John Paul II and the Gospel in Kayaks
John Paul II, who was a fine athlete even into his papacy, never ceased to remind the faithful, and particularly our youth, that the human body has a specific meaning and role to play in God’s creative plan (Theology of the Body 1-129, 1982-84). In his biography of John Paul II, “Witness to Hope” (p 103ff), George Weigel writes that as a young priest, Father Karol “took single and married couple hiking, skiing, and kayaking. As a veteran hiker from his youth in Wadowice, the future pontiff was thoroughly at home in nature. And so he created the pastoral method of accompanying his young friends to Poland’s mountains and lakes.”
“The annual kayak trips were a vacation plus, and they were always the occasion for conversation or for spiritual direction. Mass was celebrated using an overturned kayak as an altar, with two paddles tied together to form the altar cross. He made it a point to take a meal with a different family every day of the vacation, working his way around the entire group. Soccer games were organized between the “married team” and the youth team.” Wujek, as he was familiarly addressed, and the former goalie of Wadowice “played for whichever team was shorthanded. Around the campfire in the evening, the adults would discuss significant books or church documents.”
“(The future pontiff’)s essential point was that the priest’s duty to help make God present in the world was not satisfied by his daily celebration of Mass. In addition, “the duty of a priest is to live with people, everywhere they are, to be with them in everything but sin. That was the context for looking at vacations as a pastoral opportunity. Daily Mass took on a special texture on a vacation trek: nature, not only human art, participates in the sacrifice of the Son of God. At Mass, a thought for the day could be proposed and reflected on during evening prayer.”
“An excursion had to be a well-prepared improvisation in which the priest was ready and willing to talk about everything: “about movies, about books, about one’s own work, about scientific research, and about jazz bands. Was this kind of pastoral work, built around vacations with young men and women, a compromise of the priesthood?” This form of ministry had to be discerned by the individual priest, but it was certainly a way of leading others to Christ. The excursions helped the young people look at their problems from a different perspective...to look at all things in the spirit of the Gospel.” These excursions created the sense of a Christian community.
Vince Lombardi (d 1970)
In his biography of Vince Lombardi, “When Pride Still Mattered,” David Maraniss details the football philosophy of the iron-willed coach of the Green Bay Packers. At Fordham in the 1930's, Lombardi learned that there was a direct link between Ignatius and the philosophy of football, and he assimilated the essentials of the Ignatian Exercises applying them to football. As coach of the Green Bay Packers, Lombardi rooted his lectures in the writings of Fr. Ignatius Wiley Cox, S.J. “Cox was not just another Jesuit,” writes Maraniss, “but the most renowned teacher at Fordham and an important figure in American Catholic thought. He embodied a philosophy whose every point was meticulously and clearly explained.” Cox occasionally inquired of the future coach, “Is that clear to you, Mr. Lombardi, as clear as a mountain lake in springtime?” (64) At the time, Fordham’s football team was the New York Yankees of university football teams.
Lombardi derived his strength from attending daily Mass. His philosophy was encapsulated in basic Ignatian principles. Life is ordered in a hierarchy. Man’s liberty to choose between action and inaction, good and evil applies to coaches of sports teams. Freedom comes through discipline and simplicity, which lead to perfection. Only those with free will surrender freely to achieve a higher ideal. The mundane is important to serve the higher ideal. There is no tolerance for the halfhearted. Strict attention to detail, spiritual discipline, and precision are essential. Daily examination charts show one’s progress or regress. (213)
The coach does not just tell the players it is so; he repeats and repeats until the team is convinced that it knows. Repetition, pounding by rote, engenders confidence, and confidence, passion. Though it is said that “the difference in men is energy, in the strong will, in the settled purpose and in the invincible determination,” the Lombardi leadership lies in sacrifice, in humility and in the perfectly disciplined will – the formation of character. “This, Gentlemen, is the distinction between great and little men.” (406) Today, coaches still refer to his winning principles:
“The object is to win fairly, by the rules – but to win.”
“Morally, the life of the organization must be of exemplary nature. This is one phase where the organization must not have criticism.”
“Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”
“The good Lord gave you a body that can stand most anything. It’s your mind you have to convince.”
“Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.”
(Column continues below)
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“Winning is not a sometime thing, it is an all-the-time thing. You don’t do things right once in a while…you do them right all the time.”
“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”
On success and sacrifice:
“Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”
“It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of men. Men respond to leadership in a most remarkable way and once you have won his heart, he will follow you anywhere.”
“If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you’ll be fired with enthusiasm.”
On results and winning:
“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will.”
“Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization.”
“Winning is not everything, but making the effort to win is.”
“Success demands singleness of purpose.”
“If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”
Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Special Olympics
Arguably the most formidable of the nine Kennedy children, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, an ardent pro-life Democrat, was lauded time and again for her untiring advocacy for the disabled and mentally-handicapped.