More than Gold: Catholics representing in more ways than one at the London Olympics

July 27, 2012

Today, across  the Atlantic in one of Europe’s most storied cities, marks the beginning of the 2012 Olympics, where crowds are cheering, blind archers are making history, and the US flag is being carried by an alum of my school, the University of Notre Dame.

Olympic Fencer Mariel Zagunis, representing the USA and ND at once.

Zagunis’ selection as Team USA’s flagbearer is definitely an honor for Zagunis, and for Notre Dame — still the preeminent Catholic school in the US.  But in a sense, it also symbolizes the imprint the Catholic Church is making on these Olympics.

Catholic schools, for one, are being represented well.  A pair of teen swimming prodigies from Guam and Maryland are students at Catholic high schools, while a Brazilian vollyeball star says she learned many of her values from her Salesian education.

Pilar Shimizu, 16, a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School, is the youngest ever-athlete to represent Guam.

Katie Ledecky, 15, who will be a sophomore at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart this fall, has broken Olympic Trial records.

Maria Antonelli, 28, graduated from the St. Joseph Institute in Resende. She and Talita Antunes da Rocha are the 5th-ranked women’s volleyball pairing in the world.

Across the world, Catholic athletes are invoking patron saints to guide them as they compete, like the Filipinos, who are carrying San Pedro Calungsod as their intercessor for the Games.

The Catholic Church is sending more than just athletes to the Games, though.  Not only do the competitors have Sports Bibles offered to them and former athletes as their chaplains…The Catholic bishops of London, in a program called “More than Gold,” are urging Catholic families to open up their homes to the families of athletes in an effort to keep Olympians’ families close and together — certainly a refreshing and welcome effort to support families, after news that the London Olympics Committee provided athletes with 150,000 condoms (with more to arrive upon demand) for the duration of the Games.

Fr. Hilton, a former badminton, rugby, and soccer player, and a current professional bowler, will serve as a chaplain to the Olympians this year.  Who says the Church isn’t into sports?

Keep an eye out for these Catholics as the Games progress.  The Olympics — a worldwide competition — shows how the Catholic Church is indeed still a worldwide institution.

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Why Cigars Are Good For You

July 25, 2012

I’m being a little facetious, of course.  And I tend to think weird (i.e. lofty and true?) thoughts when I’m smoking a cigar, as I am now.

But I’m being a little serious, too.  Through my experience, I’ve come to believe that there are certain qualities to a cigar — and to a (moderate) habit to smoking one — that can help us live a better life, and a more Catholic life.

Montecristo Cigars, the favorite of one of Hollywood’s great Catholic directors, Alfred Hitchcock

How, you might ask?

Perhaps it’s the way cigars help build friendships.  Some of the most memorable and meaningful discussions for me have occurred over a cigar — from personal heart-to-hearts about life and love, struggles and fears; to joint intellectual exploration of important ideas, such as the compatibility of American democracy with Catholic hierarchy.  Times such as these are what C.S. Lewis called “the Golden Sessions.”

Perhaps it’s the way cigars help you relax and reflect on life when you’re alone…Those are the moments when you can be with yourself and with God and can say with full honesty and gratitude:  “Life is good.”

It might be in the ideas associated with a cigar.  Its celebratory connotations remind us that after struggle and work come respite and reward, while its connection to class can inspire a lad towards self-improvement and the life of the Catholic gentleman.

Maybe it’s the way cigars clear the mind and sharpen the senses, making you more aware of (and thankful for) the world’s beauty around you — whether it’s a city’s bright lights and passing cars, or nature’s shining stars and whispering wind.  (I recommend an accompanying glass of bourbon or merlot when you’re doing this.)

And maybe it’s simply the way cigars disappear.  Smoke fades, the wrapper burns away, and when it’s gone, you’re left contemplating the transient nature of  life…and the eternity to be gained beyond it.

GK Chesterton: champion smoker and a Catholic champion

Cigars, in short, help you reflect.  They loosen the tongue, they clear the mind, and they help you contemplate…and learning how to contemplate is the first step to learning how to pray, and learning how to pray is the first step to meeting God.  Above all, cigars can be an aid in making you present to the mystery of the here and now — the mystery of finding the eternal God in the ephemeral moment…or better yet, letting Him find you.

Now I’m not saying that smoking cigars is a moral imperative; there’s no real morality (or immorality) connected with it at all.  It’s a luxury, a pleasure that should be enjoyed in moderation.  Yet it is a pleasure that can be edifying — not just physically and mentally, but spiritually as well.  (Maybe that’s why liberal California tried to pass a law placing an extra tax on tobacco recently…)

What are your guys’ thoughts?  Is this too much of a stretch?  Maybe I should start being a little more coy about my favorite habits…

a helpful note:  To those interested in picking up this venerable habit but are poor college students like me who wince at cigars’ sometimes high prices, might I recommend Trader Jack’s?  Tobacco might not be top-notch, and the wrapper is often poor quality.  But for the sweet aroma and long ashes, it’s a solid bargain for beginners at $1.50 each. Read the rest of this entry »