Where Soto Street and Whittier Blvd meet in the City of the Angeles sits a collection of buildings which has housed the young men enrolled at Salesian High School since 1958. The year after the school was founded saw the institution of the schools Letterman Society. Every year the young men who are enrolled in this society, the schools oldest, hear in the second reading at Mass about those who persevered in the combat, those who “washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:14). This is because it is the schools tradition to invest their student-athletes in the blue Letterman on the Feast of All Saints.
Classically in our culture the Letterman is one who has excelled both in academics and athletics during their high school formation. Those young men who have disciplined both body and mind in order to make them stronger and more responsive to the youth’s will, rise not only to the top of their respective class but are also honored as leaders of their school community with the schools letter and symbols of their individual achievement.
St Paul uses the example of the athlete for those who desire to advance in the spiritual life when he says to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). The student athlete himself becomes a sign of those means we all must adopt in the spiritual life if we are to be welcomed among the white robed throng in three ways: he is one who fights to discipline himself, he is one who racing toward his goal, and he is one who has faith he will obtain rewards he has never experienced before or as the same Apostle to the Gentiles says, “the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
The Letterman must fight to discipline himself. It is not easy to habitually score a touchdown, run five kilometers, or score a goal. In order to do these things an athlete must work to bring order to his body and his actions every day. Not just diet and exercise but focused effort and repeatedly practicing well are essential to the athletes success. So too in the spiritual life we must not only have an eye to moderating our pleasures when we fast and abstain, but we must also take up and repeat those practices which dispose us to a life of charity: hearing the Word of God and bringing these teachings to mind in meditation.
The Letterman is also one always working toward his goal. St Paul denotes this constant movement towards a goal by the word racing. Not in a sluggish or uncertain manner, but quickly and confidently does the Letterman work toward perfection of body and mind. So too in the sprititual life we must confidently work towards our goal, the glory of God and our eternal happiness.
The Letterman is also a youth and as such he is working towards goods and perfections he has never experienced before. He works uncertain of being able to achieve success, glory is elusive and not guaranteed. Its rewards – scholarships, trophies, championship victories – seem as much the fruit of chance, the product of fate, as they are the achievement of the fight of discipline and the confidence of racing towards them. Heaven and the Beatific Vision are realities we have never known, but which by faith we obtain.
The Letterman becomes for us in the school, for the staff and students, a kind of icon a living example of the spiritual life by which we come to know, love, and serve God.