Discerning the call

600px Soccer ball svgA few days ago, Daniel wrote a post about media coverage of Josh Hamilton -- the Texas Ranger who speaks openly and frequently about his faith. Some of the comments to that post wondered why we look at the intersection of sports and religion at all. An interesting discussion ensued. But I came across a fantastic sports and religion story that definitely deserves a look. The Associated Press wrote about professional soccer player Chase Hilgenbrinck who left the New England Revolution this week to enter a seminary:

"I felt called to something greater," Hilgenbrinck said. "At one time I thought that call might be professional soccer. In the past few years, I found my soul is hungry for something else.

"I discerned, through prayer, that it was calling me to the Catholic Church. I do not want this call to pass me by."

Hilgenbrinck accepted the calling on Monday when he left the New England Revolution and retired from professional soccer to enter a seminary, where he will spend the next six years studying theology and philosophy so he can be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest.

"It's not that I'm ready to leave soccer. I still have a great passion for the game," he said in a telephone interview. "I wouldn't leave the game for just any other job. I'm moving on for the Lord. I want to do the will of the Lord, I want to do what he wants for me, not what I want to do for myself."

It's so weird to read a story where the reporter just permits the source to explain himself. This story could have been spun into a cheesy, sensational tale. Instead the reporter tells us the genuinely compelling story of a 26-year-old who will attend Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. The ESPN reporter spoke with team representatives about how they feel:

"He said it was time for him, that he had been thinking long and hard," New England vice president of player personnel Michael Burns said. "Purely from a Revs standpoint, it's too bad. But a lot of players leave the game not on their own terms. He's clearly left on his own terms, which is great for him."

The reporter explains the process of discernment that Hilgenbrinck went through, getting some great quotes. He also explores why the soccer player didn't just wait to enter seminary until after his soccer career:

With a short window in which he will be able to play professional sports, he considered postponing the priesthood until after his career was over. But he decided with the same certainty that he could not allow himself to wait.

"Trust me, I thought of that," said Hilgenbrinck, who in his studies came across the saying, "Delayed obedience is disobedience."

The entire article, though brief, is chock-full of great quotes. I'm glad the reporter asked the right questions to get those quotes and then just put them nicely in the story. He also explains helpful details about the rigorous application process for seminary.

The article is thoughtful, informative and interesting -- traits that are unfortunately rare. I also love that it looks at religion in a non-political context. More, please!

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