Pope Francis to coaches: Be an example of integrity

Pope Francis to coaches: Be an example of integrity

A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.
– Ara Parasheghian

Coaches train young people for more than sports, they train them for life. Pope Francis recognized the great influence of coaches recently when he sent a personal message to a seminar in Rome on “Coaches: Educating People.”

“The presence of a good coach-educator”, the Holy Father observed, “is shown to be providential especially during the years of adolescence and early youth, when the personality is developing and in search of role models to refer to and identify with.” Coaches spend much more time with students than other teachers and have great influence on the young people whom they are mentoring.

Indeed it might be said that coaches’ influence on young people is exceeded only by that of parents and family and should always have the goal of building on family values.

“How important it is, then”, the Pope continued, “that a coach be an example of integrity, coherence, good judgement, impartiality, and also joy, patience, and the capacity for appreciation and benevolence towards all, and especially the most disadvantaged!”.

Sports can never be just about winning but about “putting in perspective both our defeats and our victories. … and how important it is for [coaches] to be an example of faith…. with human and spiritual balance,” Pope Francis added, concluding, “ensuring that [sport] does not become distorted under the pressure of many interests, especially those of an economic nature, which are increasingly evident nowadays”.

I am reminded of a verse from the Sportsman’s Prayer: “If I should win, let it be by the code with my faith and my honor held high; and if I should lose, let me stand by the road, and cheer as the winners go by.”

Good sportsmanship is more than a code for playing; it is a code for living.

Called, consecrated, sent

Called, consecrated, sent

“Called, consecrated,sent.” With these simple yet profound words Saint John Paul II described the stepping stones to the Sacramental Priesthood.

Paul C. Iverson and Ernest Russell Mower received such a call and through years of preparation and discernment have had their calls ratified.

On May 30, 2015, I will have the privilege of consecrating Deacons Iverson and Mower to the priesthood of Jesus Christ and his Church through the laying on of hands and the power of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Then they will be sent forth to serve, to preach, to minister the sacraments to the people of God in the name of Jesus. Paul Iverson, a son of St. Anthony Parish In Wylie, will be sent to serve St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Frisco. Russ Mower a son of St. Jude Parish in Allen, will be sent to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Plano.

It is said that the greatest gift is the gift of self. Paul and Russ have given themselves to the service of God, but their gifts of themselves is possible only because of the gifts of others; parents, teachers, family, pastors and the myriad of those who have shaped their lives. We thank and bless them all for their gifts that have made this happy event possible.

I pray theses two young men will be blessed with many years of ministry in the Lord’s vineyard.


Martyrs: the greatest witnesses

I wonder why it is so difficult for us here in the United States to connect with our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world who are suffering persecution and even martyrdom?

Recently a bishop in Kenya asked why that there was so little international response to the fact that 147 students were singled out to be murdered in a terrorist raid on a university because they were Christians. He compared it to the Charlie Hebdo terrorist killing in France that generated so much international outrage, and wondered why the Hebdo incident had generated such international outrage in Europe and North America while there was so little over the slaying of the Kenyan Christian students.

In fact here in our country we are more concerned with internecine squabbles than the fact that worldwide Christians, Catholics and Protestants, are dying for their faith in greater numbers than ever before.

Pope Francis has stated that “there are more persecuted Christians in the world today than there were in the first centuries of Christianity.” The term martyr is derived from the Greek word for witness. Referring to the persecution Christians are suffering in many areas of the Middle East, Africa and India, the Holy Father continued “when historical situations require a strong witness, there are martyrs, the greatest witnesses. And the Church grows thanks to the blood of the martyrs.”

Certainly the Pope’s words reflect what is happening in Africa. Think of the 21 Coptic Christian men beheaded this year in Libya or the 147 Christian students singled out at Garissa University in Kenya and murdered. There are many other instances, the Christian girls taken from their school in Nigeria and still held hostage or the 12 African refugees thrown into the Mediterranean to drown when it was discovered they were Christian.

All are modern-day martyrs, and all are from Africa where USA Today recently reported, “The [Christian] faith has grown exponentially in sub-Saharan Africa, from just 9% of the population in 1910 to 63% today.

Perhaps the answer to the Kenyan bishop’s question is that in our complacent comfort it is easy to turn our attention away from what others are enduring for their Christian discipleship. Or maybe, we are afraid to ask ourselves if our faith is as strong as those who are accepting martyrdom rather than denying being disciples of Jesus.

Let us continue to pray for all Christians around the world who are persecuted and murdered because of their faith.

Image credit: People attend a memorial vigil in Nairobi, Kenya, April 7, for the 147 people killed in an attack on Garissa University College. Kenyan bishops are urging the government to step up security and for citizens to remain united after al-Shabab militants attacked the college campus April 2. (CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters)

Seeking the path of prayer and dialogue

Seeking the path of prayer and dialogue
Emphasizing in his homily May 8 that harmony and unity in the church are evidence of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis observed that, on the other hand, “A Church,where its people are always arguing and there are lobbies and people are betraying their brothers and sisters, is a Church where there is no Holy Spirit!”

Citing the Apostolic Fathers who settled the first major crisis in the Church at the “first ecumenical council” in Jerusalem (Acts 15) through prayer and dialogue, the Holy Father implied that Christians today should follow the Apostolic Fathers’ example. They should “discuss [the] issue but like brothers and sisters and not like enemies. They don’t form external lobbies in order to win; they don’t go to the civil authorities in order to win and they don’t kill in order to triumph. They seek the path of prayer and dialogue.”

Discussions within the Church are to seek unity and harmony, not to prove that your opinion is right and that others’ are wrong. The purpose, rather, should be to discern the way of the Spirit through prayer and dialogue and in a spirit of humility.

Pope Francis recognized that change in the Church is constant and healthy. “It’s the Spirit that creates change, that creates the momentum for going ahead, that creates new spaces, and that creates that wisdom which Jesus promised: ‘It will teach you!’ That is what discernment is all about – asking the Spirit to teach us.”

The Church is not a political body, nor is it a democracy. Efforts to lobby or to use media to win others to a particular point of view are not only misunderstanding the nature of the Church, but also are both prideful and presumptuous. It is God’s will, not ours, that we seek.

Freedom has two sides

Freedom has two sides

We are indeed blessed to live in a free country, but freedom is a two-sided privilege. Americans enjoy freedom of speech, freedom to worship, and for the most part, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Unfortunately, there are corollaries such as freedom to hate, freedom to disrespect, freedom to ridicule, freedom to be rude and many others that may offend us, but, as citizens of a free country, we must endure.

But we are not free to attack those who offend us with violence or intimidation. Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s famous quote, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it,” describes the often painful dilemma we find ourselves faced with when confronted with another’s actions or remarks that we find repugnant.

Such seems to be the case of the two gunmen who were killed by police when they attempted to attack those participating in a controversial event in Garland, a contest to draw the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Unfortunately, all religions and ideologies are subject to ridicule. As early as 200 A.D. the blasphemous image of a crucified Christ with the head of a donkey (Alexamenos graffito) was found in Rome. Many disrespectful replies are tweeted to @pontifex. Political rhetoric is filled with denigrating and calumnious statements.

In this particular instance the attackers apparently took umbrage over the display of images of Mohammed, which is a blasphemous action to most Muslims. The offense is more repulsive when it is ridicule. Most of the media does not publish such images, not out of obedience to the Koran, but out of respect for the feelings of Muslims. That respect was not accorded to Muslims by those who sponsored or participated in the Garland event, or by the two gunmen toward those who were exercising their freedom in participating.

As counter-cultural as it is, and as bewildering as it is to many, as Christians, Jesus calls us not to retaliate or seek revenge but to forgive and to turn the other cheek. (Matthew 5:39)

Please let us always pray for understanding and tolerance that can someday lead to peace in our world.

Image credit: “Palacio de Convenciones” by Frj – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Baltimore: the tip of the iceberg

Baltimore the tip of the iceberg

Recent disturbances in Baltimore are about much more than racism and police brutality; it’s about unemployment, lost jobs that will never come back, the diminishing middle class and the disappearing American dream.

Referring to what he calls “the scourge of unemployment,” our Holy Father Pope Francis called for “new work opportunities that currently do not exist … especially for the young, as we know that youth unemployment … destroys their hope”, in a February talk to Italian Cooperatives.

New work opportunities are desperately needed because the jobs performed by the grandfathers of many of the young men in Baltimore and elsewhere are gone forever. Factory jobs, work on the docks, couriers, elevator operators, and record clerks, are already gone or going in our technological world of today.

According to a Pew Study in January 2014, USA Today reported that “Despite a slowly recovering economy, the proportion of Americans who identify themselves as middle class has dropped sharply in recent years. Today, about as many Americans identify themselves as lower or lower-middle class (40 percent) as say they are in the middle class (44 percent).”

As the middle class diminishes so does the American Dream. In a New York Times piece in December 2014, Andrew Ross Sorkin and Megan Thee-Brenan wrote that a New York Times newspaper poll “which explored Americans’ opinions on a wide range of economic and financial issues, found that only 64 percent of respondents said they still believed in the American dream, the lowest result in roughly two decades. Even near the lowest point of the financial crisis in early 2009, 72 percent of Americans still believed that hard work could result in riches.”

Hope is a Gift of the Spirit, but like all gifts it must be accepted, unwrapped and opened. It is indeed a sign of hope that for healing, Baltimore citizens have taken the first step. They have turned to God. John Allen wrote in Crux Monday, “as elected officials dialed back their approach to maintaining order in Maryland’s largest city, many thousands of people turned toward Baltimore’s religious institutions … [for a]day of prayer and peace.” Archbishop William E. Lori noted that, “Every Sunday is important, but this Sunday is especially important as a moment for prayer and peace. We’re here … to pray for peace, for justice and for reconciliation.”

Mountains are climbed one step at a time.

Graduation: a step into the future

Graduation: a step into the future

Life stands before me like an eternal spring with new and brilliant clothes. These words of German philosopher and mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss seem so much to embody the spirit of hope and adventure of graduation and of graduates.

This is one of the most joyful times of the year in which we can share in the excitement and expectations of the graduates moving on to something new and challenging. It is a time when these young people face the future full of confidence. It is also a time of sadness because moving on means leaving behind friends and experiences that will now be consigned to the treasury of memories.

I recall a student who once observed, “I wasn’t just learning English and math. I was learning about life.” And, isn’t that what education is really about – preparing us for life. From the first steps we take as a toddler to the ones we take when we cross the stage to accept our diploma, we are leaving behind as well as looking ahead in our life’s journey.

Our journey is to God, upon which we will have many companions; parents, teachers, family, friends and children. Our journey will be filled with opportunities to serve and to learn because learning about life never ends. I have heard many speak of how in adulthood they found that they learned from their children. We are never too old to learn.

So let us rejoice with our graduates as they step into their future, and pray that they will never stop learning and never lose sight of the ultimate goal of their life journeys. Congratulations to all of our graduates and their parents. May God bless you all!

Image credit: Caro Wallis on Flickr

Reaching out to Nepal

Reaching out to Nepal

A shocked world is reaching out to aid the small Himalayan republic of Nepal devastated Friday by a 7.8 earthquake. Because of the extent of the destruction and the difficulties faced by the rescuers, the death total is still incomplete but stands in excess of 4,600. Landslides and avalanches on Mount Everest, Nepal’s most famous land mark, killed a number of climbers and Sherpas, the native mountain guides. Many more remain stranded on the mountain. The media has brought us the heart rending scenes of the devastation and rescue efforts both on the mountain and in Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has aid workers on the ground in the disaster zone and reports that the extent of damage in surrounding villages is not yet known because of loss of communication. It is anticipated that the needs will be significant with millions affected. CRS has begun procuring emergency relief materials such as tarpaulin shelter kits, water, and sanitation and hygiene materials, but additional help is urgently needed.

That is why the Catholic bishops of the United States have called for a special national collection in our churches throughout the country to assist in the humanitarian efforts in Nepal. I have asked our pastors in the Diocese of Dallas to take up this special collection as soon as possible. I pray that all parishioners will help our diocese contribute this essential aid to the people of Nepal during this time of extreme need.

Of Nepal’s 30 million people, more than 80 percent are Hindu, with small numbers of Buddhists and Muslims and only a 1.4 percent Christian population. But, as I have pointed out before, we do not help people because they are Catholic, we help them because we are Catholic.

This tragedy will soon fade from the headlines, but the need for funds to help rebuild lives is long term. Please be generous with your prayers and your treasure.


Image credit: People carry the body of a victim on a stretcher after an earthquake hit Kathmandu, Nepal, April 25. More than 3,600 people were known to have been killed and more than 6,500 others injured after a magnitude-7.8 earthquake hit a mountainous region near Kathmandu. (CNS photo/Navesh Chitrakar, Reuters)