Honoring a life of Courage, Humility, Generosity and Integrity
Last month our nation mourned the death of Pat Tillman, a former NFL player who at the peak of his career left football to volunteer for the Army. Pat Tillman’s death has made a profound impact. We mourn his death because it brings home the reality that in war young lives are often taken, and we question if such a war is just. Many feel a sense of loss in that Pat Tillman represented true manhood and the best of our nation: a willingness to dream, perseverance in pursuing his dreams, and most importantly integrity and courage in pursuing what he felt was his true calling. In this lesson, we won’t focus on Pat Tillman’s death, rather we will focus on his life, and how his focus on the virtues helped him to achieve his dreams and to live a fulfilling life.
A dream and hard work
Pat’s dream was to play in the NFL, but although a star football player in high school, his under-average size (5’10”, 200 lbs.) and less-than-lightning speed did not attract college recruiters. Tillman refused to accept rejection. He persevered by committing himself to rigorous workouts to overcome the obstacle of his smaller size. His hard work paid off when he was accepted on the Arizona State University’s football team as a non-scholarship walk-on.
He quickly distinguished himself by his intelligence and appetite for rugged play, leading ASU’s defense to an undefeated season and a trip to the Rose Bowl. He later earned the Pacific 10 Defensive Player of the Year.
More than just a jock
Tillman’s hard work and discipline were not restricted to football alone, as he carried a 3.84 grade point average through college and graduated with high honors in 3 1/2 academic years with a degree in marketing.
As a seventh-round draft pick in 1998, Tillman’s chances of NFL fame appeared slim. But the Arizona Cardinals took a gamble on him, and were rewarded. In the 2000 season Tillman set a franchise record of 200 tackles. His success attracted the attention of the Super Bowl Champion St. Louis Rams, who offered him a nine-million-dollar contract. Feeling a sense of duty and loyalty to the Cardinals for giving him his first break in the NFL, Tillman choose to stay with Arizona for less money. This sense of loyalty and appreciation likely played into his later decision to join the Army Rangers.
When the dream comes second
After the September 11th terrorist attacks, Pat discussed how he felt it was his duty to use his physical talents to pursue terrorists, instead of players on the football field. In May of 2002, Pat Tillman shocked the sports world by walking away from professional football and a $3.6 million three-year contract, to join the Army Rangers where he would earn just above $1000 a month.
Tillman’s decision to join the Army demonstrates so many virtues- obviously courage in willingly meeting danger, generosity in giving his talents for the service of others, and integrity in steadfastly following his own ethical code and sense of duty regardless of the cost. “Pat knew his purpose in life,” said former Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis. “He proudly walked away from a career in football to a greater calling.”
Pat was a soldier even before he signed on with the Rangers. Two flags are flying in the world: one of selfish ambition and one of Christian manhood. Pat chose to fight on the side of humility, sacrifice and courage, opposing the temptation to join the side of fame, comfort and power. For Pat, life was a battle, and going to Afghanistan was just another special mission.
Jesus Christ gives us the greatest example of true manhood. He stood for the real truth about God and about man. Christ was not afraid to live his values, no matter the consequences, nor to give his life for God and others. Christ was a man of profound charity and sacrifice. He is a true and loyal friend, and head of our Family, the Church.
Every person has different talents, not always as glamorous as Pat’s athletic abilities. Yet like Pat, we all have to find the greater calling for each one of us. This is an important part of being young. God has a unique plan, a specific mission, for each person and we should try to discover, to discern, God’s will for us.
The best way to know is to ask him directly, in prayer, but with our hearts and minds open to really listen to what he wants and to look at the needs of the world around us. If we are patient, his answer will come in the quiet of our hearts, or sometimes through the ordinary events and normal people we see every day.
We may not be called to give our lives as Pat Tillman did, but our mission will be great, to work with God in a beautiful and powerful way that will bring us deep happiness now, and help us receive the gift of eternal life.
The ultimate sacrifice
On April 22nd Pat Tillman died leading a team of Rangers up hill to attack enemy forces that had ambushed another group of Rangers. The Army has awarded Pat Tillman the Silver Star announcing that he was killed while fighting “without regard for his personal safety”.
Did he die for a just cause?
Some people have said that Pat Tillman was a fool who died in an unjust war. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2309) outlines the criteria to judge if a war is just.
- First, the damage that the aggressor will inflict must be lasting, grave and certain.
- Second: War should be the last option, only if everything else is impractical or ineffective.
- Third: There should be a serious chance of success in winning the war.
- Fourth: Due to the fact that modern weaponry can be highly destructive, the army must be careful to limit themselves in its use, so that they do not produce more evil or damage than the threat of the enemy that they are fighting.
- Finally: Those who are responsible for civil protection have the role of evaluating these conditions.
It is clear that the world has to be protected from terrorism. It is not easy to find the right way to do this, especially when it requires using lethal force. However, in order to restrain evil people and evil systems, it is sometimes necessary.
Simply doing his job
Pat Tillman wanted to protect his country against terrorism, and thus he died for a just cause. He did not claim to have all the answers, but tried to do what he could to help his country.
The leaders of our government have the responsibility of judging if the war against terrorism follows the criteria of a just war. In seeking the advice of the Vatican, the Bush administration was told to first try all forms of dialogue, and was warned of long-term problems of a U.S. invasion in the Muslim world. However, the Vatican did not officially condemn nor approve the decision of the United States.
President Bush was glad that the Vatican did not officially take sides, because he did not want it to seem like a religious war of Christianity against the Muslims, when his real aim was to fight against terrorism.
A Tribute to Pat Tillman
We mourn the death of Pat Tillman, but celebrate his courage and integrity in following his life’s calling. His death reminds us of all of the soldiers, famous and faceless, and can awaken within us a sense of compassion for them and their families. Cardinals wideout Frank Sanders said, “What we do is a game, what they do is real, and as a citizen it makes me appreciate the men and women in our armed services that much more.” Possibly the best way we can pay tribute to Pat Tillman’s life is to follow his example, by committing ourselves to pursuing and achieving our true calling in life, no matter the cost.
- “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid his for us. And we ought to our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16
- ” What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:26
- “I have fought the good , I have finished the , I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7
Saints and Heroes
Father Vincent Capodanno was born in 1929, in Staten Island, New York. After attending a year of college, he entered the Maryknoll Missionary seminary in 1949. After his ordination he was sent to Taiwan for several years. As the communists began take over more of Asia, he requested to serve as a chaplain to the Marines in Vietnam. He felt he was needed to be help the young soldiers spiritually in the moments of greatest danger. The young marines (usually nicknamed “Grunts”) loved him dearly because he always accompanied them on the most difficult and dangerous missions, and gave them the sacraments and his friendship. On September 4, 1967, his Marines became engaged in a fierce battle. Even though the platoon was pinned down under enemy fire, Fr. Capodanno crawled, crept and ran among the wounded and dying, giving last rites and helping the injured. Wounded twice, he kept going until he was killed while taking care of one of his men. In 1971 he posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his selfless sacrifice.
Courage: The capacity to meet danger without giving way to fear; to have the courage of one’s convictions; to be willing to put one’s opinions into practice.
Compassion: Feeling of sympathy for the distress of others, with the desire to help them.
Citizenship: The status of a citizen with respect to his duties, rights, and privileges; and having the desire to make his state/country a better place
Generosity: Freely giving of our time, talents and resources
Humility: freedom from pride and arrogance; a modest estimate of one’s own worth
Integrity: Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code. The state of being unimpaired; soundness. The quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.
Justice: The quality of being just, impartial, or fair; the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action
Loyalty: Steadfast allegiance to one’s homeland, government, or organization you participate in. Faithful to a person, ideal, custom, cause, or duty.
Perseverance: Trying hard and continuously, despite obstacles and difficulties
Prudence: The ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason
Solidarity: Unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards
- What do you think defined success for Pat Tillman? Do you think most people today would agree with his criteria for success? How would God judge a person’s life to be successful or not?
- Do you think most people look for their true calling in life, or just pursue materialistic goals? Do our culture, our communities and our schools encourage idealism or materialism? Do they emphasize discovering one’s calling in life, or just making your life what you want it to be? How can you know what your calling is, what God has given you for your special mission? What happens if you choose not to follow it?
- Why is it important for Christians to express citizenship, to do something to improve our country? If there is something that the government does that is in opposition to our Christian beliefs, what should a Christian do? Do you think Pat Tillman’s sacrifices for our country are a rare exception, or are there millions of Americans making significant contributions and simply going unnoticed? What are some other ways to express citizenship, besides joining the military?
- Why did Tillman go to such an extent to stay away from media interviews? Is it more important to be part of a team or a star player? Why does the Army emphasize such a sense of unity that it is called an “army of one”? What are some other ways of expressing this solidarity over individualism?
- How did Pat live the virtue of humility? What are some other ways to live humility, or to define this virtue? How did Jesus give us an example of humility? Even though people in the world do not usually like the word, everyone is attracted to a truly humble person. How does humility help us in our relationships with other people and with God?
- Let’s write about our own talents and interests. In your journal, make a list of the good qualities and talents that you have. Next, write out your interests, and then looking at your talents and interests state some goals for your life. Lastly, write out some of the obstacles to reaching your goals, and ideas about how to overcome these obstacles. In your writing on how to overcome obstacles, include a discussion of which virtues you think will help you to succeed.
- Write about the values and virtues that are important in your own life. Examples can be the virtues in this lesson, and values such as relationships with family and friends, service work, education, art, and so forth. Write about which virtues and values you would like to focus on in your life.
- Watch a movie that focuses on the importance of teamwork over individualism depending on the age level: Newsies, The Mighty Ducks, Hoosiers, or Miracle). Have the students keep a scorecard during the movie to rate each character for their commitment to the team over themselves. Also have them record the quotes that encourage teamwork.
- Organize a vocations week in the school, bringing in several speakers from different vocations (priest, missionary, nun, married couple), and professionals who are committed to their careers as a calling (doctor, lawyer, teacher, police officer, etc.). Make posters and hand-outs to encourage students to discover their calling in life, and to go for their goals. A resource for investigating a possible call to priesthood or consecrated life is www.vocation.com.
- As a class, brainstorm on ideas of what it means to live true Christian manhood, especially looking at the example of Christ, who was the true and most perfect man. Write these ideas on the chalkboard, and then give the students time to write personal Father’s Day letters to their dads. They should tell their dads how he is an example to them of true manhood, and thank him for fighting to live that way.
- To offer condolences to Pat Tillman’s family and to learn more about his life please see: http://www.azcentral.com/sports/cardinals/tillman/tillman_tribute.html
- Organize a debate to encourage students to further research, and to express their own opinions to rest of the class, or to the whole school. Explore the issue of just war, or whether the United States should intervene in international matters with military force, looking at the example of Iraq. Some resources for research on this topic are:
- www.zenit.org – When Can Nations Intervene Militarily in Other Nations?
- Nicholas Wheeler. “Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society”.
- William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, 2001 book “In Our Own Best Interest.”
- Michael Walzer, 1999 third edition of his book “Just and Unjust Wars”.
- December 2001 report “The Responsibility to Protect,” published by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. Chaired by Gareth Evans and Mohamed Sahnoun.
- Pope John Paul II, World Day for Peace message of Jan. 1, 2000, paragraphs 7-12.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2307-2317.