Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Jesus on our Life’s Course — Funeral Homily for Helen Kellen, 97

November 19, 2021

Helen has been close to St. Paul’s Parish her whole life. She was born in our community, educated in our school, married in our church, and became a daily Mass-goer who lived across the street from here for many years. Today, St. Paul’s Parish is honored to offer our most powerful prayer, the Holy Mass, for the perfection of Helen’s soul and for the peace of all of you who love her. Her family has told me a number of things about her life. Certainly not the most important detail, but one which stood out to me, was Helen’s intense desire to win the family golf tournament. Her parents, Frank and Mary Seibel, began an annual family reunion which still gathers here in Bloomer. For more than 30 years, a part of these festivities has been a golf scramble at the local 18 holes. More than a dozen teams of four compete to have their names immortalized on the coveted family trophy.

If you’re not familiar with what a golf scramble tournament is like, everyone on a team tees off, then they choose the best hit ball among them. Each player on the team takes their next shot from that new spot, and so on and so on, hopefully getting closer to that flag on the green until they can sink a ball into the cup. The teams do this for every hole and whichever team has the fewest best swings at the end of the day, wins. The great thing about playing on a golf scramble team is even if you’re not that good your teammates can carry you, and you can occasionally positively contribute as well. Maybe it was growing up around eight siblings, but for whatever reason Helen was fiercely competitive and she very much wanted to get her name on that two-foot, family tournament trophy.

Here’s a theological question for reflection: did Jesus Christ ever golf? History’s earliest reference to the sport only dates back to 1457. That’s when King James II of Scotland banned the popular pastime in his realm, preferring his subjects practice archery instead to be better prepared for times of war. So Jesus of Nazareth, living more than a millennium before, almost certainly never played the links growing up in the Holy Land. But what if Jesus were to play golf now, how good a golfer would he be?

I suspect, if he were to play golf today, Jesus might be the greatest golfer of all time. He possesses an advantage no professional golfer has ever had: his human nature is raised to glory. Jesus’ soul wields perfect control over his glorified body so he could hit each swing exactly as he wished. Par 5? The risen Christ could get it on the green in one. When Jesus resurrects the holy dead on the Last Day “the victor will inherit these gifts” as well, as the Book of Revelation says. But what if Jesus would have played golf during his lifetime before his Passion, death, and Resurrection? How good would he have been then?

In those days, though he was divine, Jesus emptied himself, limiting his almighty power in accord with the Father’s will and their shared plan to save humanity. He had the ability to work miracles but he usually did not use them. When he was tired, he took naps. When he hungered, he ate meals. And when he suffered, he wept. So Jesus knows what it’s like to be one of us. He knows how we struggle. Even the best pro-golfers in this world usually miss their shots.

Being a Christian is like having Jesus Christ on your golf scramble team. The fearsome foursome opposing us is darkness, sin, condemnation, and death, and they would always beat us if Jesus were not on our side. When we miss our shots due to our weakness or our own chosen faults, Jesus can carry us. And sometimes our efforts actually do positively contribute to the mission we share, which is the salvation of the world. Jesus and his friends are the best companions for us to walk with along life’s course. And if we remain on his team without wandering off, or return to his team before reaching the clubhouse, Jesus Christ will lead us to victory with himself.

Eventually, Helen and her teammates did finally win the family reunion golf tournament and her name shares in the minor glory of being immortalized on the family trophy. But for Helen and ourselves, let us pray that our names may attain the surpassing glory of being written in God’s Book of Life forever.

Jesus Christ Joined Our Team — Funeral Homily for Russell “Russ” Dachel, 73

August 12, 2021

There are many humorous stories about Russ. He loved to leave you with a smile, a smile on your face and a smile on his. So today, I would like to share with you the funniest story I’ve heard about him, and I believe Russ will be amused at its retelling. It happened over forty years ago. Some of the finer details are uncertain, but an eyewitness who was there confirms that the broad strokes of this story are true.

Once, in the second half of the 1970’s, Russ was officiating at a junior high school basketball game; Eau Claire Memorial versus Eau Claire North. The young men on both sides were giving it their all, and so was Russ. His friend Jim, a former coach who was at the game, tells me that Russ was a good official. Russ had refereed games before, and would go on to ref games after, but this game won him some local fame.

In one telling, Memorial had the ball and dribbled it down court. On this possession, Russ the Ref was the back official, standing nearest to the empty backcourt. Suddenly, a North player stole the ball and made a fast break for the unguarded basket. As the young man went in for what he, both teams, and all the spectators in the bleachers expected to be a routine lay-up, they witnessed something rarely—if ever—seen since James Naismith invented basketball in 1891.

Recall that Russ loves sports. He’s intensely competitive, he hates to lose, and always gives one hundred percent. On this occasion, it seems that Russ got so wrapped-up into the action that he forgot what he was supposed to be doing. As that young man drove to the basket, Russ’ instincts kicked in. Despite not being tall, his feet leaped from the floor to an impressive height, and with his up-raised hand, Russell the Muscle blocked the shot. His friend Jim recalls it was “The Defensive Play of the Game.” Everybody laughed and Russ wanted to disappear, but “change of possession” was signaled and the game went on. A referee becoming a player in the game is against the rules in that setting, but Jesus Christ does something similar to this in our most important story.

Our fallen human race was up against sin and death, the devil and his demons, and we were sure to be beaten. In our wounded condition we could never win on our own. But the Son of God did not wish to merely be our judge, which would guarantee our total defeat. Jesus Christ entered the game on our side, divinity joined humanity. He gave his all, one hundred percent, as someone who hates to lose. And if we die with him who died for us, we shall also live with him. And if we persevere in the struggle before us we shall also reign with him.

Because of the importance of his Catholic Faith, Russ was dedicated to Holy Mass here each Sunday, sitting in his pew near the confessional. He said, “I have to go to church. I feel better when I do.” He felt that way because Jesus Christ is here. As you pray today for Russ’ soul, if you’ve been away from Jesus Christ, I ask you to resolve to get back on his bench and to strive on his side in the contest of life with all your heart, that you may share in his great victory.

Coming Home — Funeral Homily for Michael “Mike” Morning, 69

September 7, 2020

The communities of St. Paul’s and St. John the Baptist’s offer you our sympathy at Mike’s passing. We also offer the support of our prayers with this, Jesus Christ’s perfect offering to the Father, in the Holy Mass. May our prayers help Mike on his way, and help all of you as well, whom he dearly loved and dearly loves; especially Jackie, whom he married at St. John the Baptist Church 43 years ago, and his siblings, his friends, his nieces and nephews, grandchildren and godchildren, and others.

I often say that no brief funeral homily can capture the full mystery of a Christian life, and you who have known Mike for years surely know him better than I. The best I can do is to examine one part of his life which reflects something of the whole story for Mike, and you, and me.

Among the many things Mike did on earth, he had an active role in establishing the Eagleton Softball and Baseball fields. If you don’t know it, Eagleton is a small, unincorporated town to the southeast from here, seven and a half miles down the road. Their baseball field is no Major League park like Wrigley or Fenway, but Mike was right to be proud of it. He looked at what he had made and saw that it was good. With outfield fences some 250 feet out, lights for nighttime play, four bases and a mound; it had everything needed to host the game.

Baseball and softball are somewhat unique among sports. In most sports, the offense side carries, catches, throws, or kicks the ball to score. But baseball and softball are among the few games where the defense side controls the ball. Batters who are up don’t exactly know what pitches will be thrown their way, but they get to choose their swings. Some of them advance, but many strike out.

A good coach can help them though; giving them signs and instructions on which pitches to swing at and which pitches to take, and, once on base, when and how to advance further. Through his past experience as a player, his intimate knowledge of the game, and his personal investment in training his players, a great coach can produce hall of famers. In addition to the indispensable coach, teammates are important too, in helping to get home.

As it is in baseball and softball so it is in life. We do not control what’s thrown our way, what curveballs come across the plate, but we each must decide how to swing in our at bat. Will we listen to the wisdom of our coach, who has been in our shoes himself, and who earnestly desires that after forming us in his likeness that we could be called up to the big leagues far from here.

Jesus encourages us in today’s gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” If we would listen and allow him, Jesus promises to lead us home, and tells us we know the way. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” he says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

In baseball and softball as in life, our goal is to get home. Mike might already be there with the holy hall of famers in Heaven, but in case he is still rounding the bases, let us as his teammates and friends aid him in getting home through our prayers. And may each of us heed and follow Christ our coach and play this one pivotal game of life so as to win.

Sports Isn’t Everything

January 17, 2020

Human beings love sports. We also love to win. When we watch a team or athlete we identify with compete and prevail, we vicariously share in their victory. And this human trait is nothing new. The ancient Greeks celebrated their Olympians. The Romans had their famous gladiators and charioteers. In our day, almost one hundred million people watched the Super Bowl last year and more than one billion people around the world tune in to see the World Cup Final. Ironically, most Americans care very little about soccer—the most popular sport on earth, while most of the world has no interest in American football games. Sports, teams, and players, extremely important to some, can be completely disregarded by others.

Vince Lombardi was not the first coach to say it, but he did proclaim this maxim often: “Winning isn’t everything… it’s the only thing.” In his nine seasons coaching the Green Bay Packers, his teams won almost three out of every four games they played, including five NFL championships and two Super Bowls. And yet winning was not really the most important thing to Coach Lombardi. As sportswriter Jerry Izenberg recalls, “He told me one day, ‘I wish to h*** I’d never said that. (I.e., ‘Winning isn’t everything… it’s the only thing.’)” The sportswriter asked, “Well, don’t you believe it?” And Lombardi replied, “What I believe is, if you go out on a football field on Sunday, or any other endeavor in life, and you leave every fiber of what you have on that field when the game finally ends, then you’ve won. And to me that tells a lot more than the final score. And I never made that clear.’” However, I think his players had understood him, despite his imperfect and repeated maxim.

Former Packers reporter Ken Hartnett said of Vince Lombardi, “He was the first coach that I ever heard refer to love in the locker room. He really believed that there was a Christian love that he could incorporate into the team, the love that binds his players together, the love that comes out of sacrifice.” This flowed from Coach Lombardi’s faith. He was Catholic, attended the Sacrifice of the Mass every day, and was an adult altar server, too. “As far as myself is concerned,” he said, “I know my future happiness is, has to be, some other place. I want to try to do the things as well as I can here in order to attain someday maybe a greater happiness.” When Lombardi was dying from aggressive colon cancer fifty years ago this year, his past and present players came to his bedside out of grateful love for him. At his funeral Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, Cardinal Terence Cooke preached, “Vince Lombardi fought the good fight. We believe in that last struggle with death this man won the final victory.

Unless it happens to be our own team, we rarely remember who won or lost state or national championships and titles, even just a few years afterward. Yet how many fans and parents forsake great amounts of time and money, their pleasant mood, or the Sunday worship our God is due on account of such games? There is a proper delight to found in sports, and virtues to be cultivated in their play, yet sports are not everything, nor the most important thing. In the words of St. Paul to the Colossians, “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

12 Reasons Why I Quit Attending Sporting Events

February 1, 2018

This week, about one-in-five Americans (67 million) will gather across the country to share in a great cultural event. Its marvelous mixture of camaraderie, action, music, and messages is an experience for all ages. Even if they might miss out this Sunday, about 51% of Americans (170 million) say they will check it out sometime this month. I’m not speaking of the Super Bowl, but of Christian church attendance.

I have wondered how much mid-twentieth century Catholicism, with its record high vocations and Mass attendance rates, were an aberration from the norm in our country. The percentage of Catholics who tell pollsters they’ve attended Mass in the past week has declined from its highs in the 1950’s. Yet the percentage of church-attending Americans is more than four times greater today than it was in 1776. Regardless, more Catholic Americans ought to be faithfully coming to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass without fail; for the praise and glory of God’s name, for their own good, and the good of all his Church.

Here are “12 Reasons Why I Quit Attending Sporting Events,” adapted from a post seen on the internet:

1. The coach never came to visit me.

2. Every time I went they asked me for money.

3. The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly.

4. The seats were very hard.

5. The referees made a decision I didn’t agree with.

6. I was sitting with hypocrites—they only came to see what others were wearing!

7. Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.

8. They played some songs I had never heard before.

9. The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.

10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.

11. I read a book on sports, so I feel that I know more than the coaches anyway.

12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.

Jesus Christ, the Center of History

December 25, 2017

If you had walked through the streets Bethlehem or Rome asking people on the first Christmas Eve, “What year is this,” the answers you’d hear might vary. The Sun numbers our days, the Moon tracks our months, and the seasons indicate the passage of years, but answering what year it is requires people to make reference to some shared historical event.

If you had bumped into one of the ancient world’s many sports fans on the first Christmas Eve, they might have told you that it was 3rd year of the 194th Olympiad. Once every four years, famous athletic competitions were held in Olympia, Greece. Freeborn Greek men would compete in footraces, chariot races, wrestling matches, javelin tosses, discus throws, and other events; for the honor of the Greek god Zeus, for the pride of their home city-states, and for their own personal glory. The winners received crowns or wreaths made of green olive leaves that would fade. All that remains of some of those ancient sports superstars today are their names in texts read less often today than last month’s newspapers.

If you had run into a merchant on the first Christmas Eve who used the Roman coins and roads to trade goods, he might have said that it was 752nd year since the founding of the City of Rome. Considering the wealth and influence of Rome at that time, it might have seemed like that empire would live and reign in the world without end. However, from decay within and barbarian attacks from without, much of what that empire built remains today, if at all, only as ruins for tourists.

If you had encountered someone enamored with power and celebrity on the first Christmas Eve, they might have answered that it was 42nd year of the reign of Emperor Caesar Augustus. It was a census he decreed that sent Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Early in his reign, Caesar Augustus claimed that the passage of Halley’s Comet over Rome was the spirit of his predecessor, Julius Caesar, rising into heaven. And so, since Julius Caesar had been a god, Caesar Augustus, as his heir, presumed to call himself “the son of a god.” Caesar Augustus would go on to die at age seventy-five and never be heard from again.

If you had spoken on the first Christmas Eve to someone focused on the politics and current events of the land of Israel, they might have replied that it was 38th year of the reign King Herod the Great, the King of Judea under the Romans. Herod the Great was a very controversial figure, with some Jews praising him and still more despising him: he expanded and gloriously refurbished the Temple in Jerusalem but was also a murderous tyrant, like when he ordered the deaths of the innocent baby boys in Bethlehem. Because the Roman Senate had appointed him as “the King of the Jews,” and since he was not descended from King David, nobody mistook Herod for being the Christ.

On the first Christmas Eve, some two thousand and eighteen years ago, only a handful of people on earth had any clue of the world-changing significance of what was about to occur. The baby born that night was the source of the universe and the center of human history.

In the year we call 525, a new way of numbering years was introduced by a monk named Dionysius the Humble. Dionysius numbered years using this baby’s birth as the starting point, naming it “1 A.D.” A.D. stands for the Latin phrase “anno Domini / in the year of our Lord.” 1 A.D. was dubbed the first year of our Lord on earth, and this is currently the 2,017th year of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I should mention that Dionysius has reason to be humble here as well. He estimated the time of Jesus’ birth as best as he could, but he seems to have been a little bit off. The best evidence today points to Jesus being born in 2 or 3 B.C. But regardless, it is most fitting that we mark and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as the center of human history and the most important person who has ever lived.

  • Christ is the undefeated champion whose glory does not fade. Even when he seems to be down, he triumphs in overtime. (And, unlike Aaron Rodgers, “not one of his bones shall be broken.”)
  • Christ’s holy kingdom has outlasted the Romans. In fact, he conquered them peacefully by converting their hearts. And today, his kingdom extends to all lands and people through his Holy Catholic Church.
  • Christ is greater than Caesar, he is stronger than death. When Jesus died, he rose again. And now he reigns, because he is truly the Son of God.
  • Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is our leader untainted by sin, who is truly wise, and cares about me and you.

Even those without any Christian faith must acknowledge Jesus’ positive influence on the world: in children treasured; in women respected; in slaves freed; in strangers welcomed; in millions and millions fed, clothed, treated, or taught, around the world and across centuries, all because of the baby born on Christmas.

A.D. does not stand for an “Arbitrary Date.” Anno Domini is no accidental demarcation of before and after. Jesus Christ merits more than our apathetic dismissal. Jesus deserves to be at the center of our years and the center of our lives. As he, this Christmas night, so humbly gives himself to you, please give yourself to him anew. He is the Christ, yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to him and all the ages; to him be glory and power, through every age and forever, in you and in me. Amen.

Satanic Bicycling, Pagan Meats, & Yoga Exercise

August 10, 2017

Imagine if Satanists began ritually riding bicycles while chanting out to spirits other than God. (For them, this might symbolize rebellion against the three axles of the Godhead, over whom they blasphemously enthrone themselves, stomping Christ’s two-natures underfoot while profaning the Trinity through the streets — or something like that.) Though silly to conceive, if Satanists actually began to do this, how would bicycling be affected?

First it should be noted that traditional cycling would remain what it is – its goodness as a healthy exercise and leisure activity would be unaffected. However, biking combined with false worship (whether done sincerely or ironically) would be harmful. If one of these satanic bicycling groups existed in our town, I would not ride with them. A Christian who silently biked along with the Satanists (to simply enjoy the ride) could be affected by the malevolent spirits invoked or cause scandal for others. I could still bike alone or with my friends, but certainly without voicing unchristian chants while doing so. If I had formerly parked my bike by the church or rectory, I might begin placing it in a more private place, lest people be misled by misinterpreting my innocent behavior. This scenario is simply a thought experiment, but real Christians faced a comparable situation in the first century AD.

In the ancient, Greco-Roman world, meats sold in marketplaces or served at restaurants had commonly been sacrificed to pagan gods. This gave rise to a debate within the Christian church at Corinth, Greece about whether Christians could blamelessly eat such food or if this should be forbidden as second-hand idolatry.

St. Paul addressed this question in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians by first observing “there is no God but one… even though there are so-called gods” worshiped by the pagans. St. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, warned that “what [the pagans] sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons.” Christians were never to offer pagan worship, but this did not mean that pagan meat itself could not be eaten by well-formed Christians: “Eat anything sold in the market, without raising questions on grounds of conscience, for ‘the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.’” But at the same time, a meat-eating Christian was to be careful not to cause scandal to others, leading them into or affirming them in idolatrous worship. St. Paul wrote, “Make sure that this liberty of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. … If an unbeliever invites you and you want to go, eat whatever is placed before you, without raising questions on grounds of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This was offered in sacrifice,’ do not eat it on account of the one who called attention to it and on account of conscience; I mean not your own conscience, but the other’s.” That is how early Christianity handled the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. Today, we have a similar issue of live and local concern (which brings us to the ultimate purpose and conclusions of this article.)

In our beginning, God created the human body, endowing it with sensation, flexibility, and strength. He designed every natural posture and movement and gave breathing and exercising their healthy and pleasurable effects. A long, long time after, some of these bodily positions and exercises were appropriated by Hindus in India for the worship of their (so-called) gods and goddesses. In our time, this aspect of Eastern religion has entered into our culture as yoga. So… is it OK for Christians to practice yoga exercise?

As with bike riding and meat eating, the unchristian use of good things does not taint them for everyone else forever after. Breathing and stretching are good gifts from God and, for some, yoga is simply exercise. Yet spiritual danger exists wherever and whenever these exercises are being joined to false spirituality or idolatrous worship.

I myself have participated in secular yoga workouts in the past. My exercise instructor was a faithful Christian and I enjoyed them. However, together with Catholic exorcists, I would never recommend attending a yoga group with non-Christian spirituality because of the real potential for spiritual harm and scandal. If a yoga class, for instance, chants mantras (like “om,” or the names of Hindu gods); envisions becoming one with the cosmos, Brahman, or the Earth Mother; channels energies; or has participants breathe in the pulsating universe while exhaling all bad and evil from within, then that yoga class is certainly of the second sort and to be avoided. If my instructor or peers were using yoga in a non-Christian spiritual way, I would avoid that gathering for the same reasons that I would not attend a pagan sacrifice or bike with Satanists; namely, the prospect of causing scandal and the danger from evil spirits.

St. Paul once said we are to “retain what is good” but “refrain from every kind of evil.” That timeless wisdom applies to us in all things; to bicycling, to eating meat, and also to doing yoga.

Wednesday, 23rd Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

September 10, 2009

In the Gospel Jesus speaks of how great reversals are coming. The poor will become rich, and the rich will be poor. The hungry will be satisfied, and the stomachs of those now feasting will ache. The weeping will find joy, while those joyful will be sad. And those who are persecuted for Christ’s sake will have great rewards.

Does any of this apply to you? Yes, for example, life in the world out there will be very different from these years you’ve spent in school. If you feel like you are among the poor, the hungry, and the weeping at school, take encouragement, because great reversals are coming.

Blessed are you who are poor at sports,
for you perfect more-valuable talents.

Sports are fun, and they are good for building health and character, but ten years from now no one will remember who won at state last year. And it is extremely unlikely that anyone here has a future in professional sports ahead of them. Maybe nobody buys a ticket to come and watch and cheer you using your God-given talents, when you write a paper well, or solve a math problem efficiently. But in the world out there, there are people who will pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to people who have perfected skills like these.

Blessed are you who are poor at sports,
for you perfect more-valuable talents.

Blessed are you who hunger for romantic relationship, but who date little,
for God is preparing a spouse for you.

Realize that it is very unlikely that you ever marry any significant other whom you might have now. Young dating relationships begin and break all the time, but the sometimes wounds they can leave to one’s spirit and to one’s emotions often linger long. You may hunger for romantic relationship now, but if you feast on love before its time your stomach will ache painfully tomorrow. Somewhere out there, God has a future spouse in mind as a gift meant just for you. So preserve your purity and the unwounded integrity of your heart as a gift for your spouse, and you will feast on love together with great satisfaction.

Blessed are you who hunger for romantic relationships, but who date little,
for God is preparing a spouse for you.

Blessed are you who are unpopular,
for you discover how to be a true friend.

It’s true that after high school graduation, you won’t see most of these classmates very much anymore. You might keep in close touch with one or two of them, but most of them will move away from here, or you will move away from them. Don’t mourn thinking that you have too few friends. Christ wills that you would learn how to be a great friend, someone like Himself, rather than someone with great popularity who never knows true friendship. A person with few friends realizes the importance of always showing kindness, respect, and genuineness towards everyone, the popular and the unpopular alike.

Blessed are you who are unpopular,
for you discover how to be a true friend.

 And finally, take consolation in this…

 Blessed are you when peers dislike you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce you as un-cool or lame
on account of your faithfulness to Christ
for Christ’s opinion is the only one that really matters
and he will reward your faithfulness with happiness.