Live Like a Saint Today
Tips on how to play to win as a deacon-champion
Leon Suprenant 0
Some people are raised Catholic. Some people are raised Methodist. I was raised a Notre Dame fan!
As a lifelong Fighting Irish football fan, I have always been intrigued by the team’s locker room sign saying, “Play Like a Champion Today.” An 18-year-old freshman may not be the next Joe Montana or Paul Hornung, but this is his day, not theirs. He hopes to be a worthy successor of those who went before him, and so he resolves to play his very best today. As he walks out onto the playing field, he touches the sign as if to say, “Amen.”
When my children were younger, our bedrooms were all upstairs, and at the base of the narrow staircase I placed a sign that said, “Live Like a Saint Today.” As we emerged from our rooms to begin our day, we realized we were not a family of heroic saints, like St. Thérèse’s or St. Bernard’s families. Yet this was our life, not theirs. We knew that God calls everybody without exception to become saints and that God created us for this moment in history. As we clambered down the stairs for breakfast, we would all enthusiastically hit the sign as if to say, “Amen.”
The lesson I tried to impart to my children is universal, because the call to holiness is universal. As the French essayist Léon Bloy commented over a century ago, “There is only one tragedy in the end: Not to have been a saint.”
Turning to Canon Law
This is certainly true when it comes to holiness for deacons and deacon candidates. The rationale is embedded in the Code of Canon Law: “In leading their lives, clerics are bound in a special way to pursue holiness since, having been consecrated to God by a new title in the reception of orders, they are dispensers of the mysteries of God in the service of his people” (Canon 276.1).
Canon 276.2 provides a helpful list of spiritual exercises to assist the cleric in his pursuit of holiness, from participation in the sacraments and the Liturgy of the Hours to mental prayer, devotions and times of retreat, among other things.
In my experience, all aspirants, candidates and deacons desire to be saints. Men do not apply to deacon programs — let alone put up with years of formation — to be unholy, tepid deacons. They want to give their “Amen” to the sign.
For our part, as formation directors, we affirm the potential and desire in these men to respond with heroic generosity to what they perceive to be a possible calling from God to serve his people as deacons.
Let’s return to our Notre Dame football analogy.
Heroic intentions are a great start, but they will only get us so far. In a football game, the other team is also trying to win! For the Notre Dame players, maybe it’s the USC Trojans or the Crimson Tide of Alabama. Preparation, teamwork and execution are necessary for success.
As followers of Christ, we understand that our opponent is Satan and his “team” of demons. Not only that, we have to admit that we are not always the best “players” we can be because of the lingering effects of sin. Further, perhaps at one time being a Christian in the world was more of a “home game,” but now it is decidedly a road game played out in a most hostile environment.
Deacons play an important position in the life of the Church as “dispensers of the mysteries of God in the service of his people.” They certainly have the grace of their baptism, confirmation and ordination to fortify them, but they cannot simply roll out of bed and expect to “live like a deacon saint today” without fully applying themselves to this holy endeavor.
Taking the Field
Fortunately, there are some tried-and-true ways to prepare to take the field:
Know the playbook. How well do I know Scripture and the teachings of the Church? Even more, do I know the author of the playbook? Do I know my faith interiorly? Do I bring a fully Catholic worldview to my ministry?
Practice. Am I trying to develop good habits and skills? We call them virtues. Virtues enable us to do the right thing in real time with ease, readiness, joy and effectiveness. This spiritual muscle memory enables us to remain disciplined and on point when the going gets tough. Note to self: The going will get tough.
Coaching and teamwork. Am I humble enough to be coachable? Do I have a spiritual director or mentor? Do I seek out Christian friends who will support me and hold me accountable? If married, am I living my marriage faithfully and fruitfully? Do I draw upon the intercession of the saints?
Learn from mistakes. Do I get overly down on myself because of my sins and weaknesses? Am I tempted to give up? Do I frequently and humbly approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Do I allow God to work on me and build me back up so that I can be a holier deacon or deacon candidate?
Game plan. Do I just walk out onto the “field” with a whatever approach, or am I intentional about making holiness a priority? Do I have a plan of life to help guide my daily and weekly choices? At the same time, am I flexible enough to make halftime adjustments — to adapt my plan of life to meet new and challenging circumstances?
Nutrition and pregame meal. Am I careful about what I put into my body, including music and images? Above all, do I frequently and devotedly turn to the Eucharist as my principal source of life and spiritual nourishment?
As Coach Herm Edwards once said, “You play to win the game.” Our life in Christ is much more than a game. It is a vital relationship with the living God, and he truly desires to give us all the grace we need to become saints.
But I also think that God expects his deacons to compete well in the spiritual battles we find ourselves in. As St. Paul would, and basically did, say, “Play to win!” (cf. 1 Cor. 9:23-27).
LEON SUPRENANT is co-director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
Inspiration from St. Paul
To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.
Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.