I thoroughly enjoy reading, and I especially love reading about sports. My favorite books include those in which athletes talk about their experiences growing up and how playing sports has shaped them as people.
I typically have a reading list that is several books long. That list includes two new ones from former NFL quarterback turned New York Mets minor leaguer Tim Tebow.
When my colleague Maria Elena Giossi – my former neighbor at The Tablet – gifted me a book on hockey for Christmas several years ago, I looked forward to diving right in. However, that was right around the time that my childhood idol and devout Catholic catcher Mike Piazza came out with his memoir – of course an instant must-read for me.
Plenty of books later, I finally got around to reading “Holy Goals for Body & Soul” by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, the bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill. In the book, Bishop Paprocki weaves his personal story with eight steps commonly associated with athletics that connect sports with God and faith.
To be honest, I couldn’t put it down! In fact, I think I ripped through it in less than two weeks, which is pretty fast for me.
Even at age 66, Bishop Paprocki stills plays hockey as a goaltender in a local amateur Masters Hockey League. Fondly known as the “Holy Goalie,” the bishop uses sports as a means to focus on his ministry.
Bishop Paprocki is the third of nine children who grew up on the South Side of Chicago. With six brothers, there was very little time when he wasn’t playing sports – especially hockey – in the family’s basement. He began playing competitive hockey in the 1960s, and it remains his true passion.
He was ordained a priest in 1978 and a bishop in 2003. In addition to his current role as an adjunct professor of law at Notre Dame Law School, Ind., he also is the episcopal adviser for Catholic Athletes for Christ, whose mission is to serve Catholic athletes and share the gospel through athletics.
Hockey has opened many doors for Bishop Paprocki, who constantly says his prayers for his favorite NHL team, the Chicago Blackhawks. He even was fortunate enough to play goalie during practice for the Blackhawks and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
This “Holy Goalie” though doesn’t just thrive on the ice. Since 1995, Bishop Paprocki has also run 23 marathons. Coming from someone who just completed his first marathon, I can’t even begin to think about the training and dedication that went into each of those races.
Hockey Can Be Holy
Through his book, Bishop Paprocki examines how athletics and faith work together to lead to a greater awareness of God’s presence in our everyday lives. We don’t normally associate hockey as being holy, but the bishop talks about how he’s encountered holiness on the rink.
“You don’t have to be a bishop to be a holy goalie,” Bishop Paprocki writes. “As a bishop however, I have a unique opportunity to speak from behind the goalie’s mask about how holiness can be found in something as popular and routine as sports and fitness.”
The first three steps the “Holy Goalie” writes about are fear, frustration and failure. All three of these are major parts of sports, especially failure. Even some of the greatest athletes of all-time – Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky and Jerry Rice – failed plenty of times. That failure led to frustration and the fear that they weren’t performing their best for their team.
It’s how we respond to that fear, frustration and failure that defines us as athletes, as Bishop Paprocki writes. The next four steps – fortitude, faith, family and friendship – balance out the first three.
Playing sports, just like practicing one’s faith, takes a special courage. Athletes also need to believe in the possibility of achieving a goal before even beginning. Said a different way, they need to have faith in both themselves and their teammates.
We hear the expression all the time that a sports team takes on the mold of being a family. Teammates often spend more time together than one’s actual family, given the time commitment it takes to play a sport at a high level.
Spending so much time together thus develops long-lasting friendships, since the athletes are sharing in a common goal and relying on each other through thick and thin.
These seven steps lay the groundwork of Bishop Paprocki’s message, but of course, most important is that sports should be fun. As the Holy Goalie wrote, God wants us to be happy, and having fun makes us happy.
“Sports can be even more fun when you think of God taking pleasure in your accomplishments,” he said.
Unfortunately, winning sometimes becomes the main focus of playing sports. Bishop Paprocki though says athletes can both play to win and play to have fun. Even if the final score doesn’t come out in your favor, you can still enjoy and learn from the experience.
“Using these steps, you can achieve your holy goals for the body and soul!” says the bishop as he concludes his writing.
I highly recommend this book to all hockey fans and also to anyone seeking ways to incorporate their faith into their daily lives.
Sports are just one way to go about that, but really you can find God in anything that you do – you just have to look.
Thanks again to Marie Elena for an excellent gift!
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.