I have an idea for a book about numbers and theology. It is still on the drawing board, but some initial thoughts are in a file somewhere on my one terabyte external hard drive. I feel a bit like Michael Scott from The Office who aspired to be the next Lee Iacocca with book ideas such as Somehow I Manage and Fundamentals of Business, books that are only names and imaginary sales numbers (“The Fundamentals of Business by Michael Scott, over one billion sold…more than the Bible…I’m not surprised.”).
For me, the catchy title is: Catholicism by the Numbers. In this future release I will be dedicating chapters to the number 1 or the number 40 or a variety of other numbers that have religious significance for Catholics. It’s like Sesame Street meets Bishop Sheen.
Three such numbers are 7, 3, and 4. There are seven sacraments, there are seven seals in the book of Revelation, and there are seven virtues. There are three members of the Blessed Trinity, there are three tiers of a papal tiara, and there three theological virtues. There are four Gospels, there are four major basilicas in Rome, and there are four cardinal virtues. See how much fun this is? If Catholicism by the Numbers ever gets written and published, then sell your Sominex stock because they will most likely be going out of business.
Anyway, it is the virtues that are important at the moment. There are 3 theological and 4 cardinal, and when added together there are 7 in total. Seven, the Bible’s perfect number, is associated with God and His creation of the world in a 7 day week where He rested on the 7th day. Jesus tells us we should forgive not just 7 times, but 70 times 7 – we should forgive perfectly and then some.
Strangely, it is to these numbers – 3, 4, and 7 – that my mind turned last Friday as I sat on the south west stairs of the Fr. Sullivan Gymnasium during our Fall Sports Rally. Near the beginning of the events Mike McLaughlin ’85, our head soccer coach announced the names of those athletes who will be wearing the number 34 this fall as they compete for the Gold and Blue.
For those not familiar with the tradition, for the last several years each team has chosen a player (or players) to wear the number 34 in honor of legendary Theology teacher Jim Skerl ’74 who passed away in the fall of 2014 after a several year battle with pancreatic cancer. As a student Jim played the traditional trio of football, basketball, and baseball, but his true love and the sport that brought him the greatest fame was basketball. As an eighth grader and then as a freshman I marveled at the play of Jim Skerl, especially the grace with which he approached the game.
Jim had a court presence that knew exactly what to do at any given time – shoot, pass, set a pick, box out for a rebound – and all done with a calm intensity that made him the most commanding person on the court. But it is for none of these qualities, excellent though they may be, that Jim’s basketball number is awarded to players today. The honor of wearing the number 34 jersey is bestowed upon those who embody to their coaches, teammates and friends the spirit of Jim Skerl, the virtues that made Jim such a Christ-like presence to all who met him.
Jim was a man of great faith, hope and charity. Jim led the student body in reciting the Apostles’ Creed on the Mall as his last public act on campus on his final day of teaching. Jim always made everyone he met feel like they were the most important people in the world and his kind words and notes are cherished memories and mementos of hundreds of Ignatius students and alumni. Jim’s founding of the Christian Action Team (C.A.T.) as well as the Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Homeless Ministry and the Saint Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Ministry showed his love for those in need.
Jim was also a man of great prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. Jim was a shining example to all of what it meant to be a good man, a holy man, a man who was comfortable in his own skin, and thus enabled others to do the same. Any man who could inspire adolescent males to take seriously the virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude – as well as ones of faith, hope and charity - is a man worthy of wearing number 34, a number whose digits add up to the perfect number, 7.
All of the young men chosen to wear number 34 are given a great honor, but also an even greater responsibility since at Saint Ignatius 34 isn’t just a number it is a call to strive to be a 7.
The list of the #34 Jersey recipients can be found at http://www.ignatiuswildcats.com/skerl