How many people know that Brett Farve, Howie Long and Dominique Dawes all share the same Faith?
For many of us, what our sports hero believes when it comes to God rarely matters unless he or she does something awful. If we find out that Catholic Tom Brady has had a child out of wedlock, we can all laugh at him when he later professes a recommitment to his Faith and The Church. If we discover that a baseball player on a World Series team won't head out of the dugout until he has fulfilled his Sunday Obligation to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we might shrug. When he gets ejected from the game for going after the pitcher and causes a bench clearing brawl, we can nod our heads and chuckle about what a hypocrite he is, thereby feeling oh so much better about ourselves.
Me, my reaction is different. What I know when I hear that Kobe Bryant is a Catholic or that Jim Thorpe honored both his Native American roots and stayed a Faithful Catholic throughout his life, what I know is these are men who recognized their own limitations despite their incredible talent. When I hear that Mike Piazza is a Catholic, I know that his relationship with Jesus Christ is so much more than a simple "Jesus and me" relationship; rather, it is one that encompasses the familial relationship of human with Holy Trinity that was designed by God.
Never once do I think, "Oh look, a perfect human!".
One of the strongest points of being a Catholic is the recognition of our need for Mercy and forgiveness. It is acknowledging that we struggle every day with the simple command of "Love one another". I know is how difficult that is for me. I don't WANT to love everyone because quite frankly I don't LIKE everyone (And yes, I understand I am not required to like those I am required to love, but it would make the who thing a lot easier for me). As difficult as following that command is for me, I cannot imagine what it must be like for someone in the spotlight of American Hero Worship Culture - that culture that hangs breathlessly on every word and waits anxiously for the Hero to fail, seeming to take such delight in their errors and problems.
I know I cannot love without the power of the grace I receive from Jesus Christ. I also know that the wonderful way to receive that grace is through the power of The Sacraments. The life giving power of God comes through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and so I avail myself of those Sacraments as often as possible.
When I find out that someone famous is a practicing Catholic, what I hear is the same message: here is a person who has recognized their marching orders, have their assignment from Jesus and knows they cannot do it on their own.
They are just like me - only much more talented and a whole lot richer.
So thank you, Pat Riley and Jim Caviezel. Thanks, John Stockton and Bobby Allison. Thank you for acknowledging that we are in the same family - and that we have the same way of looking at this struggle to live a good and holy life.
You are in my prayers.