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Going for the Gold!
By Deacon Bob Digan
As we watch the Olympic games in Sochi, Russia, where we hear the echo of Olympic philosophy — higher, faster, stronger — one wonders: of what does true greatness consist?
Saint Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable [wreath]."
And in Hebrews 12:1 we read, " ... [L]et us run with endurance the race that is set before us."
How, then, is true greatness obtained, and of what does it consist?
First, we look "Down Under" to an Australian football star — an Aborigine — named Daniel Wells, who is chasing the eternal prize, the imperishable crown. An outstanding and classy "footy star" for the North Melbourne "Kangaroos," Daniel is admired by fans and players as a loving family man who has a sincere and deep love for our Lord and Our Lady.
He leads his family in praying the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, as well as the Divine Mercy Novena prior to Divine Mercy Sunday. Daniel's wife, Mariangela, says that their young daughter, Laudato Angelus, has taken her father's example to heart. When passing a cemetery, for instance, she prays for the souls of the deceased. In fact, the whole family has a devotion to the souls in Purgatory.
Going against cultural currents in Australia where Mass attendance has declined considerably, Daniel's dedication to his faith has become more inspirational than a winning goal for many of his admirers — teammates and opponents alike. The press has picked up on the fact that he makes it a point to always attend Mass no matter where his "Roos" are playing. His coaches and teammates are very respectful of the emphasis Daniel places on his Catholic faith, even if Mass attendance cuts into the team meeting schedule. He prays before each game, not for "success," but rather that everyone remains safe and that players and fans alike enjoy themselves.
Daniel lives his faith by example. He spends his off-time, not traveling the world, but rather being at home, sharing time with his family — and with God, attending Eucharistic Adoration during the week. Is this his secret to success: a balanced life of work, faith, and family? Yes, but there is one more very important quality to "winning the gold."
On a personal level, I had the honor of being invited to dinner at Daniel's house with his family while I was traveling in Australia and New Zealand on speaking engagements.
As an after-dinner treat, Daniel showed us some movies of some of his "footy" games. After seeing Daniel's great ability, I was so impressed that I said to him that the American NFL should hire him. But with true greatness and humility, he said no; he said that you have to be really good, that there are better players than him. I disagree, and I believe the New England Patriots would be Super Bowl champs again if they had Daniel on the team! Daniel gave me an autographed personal football that he practiced with.
(As an aide, it's interesting that Australian football is different than American football in that it is very rough, without any padding as American football uses.)
Here's another example of athletic and religious greatness:
I was 35,000 feet above the earth, on a flight back from a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, when I was introduced to a man named Tom Courtney.
"Why does your name ring a bell?" I asked him.
Turns out, he was an Olympic gold medal winner in the 1956 Summer Games in Australia. But that's not how he described himself. Rather, he downplayed his accolades, saying humbly that he got "two first place finishes." He never mentioned the word "gold."
I mentioned to Tom that my son won gold and silver medals in the Special Olympics. On hearing this, Tom began to shed tears for he knows that in order to even compete in the regular Olympic games one has to be in perfect health, and he was grateful to God for that. Again, humbly, he expressed that the Brit who was the favorite to win in the 1956 games would probably have won had he not suffered a cramp.
Two weeks after getting home from the pilgrimage, Tom, a true Olympian, sent a signed autographed photo of himself to our son, Bobby, saying: "To Bobby, a True Olympian." Tom had me crying this time. Tom and Bobby had great love and devotion to Our Lady and the Divine Mercy.
Back to our question: Of what does true greatness consist? ?
We read in St. Faustina's Diary, entry 427, "True greatness of the soul is in loving God and in humility." Also, in entry 889, we read that "greatness consists not in great deeds but in great love."
Clearly, we can see this greatness in Daniel, Tom, and Bobby chasing the eternal prize, the imperishable crown, the solid gold prize of loving God, Our Lady, and our neighbor.
For an excellent article on Daniel Wells, visit The Record. Great thanks to The Record's Matthew Biddle for his wonderful article, which I drew from. Also, visit YouTube for some excellent videos of Daniel.
Deacon Bob Digan lives in Lee, Mass. He witnessed the miraculous healing of his wife, Maureen, which led to the beatification of Sr. Faustina. Their story is included in the Marian Press book Loved, Lost Found: 17 Divine Mercy Conversions. Deacon Bob and Maureen speak at conferences and parish missions. They can be reached via email, firstname.lastname@example.org.