One of the ways you can judge a society is by looking at the members it chooses to elevate. A comment on an earlier post asks an interesting question, I think. In passing, I mentioned that my high school alma mater, Xavier High School in Appleton, Wisconsin, recently honored one of its most famous alumni, Rocky Bleier, by naming the Xavier football field "Rocky Bleier Field." An anonymous poster, whose identity I suspect I know, wrote the following:
No doubt the Rock was a great player, in high school, college and the pros, and that he served his country honorably. His public facade was shiny, but I'm not so sure of his personal life. I am pretty certain he is not a practicing Catholic. Not the ideal for which the Catholic spirit strives. But don't let that stop Xavier's secluar left from doing the sexy thing and associate yourself with a celebrity, even though Rocky probably qualifies as only a C-Lister nationally.So much for the spirit of the Knights of Columbus and all their efforts that went into building that field back in the 1970's.
Xavier is, of course, a Catholic high school. Rocky Bleier, for those who don't know, graduated from XHS in 1964 and then went on to a distinguished college career at Notre Dame. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, but before he was able to get there, Vietnam intervened. Rocky served with distinction in Vietnam and suffered a significant injury there, nearly losing his foot. After a long rehab, Rocky eventually got back to Pittsburgh, where he became Franco Harris's blocking back and was a major factor in the Pittsburgh dynasty of the 1970s. He even managed a 1,000 yard season in 1976. Since he retired from football, he's had a wide ranging career, including a long stint as a local sportscaster in Pittsburgh. These days he makes his money as a motivational speaker, drawing on his experiences in Vietnam and the NFL. He is, without question, a distinguished citizen.
But what anonymous says about Bleier has some truth to it. From what I know, he is not a practicing Catholic. I'm aware that he's had some bumps in his personal life. I don't know that you would necessarily call him a moral exemplar. So it's fair to ask if a Catholic institution should honor one of its own when the honoree has turned away from the faith.
This is a tough question - there is no doubt that Jesus calls us to live by His example and to spread the Good News. This isn't a sometime thing, either - throughout the four Gospels, Jesus challenges our complacency and calls us to share the true, difficult path. It's not negotiable.
So what to do about somone like Rocky Bleier, who has lived, at least publicly, a life that seems to model the Christian ideal, and who is clearly a man who has made sacrifices for others?
For me, the question turns on matters that are difficult to understand. I strive to understand God's will every day; while I am fervent in my belief, it is often beyond my ken to understand how God's presence in my life manifests itself. Anyone who is sincere about his faith shares such struggles from time to time; we've recently seen the publication of Mother Teresa's private journals which offer in sometimes harrowing detail the dark moments in her own faith journey. Mother Teresa managed to overcome her own doubts and fears and left enormous footprints in this world. She is probably the most obvious example of a saint that I'll encounter in my lifetime. But is it necessary, or even possible, to expect the rest of us to live up to such an example? And do we fall short when we honor others who also fall short of such ideals?
Like I said, it's a tough question. And there's more to say. But that's the next post.
Next: Secular sainthood