Saturday, September 03, 2011

NYT: Priest officiates play from above.

Today's edition of the New York Times has a story on Father Paul Arinze, a priest of the Diocese of Madison who also serves as an umpire at professional tennis matches - including at the US Open:
So a Catholic priest walks onto a tennis court. Seriously. It happens, for Father Paul Arinze, every day at the United States Open.

Often, Arinze climbs into the chair, as a certified bronze badge umpire. There, he officiates serves, not church services, matches instead of Mass. Below, players cross themselves and pray for victory or take the Lord’s name in vain. They do not know that while God may not be interested in their tennis match, a clergyman is watching from close range.

"Sometimes, I’m tempted to say, 'You know, you have a Catholic priest sitting here,'" Arinze said, reclining on a bench during a break Wednesday. "But it’s O.K. Being a priest, you’re trained to forgive."

By day, Arinze works as director of vocations for the Diocese of Madison, Wis. At tournaments, he trades his robes for the polo shirts worn by the officials, his altar for the chair. Some of his fellow umpires address him as Father Paul, or F.P., and on Sundays some follow him to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.

Upon arrival at different tournaments, Arinze first finds the nearest Catholic church. There, his twin passions intersect, again.

They are, Arinze said, more similar than at first glance. In church and on the court, Arinze witnesses the extremes of human emotion, the best events of people’s lives and careers (baptisms and weddings, victories and championships) and also the worst (funerals and losses).

In both instances, there is no one best approach. The basics are the same, but the personalities are different, and thus the approach must be as well. The constant is dealing with people who mostly just want someone — a priest, an umpire — to listen to them, a private confession versus a public one.
As the NYT article goes on to explain, Arinze was an avid tennis player during his youth in Nigeria and started judging matches as a newly-ordained priest in Madison. His hobby has taken him to Wimbledon as well as to the U.S. Open, but it has also complemented his ministry as a priest. As the article continues:
His day job, at its core, is about recruiting for the priesthood. Tennis, and the attention he has gained from it, helps him. He can talk about his hobby, too, to show how becoming a priest does not mean one must give up everything.

Tennis officials have asked Arinze to consider pursuing the game full time. "No thank you," he always responds, "I love my job."
To read the rest, click here. As one who has been edified by the example of the Jesuit who annually attended the Cannes Film Festival for four decades and by countless other "hyphenated priests," I am rather pleased by the idea of a Catholic priest officiating at professional tennis matches.

I'm not at all interested in tennis on a personal level, but it strikes me that, if we're expected to find God in all things ("we" in this context meaning all Christians, not simply Jesuits or lay devotees of Ignatian spirituality), then we should be able to find God at events like the US Open or at Wimbledon. For Father Arinze, finding God in all things means finding God at the US Open. Perhaps we would all do well to ask ourselves what 'finding God in all things' means for us. AMDG.


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