Class of 2015: What kind of teammates will you be?

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Don’t make yourselves the center of the universe, and learn the meaning of sacrifice

Dear class of 2015,
Perhaps some of you have read "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown. It recounts the true story of the nine Americans who made up the eight-oar crew team that won gold in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. It’s a wonderful book that tells a fascinating, heartbreaking and inspiring tale. At its heart is Joe Rantz, the young man from Sequim, who fought his way through adversity after adversity to attend the University of Washington — and to make the crew team that would be solid, strong and fine-tuned enough to row all the way to the Olympics.

Because life had dealt him disappointment time and again, Joe had learned to make his own way in the world, to trust himself but few others. He was a talented athlete, and because he had to make his own way, he was always in good physical condition. He could pull an oar as powerfully and nimbly as the best of them, with uncommon strength and fierce determination. But he lacked an essential element for success in his sport — and, it seemed, in life.

George Pocock, a boatbuilder and accomplished oarsman, eyed both Joe’s raw talent and his Achilles’ heel. One especially stormy day, when Joe and his teammates were biding their time in the shellhouse down the hill from campus on Lake Washington, Pocock tapped Joe on the shoulder.

He had been watching Joe, he said, and had noticed that Joe rowed as if there were no tomorrow, as if he were aiming to cross the finish line all by himself. He told Joe that if he kept working like a lone ranger, if he kept rowing like a soloist and not as part of an orchestra, he would ruin the symphony he and his teammates were playing. Joe would have to learn to harmonize with his crew, and that would mean opening his heart to them, even risking getting his feelings hurt. “If you don’t like some fellow in the boat, Joe, you have to learn to like him. It has to matter to you whether he wins the race, not just whether you do,” Pocock told him.

“Joe, when you really start trusting those other boys, you will feel a power at work within you that is far beyond anything you’ve ever imagined. Sometimes, you will feel as if you have rowed right off the planet and are rowing among the stars.”

Seek the good of others first

It seems to me that George Pocock’s wisdom and Joe Rantz’s gumption have something important to say to us, and particularly to those graduating this spring from one stage of life to the next.

First, we have to learn not to make ourselves the center of the universe. We have to learn the meaning of sacrifice — that is, how to give ourselves for others and for a higher call. We have to learn to form genuine give-and-take friendships. We have to be trustworthy and learn to trust. We have to stop judging others and seek the good in them. And we have to want the best for them.

Everyone’s path in life is different, and judging the paths of others merely on the surface can be quite deceiving. The one who seems to have everything may be suffering in ways we could never imagine; the one who owns little might have the most to contribute; the one who stands shyly off to the side might be the most faithful friend one could hope for.

We live in a society that encourages judgment by appearances. But we who follow a Lord who sees to the heart and loves our souls are called to live by a different standard. The one I may be quick to judge is my brother, my sister.

Encouragement is a powerful tool for good. To encourage another who is downhearted is a great gift. Wanting what is best for him or her, we offer a smile, a word of kindness, a bit of our time. Such small gestures of love and encouragement can give someone strength to continue when the road has been rough. They are a sign of welcome, a way of saying, “You are a valued part of our team.” When seemingly against the odds Joe Rantz was chosen by his coach for the varsity crew, one of his new crewmates warmly told him, “Hey, Joe, I see you finally found the right boat!” Another said, “Got your back, Joe.”

Members of the class of 2015, you will be a part of many teams as the years go by, the most important of which will be your family and the Church. Seek the good of others first. Help others to win. Look to the heart, love the soul. Be a trusted friend. Offer encouragement.

Did you know that the Church is often called “the barque of Peter” — a boat? Active in the Church the rest of your lives, receiving what she has to offer and sharing it with others, you will be part of the greatest “team” of all, the body of Christ. In this way, you will not only row to the stars — you will rise up on eagles’ wings, by the grace and love of God.

Your friend in Christ,
Archbishop Sartain

Northwest Catholic - May 2015

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain

Send your prayer intentions to Archbishop Sartain’s Prayer List, Archdiocese of Seattle, 710 Ninth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104.