Recently, Michael Jordan quietly turned 50. As analysts, old teammates and competitors remember the dominant player he was (or, perhaps, is), they will undoubtedly discuss his dominant playing style, his unrelenting drive and his inhuman ability to constantly sink game winning jump shots. All these aside, though, as the greatest player to ever play the game, Michael’s legacy is founded in his constant desire to better himself and his teammates. Of course, with a résumé that includes 6 NBA championships, 2 Olympic Gold medals and an NCAA Title, it is unsurprising that his image has been found hanging in the bedrooms and gyms of aspiring kids across the country. I don’t know about you, but there is just something about seeing him dunk over Patrick Ewing that makes me want to work on my own game.
In fact, I would be so bold as to say that Michael’s contributions to the game has caused a multitude of kids to want to be “like Mike”. We all need role models and Michael Jordan has certainly been that for countless children. His iconic status has surely inspired greatness in those who have looked up to him. He remains the criterion to which all new basketball stars are compared. David Beckham, the international soccer star wears a number 23 jersey in honor of Jordan. For those Space Jam fans out there, he even inspired Bugs Bunny and the “ToonSquad” to upset the “Monstars.” That being said, while I admire what Michael has done for the game and for children in need of a strong male figure, it begs the question of why we don’t promote our own icons…
If Michael Jordan can find his way into the aspirational imagination of a young ballplayer in the form of a poster, why can’t St. Francis do the same? I’ve heard plenty of young people say they want to be like Michael Jordan, Abby Wambach or Peyton Manning when they grow up. I’ve heard adolescents speak of their admiration for Dr. King, Nelson Mandela or ABC. What I’ve not heard is the following, “I want to be just like St. Benedict when I grow up,” or “When I’m older, I want to be just like Elizabeth Ann Seton.”
The church’s rich history of iconography has had the market on bedroom décor long before “Fathead.com” has. Our icons draw us into meditation on the life of each particular saint, thereby inspiring the same greatness in each of us. Jordan’s Game 6 jump shot certainly inspires me to keep my calm and focus, regardless of how the cards are stacked, but my icon of St. Patrick inspires me to bring the Gospel to where it is so desperately needed. The poster I had of Roger Bannister reminded me that no barrier was out of reach, even a sub-four-minute mile, but my icon of St. George reminds me that running a four-minute mile is nothing if you aren’t doing it for the Lord.
Often I am reluctant to aspire for sainthood. Looking at my life and all its faults, I feel that sainthood is not only out of reach, but foolish to even hope for. St. Ignatius, though, who’s icon hangs in my office, reminds me that if one aspires for sainthood, just as he did, sainthood will indeed be granted. Casting aside worldly fame, St. Ignatius constantly looked to the saints to inspire him to saintly holiness.
Who’s image hangs in your room and what are they inspiring you to do? Standing only 5’7’’, I know that a life like Michael Jordan’s is well beyond my reach (literally), but I love to run, so Sir Roger Bannister remains a fixture. With the help of God’s grace, I know that sainthood is not beyond my reach either, so St. Patrick, St. George and St. Ignatius hang there as well, reminding me that we are all called to sainthood – shepherds, soldiers, and basketball players, too.
Michael Jordan’s legacy has surely impacted me and will continue to do so, but ultimately when I grow up I want to be a saint.
Patrick J. Sullivan is working on his MA in theology at the University of Notre Dame through the Echo Faith Formation Leadership Program and is currently serving in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
“To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wildflower/ hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” During my junior year at Chaminade High School, Bro. Stephen Balleta, S.M. drilled these hallowed words of William Blake deep into the recesses of my brain. I’ve kept that stanza from The Auguries of Innocence neatly tucked away, perhaps in the same aisle of my mind as the such and such causes for World War I, the date of the Battle of Hastings and when to use affect as opposed to effect. Trivial though it may have seemed at the time, some six years later these words have finally manifested their power. William Blake, in that short, un-rhyming and jumbled stanza has captured what it means to see the world sacramentally.
The infinite world captured in a grain of sand, the boundless beauty expressed in a wildflower, the gift of holding infinity in the palm of our hand and the paradox of fitting eternity into one hour all capture (to the extent that human speech and thought are able to communicate and conceptualize) – the essence of sacramental nature. A sacramental worldview is less like viewing the world through rose colored glasses and more like journeying through space and time in Dr. Who’s TARDIS; the inside is exponentially larger than its external appearance implies.
Somewhere alongside my knowledge of the Battle of Hastings and World War I is also a (working) definition of sacrament: a tangible sign of the invisible grace of God (cf. CCC 1131). Each of our seven sacraments has a clear and tangible sign (e.g. the bread and wine brought for consecration and the water and oil used in baptism) that manifests that salvific grace which is otherwise beyond the grasp of our senses. A sacramental worldview, however, should extend beyond the liturgical function of our seven sacraments; rather, it should extend the sacraments themselves.
Living a sacramental worldview means, quite simply, viewing the world as sacrament. A redundant definition it might be, but often times the simplest explanations are the best. If we do truly believe that the Sacraments are moments in time where the invisible grace of God is made visible and tangible then seeing this same grace working constantly in and through our daily lives would only beg that we see the sacramental nature of daily life. This is not to say that every blade of grass is truly the transubstantiated body of Christ, but it does substantiate St. Ignatius’s charge to see God in all things. Furthermore, viewing the world through “sacramentally-tinted glasses” would mean seeing the very world itself as sacramental; it would mean recognizing our lives and everything that they contain as the gift that they are. Indeed, it would mean seeing this world, our fallen world, for what it truly is: a tangible sign of the invisible and salvific grace of God. That being said, the question is not so much what it means to live with a sacramental worldview, but rather how this worldview will change the way we act.
Every grain of sand is a window to the self-giving and creative essence of our God, every wildflower a taste of His beauty; we hold infinity in the palm of our hands before the reception of the Most Blessed Sacrament and eternity in an hour with each liturgy. Perhaps the Brothers at Chaminade knew what they were doing after all.
Patrick J Sullivan is working on his MA in theology at the University of Notre Dame through the Echo Faith Formation Leadership Program and is currently serving in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.