My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
My heart is still pounding after watching the Blackhawks beat the Boston Bruins by scoring two goals 17 seconds apart in the final minute and 16 seconds of the deciding game to win the Stanley Cup, hockey's most cherished trophy. This is the Blackhawks' second hockey playoff championship in the past four years! Congratulations!
While I have been a huge hockey fan since I was a child, I have made some personal connections with the Blackhawks organization in the past few years, so this victory means more to me than simply watching from afar. I am happy for everyone who worked so hard to achieve this remarkable goal.
Speaking of achieving goals, I have recently collaborated with my brother Joe in writing a book called Holy Goals for Body and Soul: Eight Steps to Connect Sports with God and Faith. These eight steps start with three common challenges that confront us not only in sports, but in everyday life — fear, frustration and failure — and offer five helpful responses to these challenges — fortitude, faith, family, friendship and fun.
The picture on the front cover of the book shows me in my goalie equipment wearing a Blackhawks sweater while playing in the nets at practice with the Blackhawks a few years ago. After practice, I blessed the team, which they said they really needed since they weren't playing very well at the time. It seems that sometimes the Lord doesn't answer our prayers, at least not right away, but maybe it just takes a while for us to make use of the blessings that God gives us.
I realize that winning isn't everything (but it sure is fun!). I have often said that God will not ask us on the day of judgment what our won/lost record was, how many goals we scored or home runs we hit. But God does care what we do with the gifts and talents he gave us. That is why it is so enjoyable to watch talented athletes playing to the best of their ability.
At the same time, the only way that anyone succeeds in sports as well as in life is to learn how to deal with failure. Consider this: Ted Williams, called by many (including himself) "the greatest hitter who ever lived," is the last player to have a .400 batting average for one season. He hit .406 with the 1941 Boston Red Sox. The more typical standard for batting excellence is a .300 average. This means the best hitters get a hit only 30 percent of the time. Williams once remarked that batters who fail only seven times out of 10 attempts will go down as the greatest in their sport!
Goaltending is the only position in all of sports where your failure is brought to everyone's attention with the flashing of a red light, the referee blowing his whistle and pointing at the puck in the net behind you, your opponents raising their sticks, their fans on their feet cheering, and your own fans moaning and booing.
So why do we goalies do it?
Because despite the danger of being the goat, we can't resist the opportunity to rise up to the challenge. We get to be at the center of the action. We're the last line of defense. We're everyone's last hope. We're the one everyone's relying on. And that challenge is absolutely thrilling.
The only way we succeed at anything in life is to learn how to deal with failure. The worst failure in life is sin. If the failures of our sins lead us to despair, then we wind up like Judas. But if we believe in God's merciful love, accept his forgiveness and live in his grace, the Lord picks us up and leads us to the greatest prize we could ever hope to win: the victory of life over death and the eternal reward of everlasting happiness in heaven.
May God give us this grace. Amen.