Going Straight for the Essential

The Transfiguration  of the Lord (C); August 6, 2013
Dn 7:9-10,13-14        Ps 97        2 Pet 1:16-19    Lk 9:28b-36
Deacon Jim McFadden; Coaches’ Retreat at St. Francis H.S.

To become fully alive as a human being, which, as St. Irenaeus reminds us, gives glory to God,  is a process of cutting away all that is useless foliage to go straight to what is essential, which is Christ and his Gospel.  To do otherwise would be to turn a holy mission that we acquired at our Baptism into a ridiculous one.  When we were initiated into the Church, which is the Body of Christ, we were anointed as priest, prophet, and king.  Taking the first charism, we are to sanctify all aspects of our life as we strive to live out the Great Commandment.  All aspects—nothing is excluded.  So, how to we incorporate this process of pruning as an athlete and as a coach?
The Transfiguration of the Lord, which we celebrate today, offers us great Wisdom on this challenge.  Peter, James, and John accompanied Jesus up to the mountain as a community, which tells us that we walk with each other into the Mystery of God.  As Jesus is being transfigured and they are experiencing this tremendous sense of Communion, they hear:  “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.”  The Father seems to be saying, “You are my boy, by beloved, the one I’m excited about; now, your disciples are getting in on it..”  Peter, James, and John hear this and probably think: “Ah, this IS the Lord’s man…this IS the Messiah we’ve been waiting for; let’s listen to him.”
When we do listen to Jesus, EVERYTHING comes together in the One we move, live, and have our being.   Everything becomes richer, deeper, more meaningful.  We live to our fullest potential in the here and now.  Think about it: the aim of athletic performance is to do what one is capable of doing, nurturing one’s gifts  through diligent training and coaching, at a key moment.  Maximum performance united with supreme relaxation happens because “all the foliage has been removed”, enabling the athlete to go straight to what is essential.
In my athletic career as a cyclist, marathon runner, and professional bowler, I didn’t do this very well and, consequently, not only did I not realize my full potential, but I did not enjoy the process as much as I could have.  I let the foliage get in the way.  What kind of foliage?  To name a few, I was externally driven.  Rather than integrating my sport endeavor into my relationship with God, I excelled in order to obtain the approval of peers, coaches, friends, and family.  For me, the end result became the raison d’etre for being an athlete.  Along this line, while winning is an organizing principle, in terms of sanctifying one’s life, it’s not very important.  But, I tended to validate my self-worth through my performance.  If I succeeded, I felt better about myself.  If I failed, I bought into the lie that I not only failed in the action, but I failed as a person.  As a result, events became an occasion of proving oneself, which put enormous pressure on me, which resulted in sub-maximal performances.
Looking back at my athletic career,  what I learned is that I had separated my ordinary experience as an athlete with my relationship with God.  Sports was occurring over here, whereas spirituality and religion was occurring at church on Sunday.  I never integrated the two and, so while I did realize many ambitions, a deeper satisfaction was lost.
Like Peter, James, and John I was in the Darkness: “Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud a voice, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”  In the shadowy world of uncertainty, challenges, and loss,  the trio remembered that once, just once, they saw the Light in Jesus.  So, they spent the rest of their lives listening.
If we can be witnesses to our Troubie athletes that they can go to the mountain top where they can point to Jesus and say, “I KNOW WHAT IS REAL!  I know that the Lord loves me.  I know that I am more than an athlete.  I am a beloved daughter of God who is in relationship with the Word made Flesh, who has given me EVERYTHING I am and EVERYTHING I have.   I am going to listen to Jesus as all aspects of my life unfold and I know when Jesus speaks to me in the depths of my heart, he will be speaking the Truth because he IS the Truth!”
Dear Coaches,  if you can mentor your athletes to reaffirm their true identity in the triune God, if you can help them integrate their athletic endeavors into their journey of faith, you are going to help form Christian athletes who will live fully with a sense of joy.  They will truly perform in The Zone, but the “Zone” is Christ our Lord, who is the source of our Life and the Way to realize our destiny.  Blessings on your coaching ministry!

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