Give Us Shepherds

How did you become the team chaplain?

The head of mission and identity at the time, Stephanie Russell, asked me if I had ever considered being the chaplain for the basketball team, and to be honest, I hadn’t. One of my fellow Jesuits worked in the office with her while she was throwing around names and said that I was a “no-brainer” because I had such an interest in basketball. When I was at Creighton, I used to go to the basketball practices.

What has it been like to be the team chaplain?

As I say when people tell me they see me on TV, “You wear a Roman collar and sit on a bench, you become famous.” It’s mainly because of the love fans and the alumni have for the university that they see symbolized in me as a Jesuit, so I’m really being taken up into something much bigger than myself or anything I do. I realize that my simply being there is already a ministry. Beside the fact that when needed I can provide the sacraments as well, and be present to the players who are always so terribly welcoming. It’s really a tribute to the whole athletic department and the university, the way they welcome this old priest in their midst.

Why is it important to attend to the spiritual welfare of student athletes and what advice do you have for parents with children in sports?

I think my being there is a constant symbol that everything in this world is relative to where we’re coming from and where we’re ultimately going as human beings. It isn’t a warning type of symbol but rather that they don’t have to regard sports as the absolute in their lives. If they aren’t completely successful in sports, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t successful as human beings. Also, play itself is an integral part of human life and a real, true human good. We are not mere day laborers in this world. God wants us as children to delight in His creation and human life as a whole.

You have written extensively on the sacraments. What inspired you to focus on sacramental theology?

I think it goes back to that God in Christ has become human. He took the human phenomenon seriously. He lived a true human life where he grew in wisdom and age and grace, and he fulfilled his human life by fulfilling God’s will unto death. Our religion isn’t just a religion of the mind, it really is a religion of the whole person, and that involves the earth. St. Augustine said, “Jesus is from the earth,” so we take elements of the earth that he used to express himself for us to commit ourselves to God and Christ. In the bread, we see all the ways that God feeds us in this world, and especially in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Do you have any advice for those preparing for the Easter sacraments and First Communion or those who have recently received them?

We know that sacraments aren’t just things that happen to us; we don’t just put our bodies in the way. They are actions of Christ acting through our own will, so the more we can open ourselves up to the gift of the sacrament, the more it has a transforming effect in our lives, because what are we doing? We’re being brought into the events of his death and Resurrection. As St. Paul said, “Do you not know when you were baptized, you were baptized into the death of Christ,” so we let ourselves be taken up into his self-sacrifice. If we love him, we love him because he has given himself to the Father through his self-gift to us. If we love that, we want to be a part of it. We become his presence in the world, so the more intentional we are at that, the more it is a real event in our lives. It’s a transforming event.

Why is infant baptism such an important practice and how can the parents and godparents ensure they are properly prepared for the commitment they make at their children’s baptisms?

There’s evidence, even from the early Church, that (infant baptism) had been a practice. In the Acts of the Apostles, when they say this person and that person and “their whole household” were baptized, that presumably included the children. Remember also Jesus’ saying in the gospel, “Let the little children come to me.” More than that, we human beings are never value-free in our lives. If we don’t give values to our children, the world around us is still going to do it. But if we truly believe that all true love comes from God, who is love, through Jesus Christ, then why would we not want to have our children baptized in that love, in Jesus Christ, as if they could possibly find a different or better source when they get older?