When God calls, we must answer
by Pat Macken
Mercy. Such a beautiful and profound word to Catholics.
There are so many examples of Mercy in Scripture, including one of my favourites: Jesus showing his infinite mercy to the good thief being crucified next to him.
We also recall that in the early 20th century our Lord called on Sister Maria Faustina to be the Apostle of Divine Mercy, and of course we’ve just concluded the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis.
Who are some examples of mercy in sports and how can we ourselves show mercy in our sports experiences?
Eric Mahl played linebacker in football so well as a young man that he earned a scholarship to a Division 1 college in the U.S. and eventually made it all the way to the National Football League with the Cleveland Browns.
He was obsessed at being better than everyone else, and while he always attended Mass as a young man, his faith did not go much deeper.
While attending college at Kent State, Mahl went to a Protestant prayer group where he was asked, “When were you saved?”
As a Catholic he didn’t understand the question. He wanted answers and soon after he found a small Catholic bookstore near the campus.
As he entered the store the owner noticed that Mahl was wearing a scapular. When she asked about it Mahl said he didn’t always wear it. The woman then began to explain why he should wear it at all times.
She then told him all about the Divine Mercy message and devotion. “The messages that Jesus gave to St. Faustina about his mercy touched my heart,” says Mahl. “I wanted to experience that forgiveness and mercy that I read about in (St. Faustina’s) Diary.
Soon Mahl’s obsession with football began to wane as his quest for the glory of God became his passion. He still had a good college career and was drafted by Cleveland but he started to question whether he wanted the lifestyle. He even questioned whether it was all right to be playing games on Sunday.
As he continued to grow in love of the Lord and the grace he received through the sacraments, he wanted to begin a new life totally centred on Christ. He admits, “I didn’t have the courage to leave football. So I began to pray that they would cut me.”
For some time he prayed that he would be dropped, but it wasn’t until he brought his intention before the Blessed Sacrament that he got his answer. Within 10 minutes he had a call from the coach telling him that while the club loved his work ethic they had to cut him.
After working briefly in sales Mahl soon felt a call to “give everything to God, like the young man in Matthew 19.” He sold everything and became a hermit for three years. “I came to understand God’s love for all, especially sinners,” he said.
Soon after, he felt he should share this message of God’s Divine Mercy with the poor and sinners. He spent time living with the homeless in order to know them better and now works with the Association of Marian Helpers in the Boston area, serving as a liaison for communities that work with thea poor.
Another former budding star athlete who quotes Matthew 19 is Grant Desme. He is now a Norbertine priest but just a few years ago he was expected to be the Oakland A’s next five-tool baseball star.
Like Mahl, Desme is a fan of the Divine Mercy devotion and St. Faustina, and he loves her quote, “Without humility we cannot be pleasing to God.”
Much like Mahl, he experienced an uneasiness while playing baseball, as if he was only serving himself. “It felt selfish of me when God was calling me to more,” he said.
He, too, now has a sense of peace as he looks after others who need to see and hear of God’s love and mercy.
Here are a few ways that any athletes out there can practise mercy in competition and on your team.
Showing forgiveness toward an opponent who has cheated, or crossed the line in trash talking, is one example. As Catholics we are expected to bring our faith into every aspect of our life, and we need to forgive others on a daily basis. Ironically, forgiving your opponent or even a coach can relieve anger that sometimes carries over into other parts of our life. It will also help you focus on your task during the game.
Mercy can also help us to empathize with teammates who are injured or down on themselves due to poor play. Be the friend that they need at that time. You’ll require humility and a sense of gratitude, which will encourage you to reach out to others in need.
In some cases, you may need to be supportive of an opponent who is upset at losing to you on the field or court. Of course after defeating a competitor, gloating or mocking them is unsportsmanlike. Be a gracious and grateful winner who understands the pain someone feels after a loss (we have all been there).
As a Catholic athlete or coach, let’s keep an eye out for opportunities to show mercy in all of our sports experiences.