CSU basketball player keeps ‘Big Man’ at center

Julie Filby

When Caitlin Duffy, 20, spoke with the Denver Catholic Register Feb. 18, it was shortly before she boarded a charter flight from Fort Collins to Boise. There she and Colorado State teammates would take on Boise State in women’s basketball.

Duffy, who leads the team in free throws and the conference in three-pointers, went on to score 11 points in the Ram’s 71-51 victory, further sealing their first-place position in the Mountain West and achieving a record-breaking amount of wins in conference action (13-2 in MW and 21-5 overall as of Feb. 24).

Despite a jam-packed schedule that includes travel, games, practices, meetings, classes, homework and everything else demanded of a college athlete, Duffy has kept things in perspective and remained strong in her faith with support from her family, her team and Varsity Catholic, a division of Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

“Coming to college was a big adjustment for me, I was really nervous,” she said. “Finding Varsity Catholic was life-changing … it’s really been what’s kept me going a lot of times because there are so many ups and down with coming to college, and then balancing that with playing a Division I (National Collegiate Athletic Association) sport.”

Varsity Catholic was launched in 2007 at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln as an outreach to student-athletes offering Bible studies, one-on-one mentoring and other events.

“It’s extremely difficult for athletes to live out their faith due to time restraints, pressures and temptations that can come with their platform,” said Thomas Wurtz, director. The organization seeks to “develop the complete athlete,” he said, and beyond that, impact the wider industry.

“We believe collegiate athletics is the springboard to the entire world of sport which is a $400 billion industry in the U.S. alone,” he continued. “Athletes are some of the most influential men and women on their campuses, and will continue to be so in society after they graduate.”

Duffy, a native of Rapid City, S.D. and one of eight children to Karrie and Dan Duffy, welcomes the chance to share her faith when the opportunity arises.

“It all starts with developing relationships,” she said. “I could not be with a better group of girls and I think this, especially at this point in the season, is one thing that sets teams apart: we really are great friends on and off the floor; we love to be together, to play together and really push each other.”

As those relationships have developed, some teammates—Catholics, non-Catholic Christians and even those identifying as atheist—have started to ask questions about faith.

“It’s been so cool for me,” said Duffy. “Because at times I think all athletes … with sports playing such an important role in their lives wonder: How does this fit in?

“My faith is the foundation of everything I do,” she continued. “And one of the biggest things for me this year is beginning to share that with the girls on my team and other athletes at CSU.”

Christina Wirth, 26, a former professional basketball player in Europe and Women’s National Basketball Association team, the Indiana Fever, is the first full-time Varsity Catholic missionary on the CSU campus. She mentors members of not only the women’s basketball team, but also the swimming and diving and volleyball teams.

“I understand the demanding schedule these girls have,” Wirth said, adding that it’s important for her to meet them “where they’re at”—to ask about their lives, listen to them and develop bonds of trust.

“I work with a varied group, a lot of non-Catholics as well,” she added. “It’s really beautiful.”

Nationwide Varsity Catholic has 22 full-time missionaries, who were all college athletes themselves, on 15 campuses; plus another 43 part-time missionaries at 28 additional campuses. Last semester, some 550 student-athletes were involved in Varsity Catholic Bible studies.

“We prepare the athletes to be effective leaders; to be someone that young people and peers can look up to,” Wurtz said. “We really try to help them live their faith in that ‘real life’ environment.”

For more information, visit www.varsitycatholic.org.

Varsity Catholic | By the Numbers
Missionaries nationwide: 65
Campuses nationwide: 43
Student-athletes in Bible study last semester: 550

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.