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Surfing for God View Comments
By Kathy M. Alford

DRIVE ALONG the sandy beaches in New Smyrna, Florida, near the inlet when the surf is up, and you’re likely to see a 12-foot, wooden cross planted in the sand in front of a white Nissan Xterra. If you hang around awhile, you’re bound to run into the guy who planted it there.

His name is George Alford, and although this 67-year-old just won the Eastern Surfing Association’s Grand Legends Championship for the second year running, most folks in these parts know him simply as “the guy with the cross.”

Some people think he’s a minister or a priest, but he’s not—at least not in the classic sense of those words. George counts his mission to surfers and other beachgoers as one of his most important ministries, right behind his vocation as a husband, father of nine children/stepchildren, and grandfather of 12.

Here’s what happens: after morning Mass, George drives to the beach. First thing he does when he gets there is pull out his shovel and dig a hole about a foot deep. Then he lifts the big cross down from the same roof racks that hold his surfboards, stands the cross in the hole, and hard-packs sand around the base to hold it in place.

After a few warm-up exercises and a prayer, George waxes up his surfboard and heads for the waves, where opportunities for faith-sharing with other surfers often crop up while waiting in the lineup. While George finds it doesn’t take much to get people talking about their faith experiences and their unanswered questions, he has also discovered that the conversations often go much deeper, with beachgoers asking probing questions about God, Church, and the pains and problems of life.

One of the first questions that people ask George is: Why do you plant a cross in front of your SUV at the beach? Another is: What gave you this idea? The answers to these questions lie in a story that begins back in 2004 with George’s entry into the world of surfing.

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Kathy M. Alford is a retired teacher. She and her husband, George, the subject of this article, are members of St. Peter Catholic Church in DeLand, Florida.

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Ignatius of Loyola: The founder of the Jesuits was on his way to military fame and fortune when a cannon ball shattered his leg. Because there were no books of romance on hand during his convalescence, Ignatius whiled away the time reading a life of Christ and lives of the saints. His conscience was deeply touched, and a long, painful turning to Christ began. Having seen the Mother of God in a vision, he made a pilgrimage to her shrine at Montserrat (near Barcelona). He remained for almost a year at nearby Manresa, sometimes with the Dominicans, sometimes in a pauper’s hospice, often in a cave in the hills praying. After a period of great peace of mind, he went through a harrowing trial of scruples. There was no comfort in anything—prayer, fasting, sacraments, penance. At length, his peace of mind returned. 
<p>It was during this year of conversion that Ignatius began to write down material that later became his greatest work, the <em>Spiritual Exercises</em>. </p><p>He finally achieved his purpose of going to the Holy Land, but could not remain, as he planned, because of the hostility of the Turks. He spent the next 11 years in various European universities, studying with great difficulty, beginning almost as a child. Like many others, his orthodoxy was questioned; Ignatius was twice jailed for brief periods. </p><p>In 1534, at the age of 43, he and six others (one of whom was St. Francis Xavier, December 2) vowed to live in poverty and chastity and to go to the Holy Land. If this became impossible, they vowed to offer themselves to the apostolic service of the pope. The latter became the only choice. Four years later Ignatius made the association permanent. The new Society of Jesus was approved by Paul III, and Ignatius was elected to serve as the first general. </p><p>When companions were sent on various missions by the pope, Ignatius remained in Rome, consolidating the new venture, but still finding time to found homes for orphans, catechumens and penitents. He founded the Roman College, intended to be the model of all other colleges of the Society. </p><p>Ignatius was a true mystic. He centered his spiritual life on the essential foundations of Christianity—the Trinity, Christ, the Eucharist. His spirituality is expressed in the Jesuit motto, <i>ad majorem Dei gloriam</i>—“for the greater glory of God.” In his concept, obedience was to be the prominent virtue, to assure the effectiveness and mobility of his men. All activity was to be guided by a true love of the Church and unconditional obedience to the Holy Father, for which reason all professed members took a fourth vow to go wherever the pope should send them for the salvation of souls.</p> American Catholic Blog When we are angry with someone we put up a wall between us and this person. And so we deprive ourselves of that person’s love. Included in this love—which is probably the warmest love you can ever receive—is the love of God. So, I hope when the time is right, you can let the wall come down and let God love you.

Walk Softly and Carry a Great Bag

 
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