Glorifying God comes first for Lions basketball team.
During my junior year of seminary studies in Minnesota, I vividly remember facing the Sacred Heart Lions in basketball at an annual seminary basketball tournament. As our team trailed by more than twenty points, I looked over the bench at an unconventional coach Fr. John McDermott SJ, accompanied by a tall mascot, “Leo the Lion,” who I would find out later is a current classmate of mine here at Sacred Heart and has turned out to be a great friend.
I knew with confidence that we would be defeated by the Sacred Heart Lions that day. What I didn’t know was that I would be joining that same basketball team only in a matter of years, and that some of the men that I had played against then I would eventually recognize as my brothers now.
We have a group of about fifteen men who meet twice a week for practice, and meet throughout most weekends from November through February for scrimmages, games, and tournaments. Our competitors are diverse in makeup: we scrimmage a team from a seminary in Texas, a team of priests of the Archdiocese of Detroit, and even a team of FBI members. No game is an easy game; we approach each opponent with a unique game plan and strategy.
Playing basketball at Sacred Heart unites men from both the college and the theologate, banding together players who have a wide range of experience with the sport. While some come onto the team having played in high school or college, others may have never played organized basketball in their lives. Both types are welcome, and both types are encouraged to play. As a team we practice and as a team we improve.
The season concludes with two tournaments that take place shortly after returning for our second semester of studies. Mundelein Seminary, which is just north of Chicago, and the Pontifical College of the Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, host a number of seminaries from across the United States. Bringing in hundreds of men who are all in formation and studying for the priesthood, these two tournaments are undoubtedly the highlights of the season for all of us. What would otherwise be normal weekends at Sacred Heart are spent as a team of brothers who take the time to travel, eat, pray, and compete together.
It’s a privilege to be a part of such a varied group of men who work diligently throughout the season to build up one another individually and as a team. When St. Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 12 about the various roles that we possess as members of the Body of Christ, Paul speaks to a truth that we see lived out in a very real way throughout the season. Some of us can shoot from beyond the arc, and some of us can post-up inside, hoping to get a shot from inside the key. So too, when one of us is hurt, we as a team hurt. When one man hits a great shot, we partake in his victory.
We need each person on the team that God has brought together, and the season wouldn’t be the same without those very people.
While we play so as to win, we also play — first and foremost — to glorify God. It’s evident that each of my teammates places Jesus Christ at the center of his reason for playing and his reason for living. In our humanity, we can get competitive, angry, excited . . . yet when we return to prayer after each game, we as a team bring ourselves back to the necessary reminder that the game that we play isn’t about us.
As all things are, the game of basketball is yet another gift from God. We bless him whether we win or lose. To live out that ideal as a team takes humility, and it takes practice.
Right before a recent game, a brother spoke up to the team. “I was praying about the game this morning, and the Lord reminded me that the only thing we should be focusing on is him. We have an audience of One, guys.”
And so, with our audience of One in mind, we play.
This year, the Sacred Heart Lions finished with a record of 9-5, tying for fifth place at the Mundelein Seminary Tournament and coming in second place at the Josephinum Seminary Tournament. The Lions are grateful for all of the support that has come from the benefactors, brother seminarians, staff, faculty, and alumni of Sacred Heart. We look forward with great optimism to the beginning of a new season in the fall of 2017.