Running the Race: Clergy Reflect on How Sports Helped Them Discern Their Vocations
BOOK PICK: Apostolic Athletes
11 PRIESTS AND BISHOPS REVEAL HOW SPORTS HELPED THEM FOLLOW CHRIST’S CALL
By Trent Beattie
Marian Press, 2018
158 pages, $14.95
To order: shopmercy.org or (800) 462 7426
BY FATHER JOSEPH FITZGERALD
Passion, balance and attention to the fundamentals, in many ways, are the elements in the formula for success in any endeavor and goal in life. Author Trent Beattie brings forth those values on the field and in the pews as he compiles the lives of 11 priests and bishops in Apostolic Athletes. His book reveals how the participation and involvement in athletics enhanced the lives of these men and helped them hear and respond to their vocation toward holiness and mission.
Those who are actively involved in their faith communities know the tension between the demands of youth athletics and the formation of young Christians — how quickly lacrosse, travel soccer and baseball, and even sessions with personal trainers, can take precedence over religious education, apostolic service projects and, more importantly, attending Mass.
Appeals to show the same or greater reverence to the soul as the body, more often than not, fall on deaf ears in our modern culture. Apostolic Athletes, however, reveals that the same foundational building blocks of passion, balance and attention to the fundamentals are what helped to define these champions of faith and sport, and the same can be said for all of us.
What immediately catches one’s attention in each of the stories is not only how the individuals featured in the book show an amazing passion to participate, but also a true desire to win. The competitive spirit remains in these servants of Christ, and for the next generation of teen and millennial disciples, that is really attractive. Whether the competitions focus on spear gun fishing by Father Karl Marsolle, the games of “knockout” and “Horse” by Father Thomas Haan, or the coaching insight that put together an eventual high-school state football championship team via Father (Coach) Richard Rocha, the stories are inspiring and make one want to read more.
The reader easily connects with the joy and “love of the game,” whatever one’s skill level.
As important as passion can be to lead us to success, there is a beautiful honesty in many of the stories, when balance is not present; when a competitor forgets to balance the desire to win with true sportsmanship and a desire to do God’s will, it can take one offtrack in life and in faith. It is here that the story of vocation emerges — when in some cases the roar of the crowd and self-glory overshadowed glorifying God. In a particular way, the stories of Fathers Chase Hilgenbrick and Joe Freedy reveal the importance of balance and perspective, that the success on the field of play is short-lived, and communion with Christ and the Church is eternal. Many readers will be able to identify with their successes and setbacks and the courageous response of all the priests featured in the book to bring the Lord back into focus.
The public life of an athlete and a priest is exposed most on “game day” — for a priest, this means Sunday morning — and especially in the way he celebrates the Eucharist. But what determines the outcome or success is based on preparation and returning to the fundamentals whether as a priest or a player. Every spring, major leaguers return to seemingly monotonous exercises they learned as small children: playing catch, taking ground balls, flip drills, batting practice and shagging high pops. These drills prepare them for the 162-game season, and if they fall into a slump, they simply return to those basic fundamentals. Bishop Thomas Paprocki and Bishop John Barres speak of their days as athletes: Bishop Paprocki was a hockey goalie, and Bishop Barres was a basketball point guard. Both bishops emphasize the importance of undertaking drills and exercises that made them more competitive. At times, doing chin-ups and communicating with teammates can all help to improve individual and team strengths. It is no different in the faith journey, which is built on the basics: quiet time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the Rosary, devotions, Scripture, spiritual reading and confession. These are the fundamental “Spring Training” building blocks we all can return to as missionary disciples in our quest for holiness.
Interestingly enough, while there are only 11 stories in Apostolic Athletes, Beattie indicates in the introduction that the “12th Man,” or disciple, may still out there, grappling with his vocation. As the vocation director in my own diocese, I hope this book can be made available to all middle- and high-school students, to open their hearts to the possibility. I see this book as an amazing tool, not only for young boys discerning, but a great resource to help all young disciples to see that we can be balanced in our love for sport and our love for the faith — and that by striking such a balance, we can all find clarity in our holiness and mission.
Father Joseph Fitzgerald is the director of vocations for the
Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, and a former Olympic athlete.