All of us in central Illinois watched with pride and extreme joy as Ryan Held, Sacred Heart-Griffin High School alumnus, won a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. I joined his fans in screaming for joy when the relay finished with the U.S. team winning. The real beauty of who Ryan Held is was seen not only in his great accomplishment as an Olympic swimmer, but as well as we watched Held be “real” with his emotion during the playing of the National Anthem. A true American, his tears said it all and it brought all of us to tears as well. These are such great moments to remember.
I enjoy watching the Olympics. I love hearing the stories of so many of the athletes who have given up so much, and have invested so much of their life, their sweat and tears to even be chosen to represent their respective countries. However, so few ever return home with a medal.
Moreover, few of us really will ever know the full extent of what it takes to become an Olympian — we can only watch, listen, and be amazed. Most of us do not have the stamina, or discipline to enter into that quest to be an Olympic athlete, and this is fine. Hopefully these two weeks have once again given us a time to marvel at the success of such outstanding men and women in the sports arena. From Michael Phelps with 28 medals overall, all the way to Ryan Held with one — they are champions in their own rite.
Don’t you love to hear the stories of great folks and great accomplishments? We are blessed all around us to come to know wonderful folks who do great things, especially in the eyes of God and our church.
This past week the Cathedral lost one of their finest and Heaven gained a saintly man. Richard Lefferts was honored with the Mass of Christian Burial on Tuesday. Since I entered the seminary in 1978 I have known who Richard Lefferts was by attending so many religious ceremonies at our beloved Cathedral. Rich always was there at every ceremony as an usher, as a minister of hospitality to all the folks from throughout our diocese who would gather at the mother church. He was active as a Knight of Columbus Council #364 who is well known for their active role in promoting the faith, and helping with so many wonderful causes. He was also a treasurer for the St. Vincent de Paul Society of the Cathedral Parish which has a great outreach to our poor and homeless.
Rich always knew me, always spoke to me, and always reminded me he was praying for vocations and for me while I was in the seminary and after I was ordained as a priest. I believe without a doubt Rich Lefferts was truly a “gold medal Catholic.” He loved the church, served the church, and for countless years gave his ministry to reach out, pray for, and welcome, feed and help those in need.
I read also that Barbara Rawe of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield was celebrating her 98th birthday. That is an accomplishment in itself, so congratulations Barb! I always remember Barbara, who is a mother of 13 children, went with 9 or 10 of her daughters to the Oprah show and they are got a “family” makeover for this “outstanding mother” and her girls. It was a great story.
I came to know her in 1992. For the past 24 years I have seen this woman of faith truly live out her call from the Lord to be his servant. Barb was very involved in the Daughters of Isabella, the DCCW, and her parish altar society. She was involved in her parish in different liturgical ministries. God has always been first in Barb’s life. She encouraged one of her daughters, Sister Lucy, to enter in religious life, but also most all of her children are very much alive in the Spirit as members of their church parishes. Her witness truly made an impact on her children’s choices to follow her lead, and follow their God saying, “Here I am. Send me.” Truly Barb Rawe without a doubt would be a “gold medal Catholic,” and she is not done yet!
“Intentional discipleship” is all about spending a lifetime of investing oneself in your own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Like any athlete who becomes an Olympian, we too are asked, invited, and encouraged by God to “come and follow me.” It is a journey. As a kid I loved playing Khoury League baseball. That is as far as I got. Some like Sam Coonrod, from St. John Parish in Carrollton go farther and now finds himself in Double AA baseball in Richmond, Va. You have to give so much more to get that far, but if this is your gift, you say yes daily, you struggle, you achieve, both “the thrill of victory,” and “the agony of defeat.”
I baptized Sam in 1992. I have remained close friends with his family. I talk with Sam often and encourage him. We talk “faith” often. He is open and wants to be faithful to God and grateful to God. It is one thing to make the Sign of the Cross as you go up to bat at the stadium and on TV, but having a personal relationship with God which has molded you in the man (or woman) of God is the deeper way of life. Sam never hesitates from seeking this identity. He is a “gold medal” Catholic in my book.
We in our diocese are promoting “intentional discipleship” as a way of life. Right now we have many great Catholics in our diocese, and yet we probably have less than 10 percent who have made the investment to fully become a full-fledged “intentional disciple.” Like Sherry Weddell in her book Forming Intentional Disciples encourages, I am so excited for this ministry of going out and evangelizing all our Catholics to seek this deeper walk, make this deeper commitment.
We all will have to stand before God. Will he invite us to stand on the podium as he places the gold (crown) medal around us? Let’s learn from Ryan, Rich, Barbara and Sam — let’s go for the gold!