How the sacraments changed four student-athletes
*Names of students have been changed to protect their privacy.
As I was walking up the stairs at Loras College on a bright September day, I saw a young man with a diamond stud in each of his ears, baggy plaid shorts, and a yellow t-shirt doing sweet tricks on his Razor scooter. I had seen Chris before. He is on the soccer team. Little did I know that in March, six months later, on a FOCUS retreat in Middle-of-Nowhere, Iowa, Chris’ actions, as well as the actions of three of his teammates, would bring my wife, Dene’, and me to joyful tears in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
I have to admit that I may have judged the trickster on that late summer’s day. He seemed cool, too cool to want to know anything about Jesus. I still talked to him when I could at practice, but we never got very far. So when I began in late January to invite people on FOCUS’ Spiritual Impact Bootcamp, it did not even register to me that he would be a future participant.
Healing from past emotional or spiritual wounds, personal discernment of the different gifts of the Holy Spirit, and spiritual reawakening in Christ are just three aspects of this powerful retreat. When I was a college student, I remember feeling burdened not only by papers and exams, but also by temptations and peer pressure. Before I had experienced Christ’s love and forgiveness, more often than not I gave into those things. Having spoken with many student-athletes at Loras College, I realize that many of them are going through the same joys and struggles that I experienced. Because of this, I began to pray that the entire men’s soccer team and women’s soccer team would attend the “Bootcamp” so they could experience Christ’s mercy and peace individually and as a community.
Shoot for the moon and land among the stars – God put it on the hearts of three men’s soccer players to give up a precious weekend of rest and relaxation to see what this retreat had to offer. They, along with most of the attendees, signed up well in advance. I was happily surprised then when, with three days left before the retreat began, Rick, one of the men’s soccer players, asked,
“Hey dude…Did Chris sign up for the retreat?”
Have you ever been forced to come on a retreat? Have you ever thought to yourself at the beginning of a retreat how much you do not want to be there? This was the attitude I saw on the faces of the four soccer players the second they walked into the door on Friday before Mass. Slowly but surely, however, this façade began to wear away and they began to smile more and socialize with others. Then, on Saturday afternoon, it happened.
When was the last time you experienced the joy of God’s mercy? For those four young men, it was on Saturday. We spent five hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament in adoration on Saturday, and during the first hour, the Sacrament of Confession was offered. One by one, each of the four soccer players lined up, and upon returning from the Sacrament, each of them began to cry. As I remembered my experiences of being set free from those burdens that hold me back from becoming the person I am meant to become, I began to cry with them. Then, I looked over at my wife, and she was crying too.
“What are you crying about?” I asked.
For the rest of the weekend, those four men who, just hours before had seemed too tough and too cool, now looked like little boys who had been held in the gentle and loving arms of their Father for the first time. They were at peace in Christ’s love.
It is a very powerful thing the Sacrament of Confession. A person walks in a sinner and walks out a saint, completely free of sin for the time being. If you haven’t been in a while, may I humbly ask, what is holding you back from experiencing the freedom of Christ? I am so thankful I was able to spend time with Chris, Rick, Ken, and Dave this past weekend. It was a reminder of just how powerful God’s love and mercy is.
How the sacraments changed four student-athletes
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Since the pontificates of Pope Paul VI and John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church has been commissioned to engage and embrace the world with God's message of love once more with ‘new methods, new ardor and new expression.’ It has come to be phrased, 'the new evangelization.'
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