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Coach is compelling example of faith in action


by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Coach Lou Holtz speak at the convocation at Benedictine College inaugurating the beginning of a new academic year.

Lou Holtz is renowned for being one of the nation’s most successful college football coaches. He led Notre Dame to a national championship and took six different college teams to post-season bowl games. After retiring from coaching, he became a highly sought-after motivational speaker. During the football season, Coach Holtz serves as a college football analyst for ESPN.

Lou Holtz does not present himself as an intellectual. With his engaging, self-deprecating humor, he discounts the significant accomplishment of authoring three books by claiming to be one of the few people who has written more books than he has read.

Coach Holtz’s uncomplicated approach to life has been a key ingredient to his extraordinary success both on and off the football field. His message to the students was a summary of his philosophy for life:

1) Do the right thing.

2) Be passionate about what you do, always striving for excellence.

3) Care about people.

In this apparently simple formula for life, there is something quite profound.

Though Lou Holtz never used the term, his first principle is an argument for natural law. In order to “do the right thing,” one must be able to know what the “right thing” is. Coach Holtz’s first principle presumes moral truths that are engraved upon the human heart that allow us to know, in any given situation, what is “right” as well as what is “wrong.”

Of course, this principle strikes at the heart of the relativism pervading our more and more secularized culture so prevalent on many college campuses. Relativism questions the very existence of truth. In essence, it claims that what might be “right” or “true” for you is not necessarily “right” or “true” for me. It is this philosophy of secular relativism that is responsible for the moral chaos in our society.

As an important corollary to his first principle, Lou Holtz emphasizes that to be successful in life one has to be trustworthy. Coach Holtz noted that success on the athletic field is contingent on team members trusting one another and their coaches. In order to win the trust of others, one must consistently do the right thing.

Coach Holtz has a great affection for Benedictine College. He loves the way in which the college promotes the importance of both faith and reason. He respects how Benedictine College strives to provide students not just with a great academic education, but also fosters the development of virtue.

After giving the commencement address at Benedictine a few years ago, Coach Holtz made a donation to help build the Marian grotto that is located in the heart of the campus. A few days after the convocation at Benedictine, I heard Coach Holtz as a guest on the Catholic radio program “Blessed 2 Play.” In the interview, Coach Holtz expressed the importance of his Catholic faith as evidenced by his frequent participation in daily Mass.

After being offered the head coaching position at the University of Minnesota, Coach Holtz said he was uncertain about what he should do. He called a family meeting, discussing the pros and cons of accepting the position with his wife and children. After discussing the matter for some time, he was even more confused about what to do.

Lou asked each member of the family to go to a different place in their home and to pray for 30 minutes, asking the Lord to guide them in making this important decision for their family. Upon reassembling the family, Coach Holtz said that it was clear that he should accept the job in Minnesota, and the entire family was at peace with this decision.

When he was asked what he considered his greatest achievement, Coach Holtz said that it was not winning the national championship nor taking so many different college football programs to bowl games. It was not his success as a public speaker nor his career on television as an ESPN analyst.

Lou Holtz views his greatest success to be his happy marriage of more than 50 years. He considers his greatest achievement to be his relationship with his wife and children. What pleased him most — and what he considered his greatest accomplishment — was the joy of their family life. What a wonderful example Coach Holtz provides of a Catholic man living out his faith as a husband, a father, a football coach, a public speaker and a television commentator!

As we launch, in the Archdiocese this weekend, the initiative — “Faith: Love It, Learn It, Live It” — a brief DVD will be played in our parishes highlighting the testimonies of a few individuals expressing the importance of their Catholic faith in the unique circumstances of their lives.

I pray that the Year of Faith will be the occasion for each of us to open our hearts to experience the love of Jesus in a fresh and powerful way. I hope this year will be a time for each of us to deepen our love for Jesus and his church. Our Catholic faith holds the key for all of us to experience the abundant life and complete joy that Jesus promises to his disciples.

Our Catholic faith helps us to recognize the right thing. Nourished and strengthened by prayer and the sacraments, we find the power not just to know the right thing, but to do the right thing in the everyday circumstances of our lives.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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