.
I am thankful for my experience as a Varsity Catholic missionary. In hindsight I see that it prepared me well for religious life, especially in the areas of community, structured prayer, and service to others.
August 21, 2012
From Virginia Tech's "Enter Sandman" to Nebraska's Tunnel Walk, the onset of a sporting event can be riddled with extreme intensity. The excitement, the anxiety, the tension – sports can have a complete domination of our emotional and psychological well-being.
What is it that forces us to give complete submission to sports? How is it that this influence then creates a deep and penetrating bond between a city, a state, or a country? I remember watching the US men's soccer team playing in the World Cup and, upon a great play, turning and slapping hands with some random guy standing next to me. Just a few weeks ago, while in St. Louis, I barked out a "Go Big Red" to some guy wearing a Nebraska football shirt...and I know I am not unique in this experience of blissful utopia surrounding sports.
Perhaps I have an answer.
More than being united in a common goal (cheering for victory), watching sports elevates us to something more. It takes us back to a place in our ontological history when there was no toil and hardship associated with work. Back in the garden of Eden where Adam and Eve were not yet experiencing the result of their sin – they lived the experience of play – activity done from an intrinsic motivation where the outcome really doesn't affect our life. We won't lose our job or go hungry (most of us anyways) if our team loses.
So maybe, just maybe, a sporting event unites us, because it is a chance for all of us to experience life before the fall where stress, pressure and toil had not yet been known to man. Therefore, sports can bring us to an experience of life that is profound and enriching...we just can't forget to reflect on it.
July 26, 2012
On ESPN today, one headline read "Robbing the Cradle". Quite the attention grabber. The article and video are reacting to the University of Washington football program getting a verbal commitment from an 8th grader with LSU following suit shortly after.
Steven Smith and Skip Bayless are both opposed to the idea. "It is all about business," and "they are too young to make that decision" are some of the comments.
An interesting question – are they too young? Are these football programs taking advantage of youth? Is this exploitation?
This question is probably riddled with opinions, so let's try to be objective. What is the "telos" or the end objective of collegiate athletics? If we can figure this out, then things will be so much easier. Let's start by looking at the above mentioned athletic departments.
1. UW: I was able to find the University of Washington Athletic Department Manifesto on their annual report. It is short, so I will include it here. "Washington Athletics inspires champions on the field and in the classroom. Like the region and world-class university we represent, we choose to lead by example. We are committed to the belief that anything is possible. In sport and in life, who we are is why we win. It is the Washington way." I like it. Vague, but inspiring. Doesn't give a lot of clarity into the end goal, but we can try to infer some things. "Inspiring champions" and "who we are is why we win" is perhaps referring to the significance of helping men and women become the best they can be, reaching their full potential. That has merit, and that seems to mean the formation of the individual is the reason for athletics at UW.
2. LSU: I was able to find an actual Mission Statement fairly easily for LSU Athletics on their website. It is long, so I will just include the first and most pertinent part. "LSU Department of Athletics seeks to inspire academic and athletic excellence in student-athletes by challenging them to achieve the highest level of intellectual and personal development. LSU seeks to create an environment conducive to the development of student-athletes with strong core values and personal integrity that will contribute to success throughout their lives and to provide the resources necessary to pursue championships, to graduate, and to become productive citizens." Sounds like the mission of LSU athletics is to develop these men and women, again, to hit their max potential.
It should be no surprise (should it?) that a department of a university has as their primary goal to develop young men and women to reach their potential, personally, intellectually, and then athletically. Education is part of the overall formation in a young person's development. Sport is meant to help in that achievement – to form young men and women. It is meant to help us learn to navigate the lessons of life, the ups and downs. Sport is a microcosm of life. It is a tool to be used – a training ground for life. Therefore, it is very fitting that universities (and schools of all levels) have sports, since their task is in formation and development.
So the "telos" of sports within the education system is to form men and women to live life well (professional sports, while hopefully still formative, seems to have entertainment as its telos.)
Then why are college football programs pursuing 8th graders? It sure seems to be for reasons other than what their manifesto and mission statement proclaim.
July 10, 2012
By Tyler Rosser, Varsity Catholic staff missionary and FOCUS Team Director at Loras College
Lying in bed the afternoon after a lively night spent in the emergency room (I had eaten some bad chicken from the local grocery store) I decided to rent the documentary Pelota off of iTunes. The film is centered on a young couple that had recently graduated from college and was unsuccessfully trying to find their calling in life. Rather than dwell on their misgivings, they decide to fundraise enough money to travel the globe playing pick-up soccer games with persons of every country they visit.
They had both played soccer in college, and the goal of this experiment was to show how, amidst all of the different racial, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds of the individuals with whom they played, the game of soccer could unite people under the friendly guise of brotherhood and community. The test worked – so much that in fact even Muslims and Jews could peacefully play a scrimmage against one another on a public court in the middle of Jerusalem!
As good as secular brotherhood and community are, how much more could a person's life be touched through soccer if Christ was brought into the equation? I know a priest from Nigeria who carries a soccer ball everywhere he goes in case a pick-up game occurs in the streets of the city in which he serves: Montgomery, Alabama. Being from there myself, I don't remember a time when a game took place at any one of the hundreds of hunting equipment stores in the city, but I appreciate his sentiment. He believes that the entire world can be reached for Christ through these small-sided competitions.
I played soccer in college, and five years after graduation it is safe to say that my glory days cannot even be seen in the rear view mirror. Nevertheless, each year at FOCUS New Staff Training at the University of Illinois, I relish the opportunity to play on weekends with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ on the campus intramural fields. Just imagine thirty young, dynamic, and orthodox people who are in love with Christ invading two soccer fields on a Saturday afternoon. It is bound to turn some heads.
Yesterday was a slow day, however. Still, about eight missionaries made the half-mile long trek to see if we could start a pick-up game with another group. We did. We mixed up the teams with eleven locals and played for over two hours. We laughed and cried together (actually I was the only one who cried because I scraped my shin up pretty bad) and by the end of those two hours we had made eleven new friends. While playing a pick-up soccer game is not the easiest place to start a conversation about Christ, I hope that they saw a difference in my fellow missionaries and me by the way we played with virtue and a constant smile on our faces.
In several minutes, I am going to put on my soccer duds and head on out to the field to see if my fellow missionaries and I can make some more friends. My goal is to share lovingly Christ in my actions, and, if the opportunity arises, using words with the persons with whom we play. Sharing Christ with others while playing soccer could mean not arguing when the referee makes a seemingly poor decision, not using language when one makes a mistake, or even simply encouraging and affirming members of the opposite team. Maybe we will meet the eleven men we saw playing yesterday again and begin to develop more of a friendship with them. Eventually, those friendships may lend themselves to verbally sharing the Good News of Christ.
I believe that Christ is smiling when he sees people playing the beautiful game together, irrespective of their differences. He is the great Unifier, but soccer is one of many tools He uses to do His thing.
Food for Thought:
For more information on how to share the Gospel with words, check out this article.
June 21, 2012
by Kristin Fimian, Varsity Catholic Missionary and former collegiate athlete.
“The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness. — Pope Benedict XVI”
Every now and again we hear some profound words that resonate in our hearts or, more radically, that turn our world upside down. Maybe it was some advice from a friend or a line from Mass that we’ve heard a thousand times and never really thought about or, in this case, a short and seemingly innocuous quote from the current Pope. I stumbled upon these words by Pope Benedict about a week ago, and after using them in my testimony, my mission-support page, my facebook status, and about 12 conversations, it’s pretty clear that they have stuck with me. We were made for greatness.
As a collegiate-level swimmer, and like all athletes, greatness is associated with one word: winning. To be great, we need to get first place, to out-touch the swimmer next to us or out-score the other team. Our coaches instilled in us that we were made to play our sport, to be great at it, and to win. But Pope Benedict chose his words carefully. He didn’t say that we were made for winning, or that the world offers us mediocrity. It offers us comfort. A sort of ease, consolation, soothing, and reassurance that makes no demands and calls for no sacrifice.
Don’t get me wrong, in the world of athletics this quote is still entirely relevant. We can choose to settle in our plateau or succumb to an injury. We can give our minimum effort and never push past that feeling in practice when the lactic acid gets to your stomach and you feel like you just drank a household-cleaning product … anyone? Or, we can make the sacrifices and strive to be our strongest, our fastest, our greatest.
In a similar way, the world offers us these options. The culture of comfort breeds immorality and relativism, where we find community in our drinking buddies, admiration in one-night stands, approval in the amount of our paychecks, and reassurance in conversations where our friends finally stop talking and we get to start. But this life, centered only on the self, leads to nothing less than an absolute and irrevocable despair. Despair: desolation, anguish, the ultimate cause of hopelessness. Could there be a worse emotion; could there be a word more far from greatness? The world offers you a counterfeit happiness.
Here at New Staff Training (a 5-week session to prepare me for my work as a missionary), what I’ve learned is that to live in greatness means to live in Christ, and it requires constant conversion. But we have a choice, one that no one can make for us. When the world leaves us in despair we need only remember that Christ offers us authentic joy. We no longer need to define ourselves as an athlete of the sport we play, our highest accolade, or the level of our success. We are loved by Love itself. And all we need to do is take up our cross and follow Him.