Saturday, September 26, 2015

Holiness and Professional Sports... Not Impossible After All

My wife and I are currently promoters for the Couple to Couple League, which is a form of Natural Family Planning (NFP) using the Sympto-Thermal Method. NFP is a form of family planning that does not utilize chemicals or other artificial contraceptives, and is totally in line with Catholic Church teaching. All though it can be a bit of a struggle at times, I think my wife and I have both seen the fruits that NFP has brought to our lives as we try to grow in holiness according to God's will. Now this being the case (that is, being in line with Church teaching), not too many people follow NFP, and certainly doesn't have a high status among people in my generation... or my parents' for that matter. I will admit that with the whole "green" movement making waves here in the Western world, there are some secular people jumping on board. Still, it would appear we are a minority, This is why I was really surprised when I saw an interview with major league pitcher David Phelps of the Miami Marlins in Couple to Couple League's Family Foundations magazine.

Now I'm a baseball fan, so I'm thinking, "Really... a professional athlete giving an AWESOME witness for his faith... publicly, and on top of that, for a family planning tool that is completely counter-cultural? Why isn't this guy playing on my team?!"

The Happy Family- engraving, 1828
In the interview, Phelps states that NFP "[is] another opportunity for us to invite God into our personal lives. as a couple, our faith is one of the things that keeps us strong. The more opportunities we have to invite God into our lives- in the most intimate way possible, inviting God in on a regular basis- has definitely kept us strong." I've heard of other big-name, Catholic baseball players before like Mike Piazza and Mike Sweeny. But Phelps is different, as he's a fellow millennial (28 years old) like my wife and I; he makes such a strong profession of his Catholic faith in a way that I've never seen before. Here are a few more excerpts, emphases mine:
"I think one of the biggest helps in us practicing NFP is we both appreciate [Pope St. John Paul II's] Theology of the Body very much. We both like to think that we're strong in our faith, and this is one area of life that demands our faith to be strong...
 "I've been fortunate to have a lot of friends in baseball who are passionate about their faith. most of them are Christian but not Catholic. I've had some pretty in depth conversations about NFP because those who are devout [non-Catholic] Christians understand that Catholics don't believe in contraception, so everyone asks the question: "Oh, what, are you gonna have 10 kids? You're on your way to have a whole baseball team of your own." A lot of non-Catholics have an interesting view of what it means to be Catholic. They believe there are a lot of rules to follow and that we do things just because we're Catholic, not because we're convicted about it. I think that's a big thing my teammates take away from talking to me about NFP."
David Phelps pitching for the New York Yankees in 2013
In addition, both Phelps and his wife, Maria, are a teaching couple for Couple to Couple League, and during the offseason give a few talks to young people about the virtue of chastity. I have to say, this young baseball player is doing much more than I, and he should be commended. There was another interview with Phelps from the National Catholic Register posted a couple years ago, where Phelps details just how important his Catholic faith is to him, especially the Sacrifice of the Mass. The whole interview is a great read, but here's a few excellent excerpts, emphases mine:
"In 2008, I began to realize that God deserved far more attention than I had been giving him. Instead of going to Mass more regularly, though, I started going to an Assemblies of God church with my roommate. I thought all you needed was to accept Jesus as your Savior, and everything would be fine. Church attendance was seen as nice but not necessary. Maria would help me grow in my understanding of everything Jesus has to offer us and what we’re called to give back to him...
"I came to realize what I was missing out on. There are so many great things in the Catholic Church, but the most desirable one is the Eucharist. It had been so long since I had received Jesus sacramentally, and I knew it was time to start doing so again. [A priest and I] discussed my concerns, and he heard my confession. All the obstacles that had kept me back from being totally united to Jesus were removed, and I was able to receive him in the Eucharist again. It was a great relief to be back in the Church.
"It is because of [Maria and her family] that I now fully participate in the Mass, go to Eucharistic adoration and pray the Rosary. The Rosary is something Maria suggested I start doing as part of my pre-game preparation. It helps to calm my nerves by drawing down grace and reminding me that there’s more to life than baseball.
"Another thing I’ve gained from the Church is an understanding of the theology of the body, a topic I’ve found to be life-changing. To know not just the biological significance, but the theological significance of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman is incredibly helpful. It puts individual actions in the greater context of an all-encompassing divine Providence.
"I’m incredibly blessed to be a member of the Catholic Church, the body of Christ... When I’m on the road, I search for a parish near our hotel. When I walk inside, I can feel the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Regardless of which city we’re in, Jesus remains the same, and his Church does as well."
 How awesome as that? A very powerful witness for the Catholic faith indeed. I've always kinda liked the Marlins anyway, I guess I'll have to pay more attention to Phelps next season, maybe even pick him up for my fantasy league. He definitely has a new fan, and I hope his witness to his teammates and students bears much fruit.

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