Sunday, February 24, 2008


During his football career, Jay Feely has learned to appreciate success and move through failure as a place kicker with the Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, and currently the Miami Dolphins. But Jay’s most enduring life lesson came from his brother Michael. It also helped cement the importance of his Catholic faith in his life.

Jay grew up going to church and went to a Jesuit high school in Tampa, Florida. On the radio program “Personally Speaking with Monsignor Jim Lisante,” he acknowledged that for many years, his faith was ever-present though not something that necessarily guided his every step in life. That all changed when a meeting with a young fan gave him a fresh perspective.

Jay was in Pasadena playing in the Rose Bowl for the national championship with Michigan. They had a kickoff luncheon for inner-city kids at which a number of players were asked to speak briefly about their lives. Jay talked about his brother Michael.

At a young age, Michael had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccination that left him in something akin to a catatonic state. He was essentially like a 5-month-old for his entire life. Jay recalled, “He was in pain all the time but he was a fighter. (Doctors) said every year that he was going to die, that he would get sick, that he would have pneumonia. And yet he just kept fighting.”

Michael eventually died when he was 26-year-old.

Though Michael didn’t live a rich, fulfilling life the way most of us would define it, his life had deep and lasting meaning. Jay said, “The lasting impact he had was showing us that God has a plan for each of us; that even if your life seems worthless, even if you lay in a bed your whole life as he did and breathe through a tube in your throat and eat through a tube in your stomach, (God) still has a purpose and a plan for your life. And my brother’s life, although it was painful - it was very much a sacrificial life similar to Christ - his life had a purpose and he impacted many people. My cousin became a doctor and is now one of the heads of the Rochester Mayo Clinic because of Michael. My uncle became a doctor and went into family practice as a direct result of Michael. My brothers and I all got involved with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Mom got her Masters Degree in Rehabilitative Counseling. The effects are many-fold all because of Michael and the impact he had on us.”

Jay told those inner-city kids at the Rose Bowl luncheon about Michael hoping it might help some of them through their own difficult situations. Jay and his Michigan team then went on to win the national championship and felt elated at what they had accomplished. What happened next remains a defining moment in Jay’s life.

He said, “We went back to the hotel after the game and it was bedlam. There were thousands of people around all celebrating Michigan’s national championship. As I was wading through all the people trying to find my family and friends, a lady came up to me and said, ‘Are you Jay Feely?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ And she said, ‘You don’t know me, but my son is 10-years-old and he has an inoperable brain tumor. The doctors have given him less than a month to live. He heard you talk at that kickoff luncheon and he wanted to meet you.’ So amidst all the hoopla of a football game…(I sat) down with this little boy and I got to talk to him about my brother Michael and about God. Here he was staring death in the face, and I talked to him about my brother’s life and how God had a purpose or plan for his life. Although (God) didn’t cause my brother to be that way, I believe He was able to use (Michael’s) circumstances in a positive manner and to have a great impact on a lot of different people. When I got done talking to that little boy, I knew 2 things: I knew that he knew God loved Him, and I knew that he knew God had a purpose for his life even though he was facing death at an early age. I walked away that night…and I really couldn’t have cared less about the fact we just won the national championship. What really hit home for me was – my brother at that point was still alive laying in a bed thousands of miles away - and here he was having an impact on somebody else’s life once again. That just really solidified for me our faith journey and how (God) can use each of us. Even in circumstances where you don’t necessarily see God unless you’re looking for Him and looking for His purposes, He’s there. He’s using circumstances to impact other people’s lives.”

Jay concluded, “I think that when we believe in Christ, when we’ve accepted what he did for us on the cross, when we live our life for Him, we’re going to reap rewards for the life that we lived here (when we get to heaven.) And when you live a life that’s sacrificial like Michael did and you don’t have any choice in the matter, I think you’re going to be blessed immensely when you get into heaven.”

No comments: