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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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26 March 2012 No Comment

I love this game

This is, by far, my favorite month of the year. I wish I could say the reason is that I am squarely in the midst of my Lenten practices. I also wish it was that I had some brilliant ideas for term papers. And yes, the weather is changing and the beginning of daylight savings time is nice, but even these aren’t the real reasons this is the best time of the year. These particular three weeks are so good because it is March Madness!

I will refrain from writing a full post about basketball, even though I have been obsessed with the game for two decades. But I will say that my favorite part of the NCAA Basketball Tournament is the last few minutes of any close game. I am particularly moved at how the players on each team’s bench sit with their arms interlocked. This has or will happen approximately 30 times during these few weeks. There is not a single person by himself. If this were a sophomore course in philosophical ethics, college basketball teams would get a solid “A” for understanding and enacting Aristotle’s principle that a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a beautiful thing to behold.

The real beauty that I see in these linked-benches is friendship. It is embodied even further once the game has been completed. Invariably, each member of either team embraces a fellow teammate with a hug, either expressing jubilation at the prospect of playing another game together, or mourning the end of their college careers. It was only after I graduated college myself that I finally understood what they were going through. Don’t get me wrong – I never made an appearance in athletic competition. But, I was often uplifted by hugs from my friends.

While watching these tournament games, I am reminded of the hugs I shared with my college friends at Mass and on retreat. It was at college that I learned what friendship was all about. I learned that in order to keep faithful to the friendships I had formed in high school, I would have to call. (Even now, I call my best friend from high school every day!) I learned how intentional friendship has to be in order for it to work. Consequently, I learned the many benefits that would come from having real, genuine friends. Even though I wasn’t part of an athletic team, it was nearly the same thing. We practiced our relationships on a daily basis, and when it came time to execute in the clutch – when one of us had personal triumphs or tragedies – we were able to execute. We still are.

I have long thought that friendship is the heart of social activism. In my research of many of these social movements, there are very few examples of a single individual acting on his or her own. Most often, there is a community of friends who have prepared to carry out an action. They have met and practiced what they would do. When it came time to perform, it was second nature. Many of my own brilliant plans were hatched while walking around Fordham’s Rose Hill campus with my friend, Joe. In the four years we spent as undergraduates at that institution, we learned many things from one another. Most importantly, I learned from him that I was often able to accomplish things that I had no idea I could. Like any good friend, Joe could see things in me that I could not see in myself.

In a letter that St. Ignatius wrote to his brother Jesuit, Fr. Philip Leernus, I see that same type of encouragement: “Do not lose heart or belittle yourself. Be assured that we have a higher esteem of God’s gifts in your reverence than you yourself have.” I am quite certain that St. Ignatius would be a big fan of the NCAA basketball tournament, where such support is found in every teammate. Similarly, Ignatius would wholeheartedly support friends encouraging one another in their efforts to change the world.

Photo: “I love this game” by mog84 from Flickr (Used under Creative Commons license)

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Daniel Cosacchi is a doctoral student in the theology department at Loyola University, Chicago. He studies Christian ethics, with special interest in just war theory and pacifism. He holds a BA from Fordham College, and a Masters of Theological Studies (MTS) from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

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