Offering up Golf

I am back from my brief golf vacation having played five times in six days. It mercifully rained one day so I could rest those muscles that don't get used for golf on a regular basis. Perhaps the title of this entry makes you think that I was in the rough a lot or had a lot of bad shots. After all, don't we normally think of offering up bad things? Truth be told, I did have plenty of bad shots and lost balls to offer up, but all in all I didn't play that poorly and there were enough really good shots to keep me coming back. There were also a lot of "joys"--also part of the traditional Morning Offering prayer--that I offered up.

Fr. John Patrick Donnelly, S.J., an avid golfer and professor at Marquette University, wrote an article in 1992 entitled "Golf as a Spiritual Exercise." In it he writes about finding God in the beauty of creation, in the game itself, and in his friends.

I thought of that article and a particular spiritual lesson that I took away from my recent rounds of golf. It has to do with staying in focus, living in the present, and taking one moment at a time. So often my mind starts racing off to the future or dwelling on the past. In golf I'll start thinking, after one bad shot or hole, how bad my score is going to be at the end of the round. Or after the bad shot I'll dwell on it and let it take my mind off the next shot. Or if I'm playing well I'll start thinking about how if I just keep it up I'll be able to break 90 for 18 holes or 40 for 9. Then I lose my focus and generally miss an easy putt because I get what are called the "yips." I lose my focus and put too much pressure on making that one putt in order to keep my good round going.

It's best when I hit one shot at a time and play it as though it were my only shot that day. It's best if I don't know how I'm scoring so I don't get distracted thinking about how well I might do, or how poorly I am doing and how I might not even break 100. It's best when I keep my focus on hitting that one shot as best as I can. One shot at a time. One moment at a time. Live in the present.

That's the lesson that I've known but need to have reinforced from time to time. That's the lesson I take away from my annual Fourth of July golf vacation with Jesuit friends from the East coast. And I'm reminded of something that Bishop Nguyen Van Thuan wrote in his little book "Five Loaves and Two Fish." He wrote it after South Vietnam fell to the communists and he was arrested. Wondering about how he was going to be able to serve his people now that he was under arrest, and what possible purpose his life could have now that he would not be able to exercise his ministry, he wrote:

"I will seize the occasions that every day presents to fulfill ordinary actions in an extraordinary way. Jesus, I will not wait. I will live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love. A straight line is made of millions of tiny points united to each other. My life too is made of millions of seconds and minutes united to each other. I will perfectly arrange every single point and the line will be straight. I will live perfectly every minute and my life will be holy. Like you, Jesus, who always did what was pleasing to your Father."

Bishop Thuan spent the next thirteen years in prison, a number of them in solitary confinement. After his release he went to Rome, was made a cardinal, and became head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He died of cancer in 2002 and the cause for his beatification was opened in 2007.

Holiness can be found anywhere, in prison or on a golf course. It all comes down to living each moment well and making of it an offering to God.