Faith stands firmly as Loyola's guide in difficult time

September 28, 2004|By Milton Kent

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

- Hebrews 11:1

THE PRAYER circle started small on Saturday, with just Van Brooks' mother and grandmother, a few members of the Loyola Blakefield family, as they think of themselves and the Rev. Jack Dennis, the school's president, in it.

By the time the ambulance carried the high school junior to a helicopter and the chopper landed at Maryland Shock Trauma Center downtown, the circle had grown, and by yesterday, it had taken on and embraced the entire campus and others, bound together mostly by faith.

"There's no doubt in my mind, truthfully, that it was prayer that brought that miracle that his operation was as successful as it was," said Dennis, of the operation that relieved pressure on the football player's compressed spinal cord.

"I firmly believe, not just because I am a priest, but I am a man of faith beyond that, that it was prayer that brought us that far and will take us the rest of the way, and I know the family feels that way, too."

In some cases, faith is a generic thing, not tied to any specific religion or creed, but more a hope that the check will clear, a sputtering car will stay intact just long enough to get home, and that our kids will return home the way they left.

At Loyola, their belief that Van Brooks will return is rooted in the faith of the Jesuits who run the school.

"We may not know any of the reasons why things happen, but they are somehow, in some mysterious way - and that's where you make the leap of faith - part of God," said Dennis.

Our children are gifts, given to us for a short time. Of course, we take every prudent and reasonable step possible to protect them from all hurt and harm.

What happened to Van Brooks on Saturday in Rockville is any parent's next-to-worst nightmare, watching a child lay motionless and feeling helpless to do anything about it.

My sister-in-law forbade my nephew from playing football, steering him to soccer. After hearing about Van Brooks Sunday, my fiancee said after we're married and the children arrive, she would prefer they not play football. How can you argue with the notion of protection?

But how do you stop the toddler from bumping his or her head on the coffee table with those first few halting steps? How do you stop the 5-year-old from scraping a knee on the first bike ride? How do you keep the 8-year-old from falling from a tree branch that he has successfully climbed? How do you know that when your 16-year-old, with a newly minted driver's license, takes a turn at the wheel that he or she won't wreck the car?

The answer is, you don't, because one of life's essential truths is kids of all ages get hurt. Just Sunday night, Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon suffered a broken vertebra in his neck that will keep him out at least eight weeks.

And whether you believe in a God, reject the notion flat out or are somewhere in the middle, another essential truth is that when your kids are out of your sight, you take it as faith that they will come back to you whole when you see them again, because you don't know. You just don't know.

Sure, your son could get a concussion playing football or take a line drive off the head playing baseball. And yep, your daughter could be hit with a loose field hockey ball or take a wild lacrosse stick to the head.

But your son could be burned baking a cake in home economics, just as your daughter could incorrectly drive a nail through a finger during shop class.

The best we can all do for our children is to ensure that their teachers and coaches are as well versed in the safety precautions that are attendant to an activity, that the equipment they use is the safest that man can make.

Then, we have to get out of their way, pausing only to tend to their wounds if and when they occur. If we've raised them properly, they'll know how to go about their activities without unnecessarily incurring danger. If they don't, then their privileges to play have to be removed until they understand the danger.

Dennis and the Loyola staff wisely kept the students away from the media yesterday to give them time to sort out their feelings, as well as to deal with a shot across the bow to the concept of invincibility most boys have.

But the Dons will play Saturday afternoon against McDonogh, because their faith in God and in themselves demands it.

"The question comes up: Should we play on Saturday? Of course, we should play on Saturday," said Dennis.

"The last thing Van Brooks would want is for boys to sit around and not be playing. And it's not a matter of we're going to win for Van. They're boys, and they probably have some of that going on, too. But it's more [that] we carry on the things that Van would have wanted us to, but we also carry on because it's part of life and we now add something to our lives, which is our care and our concern for Van. The best thing they can do for Van, in my opinion, is do their work here, to be good citizens, to be men of faith and pray for Van and his family."

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