Saturday, October 31, 2015
SOCCER AND SANCTITY
Sometimes spiritual lessons come in very plain wrapping and seem pretty obvious, I've been enjoying learning some wisdom from St. Benedict's Prep's soccer players.
Our J.V., Freshman, and 7th-8th Grade soccer teams all play their home games on our field right here on the grounds. Our soccer teams tend to be very good, which makes them that much more fun to watch. In addition, because the grandstand is located on the side of a steep hill, you're looking down on the field and can easily watch the flow of the game and appreciate how well the kids play together.
For some reason, I started to notice recently how a team can get into this smooth flow, in which individual players submerge themselves into the team’s movement and contribute to the team’s purpose. Our kids tend to be very skilled at ball handling and passing, so when they get into that groove it's truly impressive. Often the ball whizzes around the field with a series of “one-touches,” with each player moving the ball quickly and precisely to a teammate without dribbling it. I don’t know much about soccer strategy, but even I can see that this kind of teamwork opens up lots of possibilities for scoring goals.
The interscholastic soccer season ended this week. By happy coincidence this also marked the arrival of a young alumnus to begin his monastic journey as a Benedictine with us here in at Newark Abbey. It occurs to me that some of the beauty of the flowing teamwork of those soccer games is reflected in our community living. I hope our new candidate will catch on quickly. Here are a couple of things I’d like him to learn. They're actually lessons for anyone who is trying to live the gospel.
First, there’s the principle that says, “It’s not about me!” Any soccer player who tries to keep the ball so he can show off his fancy footwork will completely wreck what the team is trying to create together. It's about contributing your skills to the team’s effort and cooperating with their plan. Certainly this is the main point of living in a monastic community: we help one another to seek God as a community. St. Benedict uses the Latin phrase “omnes pariter,” “all together,” in various places in the rule, prescribing, for instance, that all the monks should stand up “all together” at the end of a psalm. The most important use of the phrase is when he says that the members of the community will one day arrive “all together” at our heavenly home. We don’t get there as individuals but as members of a loving community.
Second, the skills necessary to play soccer at a high level need to be acquired by practice -
you need to work hard early on to develop proficiency. For example, you need to concentrate hard on the proper positioning of your feet, or on keeping your head just so when you’re kicking. But the good news is that after awhile you start to do these basic things naturally, without a lot of struggle. The varsity soccer player no longer has to concentrate on the fundamentals he learned when he was six years old, he does them automatically by now. It’s the same way, St. Benedict tells us, with the monastic life. At first the way is narrow and difficult, but after you’ve been at it in the monastery for awhile you start to do things without as much struggle, by second nature. I pray that our new candidate will one day live his monastic life with that same easy grace.
A third lesson I’d like our new candidate to learn from watching a good soccer game (or any competitive sport) is how to deal with adversity. It’s always interesting to watch faces and body language after a goal is scored. The players who just got scored on have to struggle to keep their heads up and their shoulders squared. Being down by a couple of goals can make some people want to give up, or it can make a team even more determined to work that much harder. In the monastery, a young person needs to learn, there will be problems, mistakes, and periods of discouragement. These times need to be prized and used as helps along the way, because from them we can learn some crucial lessons such as humility, perseverance and trust in the Lord.
Please pray that our new guy takes these and other lessons to heart, and that I as his Director, along with the rest of the community, might be of some help to him along the way.