May 4, 2018

‘We’re all part of this together’: Former Colts player shares three principles that guide his life, his faith and his family

Catholic Charities Indianapolis presented four individuals with Spirit of Service Awards during an April 24 dinner in Indianapolis. Award recipients, seated from left, are Michael Isakson, Rita Kriech, Paul Hnin and Dr. Michael Patchner. Standing, from left, are David Bethuram, executive director of the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson and keynote speaker Joe Reitz. (Submitted photo by Rich Clark)

Catholic Charities Indianapolis presented four individuals with Spirit of Service Awards during an April 24 dinner in Indianapolis. Award recipients, seated from left, are Michael Isakson, Rita Kriech, Paul Hnin and Dr. Michael Patchner. Standing, from left, are David Bethuram, executive director of the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson and keynote speaker Joe Reitz. (Submitted photo by Rich Clark)

By John Shaughnessy

In a moment, Joe Reitz would tell the story of his memorable first meeting with Peyton Manning.

But first, the former Indianapolis Colts offensive lineman shared the story of one of the most difficult times of his life.

It happened in early September of 2010. For two years, Reitz had been living the unlikely dream of being a former college basketball player who had made the transition to playing in the National Football League (NFL). Yet after being a member of the Baltimore Ravens, Reitz was cut from the team, leaving him feeling devastated that his career in the NFL was coming to an unexpected end.

Hope arrived the next morning when Reitz received a phone call from the Miami Dolphins, telling him the team wanted him. Then 24 hours later, the Dolphins cut him.

“That day was Sept. 5,” Reitz told the audience at the archdiocese’s Spirit of Service Awards Dinner in Indianapolis where he served as the keynote speaker on April 24. “I’m in my rental car, leaving the palm trees, wondering what am I going to do. Is my career over? I just got married. How am I going to support my wife and our family?

“It was one of those moments when you’re looking up like, ‘God, what is going on? I’ve been praying diligently day after day, for months and years. I just want a shot in the NFL.’ ”

Just then, on the way to the airport, Reitz received another phone call—from the Indianapolis Colts, the team he had rooted for as a child growing up in central Indiana.

‘We’re all part of this together’

“I flew to Indianapolis, didn’t sleep a wink that night,” Reitz told the audience at the Catholic Charities fundraising event. “I’m so excited and fired up. I go out to practice the next day, lace up my cleats, put on my football pants. I’m putting on a blue jersey and putting on that helmet with the horseshoe on it, which for me is a childhood dream. I grew up a Colts fan.”

Then came a moment he never expected, a moment that came at the end of his first practice with the Colts.

“Everyone is walking back to the locker room, and I’m standing there in awe, soaking up the moment. And all of a sudden, Peyton Manning starts walking right toward me. Surely he’s not coming to me. He’s going to talk to someone else. After a couple of seconds, it’s clear he’s walking right toward me. He sticks out his hand and says, ‘Hey, I’m Peyton Manning, I’m glad you’re here.’ ”

Reitz told the audience he recalled thinking, “I know who you are, sir. I may have even had a poster of you at one time in high school in my room.”

As the audience laughed, Reitz paused before adding, “But that was his way of letting me know that whether you’re Peyton Manning or whether you’re Joe Reitz, we’re all part of this together.”

It was the beginning of Reitz’ seven years with the Colts, and the story reflected one of his three main principles of life that he shared with the 400 people at the Indiana Roof Ballroom. (Related story: Helping others at the heart of Spirit of Service winners’ lives of faith)

‘We had God to lean on’

“Be ready when life calls audibles for you,” Reitz said, listing a principle that refers to a football term about a quarterback making adjustments to a play that had already been planned.

“Life’s going to throw you audibles, whether it’s a career change, something in your family, or unforeseen circumstances. Things are going to happen. So be ready when life calls audibles for you.”

One of the best ways to handle changes stems from another principle that Reitz has used to guide his life, and the one that he considers the most important: “Build on rocks, not sand.”

“I believe it’s the Gospel of Matthew that talks about the wise man who builds his house on rocks and the foolish man who builds his house on sand,” Reitz said, referring to Mt 7:24-27. “You have to know what is your rock. And for me, I have two—I have the good Lord, and I have my wife Jill.”

Reitz, who retired from the Colts at the end of last season, recalled the challenging time when he was playing in Baltimore while Jill was still a student at Western Michigan University where they first met.

“We were engaged. We had a long-distance relationship from Michigan to Maryland. And we’d only see each other once every two months. Those were some tough times. Getting the crap beat out of me in practice every day. My fianceé is halfway across the country. But we talked every night on the phone.

“She was a rock for me during that time, continuing to pump me up, continuing to fill me with confidence, continuing to shower me with love. More important than that, she’d challenge us to pray every night together on the phone.

“We’d pray together and bring God into our relationship. And when I look back now, I realize those were really hard times. How did we make it through? I know I had Jill to lean on. But more important than that, we had God to lean on as a couple, and he brought us through those stormy times.

“The storms are going to come. And they’ll continue to come. But what’s your rock? More importantly, who’s your rock? We all know, at the end of the day, the good Lord loves us unconditionally. And there’s nothing in this world that we can’t get through with his help.”

‘Let God do the worrying for you’

Reitz’ emphasis on building a relationship with God leads to the third principle he shared during the Spirit of Service event: “Let go and let God.”

“That’s something I really had to figure out for myself in my own life,” says the father of four, whose children range in age from 6 to 1. “It’s easy to want to control something. And men tend to do this more so.

“Let God do the worrying for you, because that’s what he wants. Life is tough, and there are struggles. But don’t ever underestimate the power of prayer either. The power of prayer for yourself. The power of prayer for your family. The power of prayer for loved ones. The power of prayer for others.”

Placing your worries in God’s care allows you to focus more on God’s call to help others, Reitz said.

“When you serve others, when you put others above yourself, you change the world. You truly do. You change the world one interaction at a time.”

Reitz sees that emphasis in the efforts of everyone involved in Catholic Charities. He also knows the impact that third principle has had on him.

“Letting go and letting God has made such a huge difference in my life.”

A call to the community

During the dinner, Catholic Charities executive director David Bethuram focused on the difference the agency has made in the archdiocese since its founding in 1919.

“Although a lot has changed since our founding in 1919, our mission has remained constant: to provide service to those in need, to advocate compassion and justice in the structures of society, and to call all people of goodwill to do the same,” Bethuram said.

He noted that most of the Catholic Charities Indianapolis’ 12 programs concentrate on three categories: caring for children, strengthening families and welcoming strangers and newcomers.

There is also a major focus “on helping those who are able to move out of poverty, and care for those who are not able to do so.”

“We will continue to provide ‘safety net’ services that help with food, utility and emergency housing,” Bethuram said. “But today, Catholic Charities is also committed to identifying and implementing strategies and opportunities which will eventually lead those currently living in poverty out of poverty.

“To do this, Catholic Charities has embarked on a major effort to study and research how best to dedicate resources to specifically address the root causes of poverty, including lack of training, lack of education, poor health and unbalanced diets.”

For this effort, Bethuram asked for continued help from the community. Working together, he said, Catholic Charities and the community can help people in need move closer to the goal of self-sufficiency.

“We firmly believe, when this is done right—helping them in defining clear objectives and goals for themselves—they will receive the encouragement and hope they need to obtain the skills that will sustain them and generations to come.”

The story of ‘the street priest’

During his remarks at the end of the dinner, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson noted how Catholic Charities served nearly 75,000 people in the past year.

The archbishop also stressed that a key principle that guides Catholic Charities and Catholic social teaching is that everything flows from a Christ-centered approach.

“That’s important for us to always keep before us,” he told the audience. “It’s not about me. It’s not about us. It’s to be Christ-centered.”

He then shared the story of a priest in Detroit who was known as “the street priest” because he ministered to prostitutes, addicts and street people.

“He had been beat up a couple times, and stabbed. And this young reporter interviewing him asked, ‘Father, how do you keep finding Jesus in everyone you meet, with you being spit upon, you’ve been stabbed, you’ve been beaten?’

“He said, ‘I can’t say I always, quickly or easily find Jesus. But what I always have to remember is whether I can quickly or readily find Jesus or not, I have to be like Jesus to others.’

“That’s the core of what Catholic Charities is about, and what hopefully we’re all about.” †

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