When I was introduced as the new Coadjutor Archbishop of Seattle, one of the Auxiliary Bishops gave me a book to read titled The Boys In The Boat, by Daniel James Brown.
The book is about the young men who made up the rowing team for the University of Washington and went on to win gold in Berlin during the 1936 Olympics. It is a story of individuals, grit and determination, life, overcoming adversity, and the requisite ability to come together as a cohesive unit to work together as a team.
In many ways, as the Bishops from around the United States gather once again in Baltimore this week, we are looking for the same tenacity, ability to overcome adversity, and ultimately, the willingness to strengthen our fraternal cohesiveness for the good of the people of God and the universal Church.
I am not yet finished with this book, but came across a few paragraphs yesterday that made me take note, because it speaks so clearly to one of the greatest challenges this Conference of Bishops faces.
The quote below is the advice one of the wisdom figures of the book – a rowing expert and shell builder by the name of George Pocock – is sharing with one of the key members of the rowing team (Joe Rantz), as he is still young and figuring out who he is, and ultimately, how to become a team player and not just a rugged individual.
He told Joe that there were times when he seemed to think he was the only fellow in the boat, as if it was up to him to row the boat across the finish line all by himself. When a man rowed like that , he said, he was bound to attack the water rather than to work with it, and worse, he was bound not to let his crew help him row.
He suggested that Joe think of a well-rowed race as a symphony, and himself as just one player in the orchestra. If one fellow in an orchestra was playing out of tune, or playing at a different tempo, the whole piece would naturally be ruined. That’s the way it was with rowing. What mattered more than how hard a man rowed was how well everything he did in the boat harmonized with what the other fellows were doing. And a man couldn’t harmonize with his crewmates unless he opened his heart to them. He had to care about his crew. It wasn’t just the rowing but his crewmates that he had to give himself up to, even if it meant getting his feelings hurt.
Pocock paused and looked up at Joe. “If you don’t like some fellow in the boat, Joe, you have to learn to like him. It has to matter to you whether he wins the race, not just whether you do.”
…”Joe, when you really start trusting those other boys, you will feel a power at work within you that is far beyond anything you’ve ever imagined. Sometimes, you will feel as if you have rowed right off the planet and are rowing among the stars.” (Boys in the Boat, pp. 234-235)
My friends, please pray for us, your bishops, as we meet in Baltimore this week. Pray that we can rise to the challenge before us, that our efforts may bear good fruit for the good of the people of God whom we serve. Pray that the communion we share as brother bishops, that we as bishops share with all of you, may be strengthened.
One of the oldest images of the church is that of the apostles in a boat with Christ. By the grace of God, and the will of God, as church, we are all in this one boat together. May we overcome the various adversities of this moment, open our hearts to one another, and work together to heal and renew this church that we love so much.