Here we present part two of a series on the 10 World Youth Day ambassadors:
n By Anthony Barich
Matthew Hayden, father of three and superstar cricketer, has fought many battles in his life, but the biggest ones weren’t played out on cricket fields around the world.
Having amassed over 8000 Test runs in 94 Tests and 6000 runs in one-day internationals at age 36, Hayden is an elder statesman of the Australian cricket team, but getting there personally and physically took plenty of resilience. Much of this derives from his Catholicism.
While the secular world sees the Sign of the Cross he makes whenever he scores a Test 100 as the outward sign of his Catholicism, few know about the inner struggles he faces to live out his faith in the world.
In a recent interview with Perth World Youth Day coordinator Anita Parker, Hayden, who was last week named as a WYD Ambassador, said that being a Catholic means being a leader, “because you have to challenge the way your peer group will want to steer you in a certain direction”.
“You have to challenge the way you want to be a witness to Christ,” he said. “That means going to Mass on the weekend becomes a priority rather than going to a disco.
“It takes a lot of courage and it also takes a lot of persistence because you won’t always go to Mass and get something unbelievable out of it. It’s like scoring a hundred.”
But Hayden, who has won the Allan Border Medal in 2002 as the most outstanding Australian cricketer as voted by his peers, the media and umpires, says having faith is more than about getting something out of it.
It’s about commitment, and a personal relationship with God.
“I think it’s very challenging to live as a Christian, or any sort of religion, in terms of modern day society. I think it’s very difficult as a young adult, and I think I really struggled with that over a long period of time,” he said.
“It’s also difficult as a father of three, and it’s difficult as an Australian cricketer. But I guess it’s in that struggle that I find the most benefit from it, and I guess Christ all those years ago was saying exactly the same thing.
“Whilst I struggle with faith and how it’s presented, I also understand that it’s just a great part of my life, which in all sorts of scenarios gives me great guidance, a sense of strength and hope in places you come across. Somewhere like India is a good example. You can be staying in a five-star hotel and then walk two streets away and there’s a little child dead in the street, or a mother with absolutely nothing but the baby she is holding in her hands. In Australia we can’t even begin to imagine that, so I guess my faith is a great balancer in my life as well.
“When batting, I make this Sign of the Cross on my palm. I actually love doing that because when I make the cross across the middle I have a little saying that says ‘Whatever happens today, it’s for You (God)’. That’s part of what I do. I love that part of the day.”
He relishes the challenge of living out his Catholic faith in the world, and likens it to the struggles he has faced in his professional sporting life.
He battled for years doing the hard yards in the Australian domestic cricket scene before finally making his Test debut against South Africa in 1994, but was dropped after it.While amassing thousands of runs for Queensland, his batting technique wasn’t considered right for Test cricket.
But with the very same discipline he forged keeping his faith in the fires of the secular world, he endured to become one of the greats of Australian cricket.
He has been named Cricketer of the Year by the prestigious Wisden, has broken former national coach Bob Simpson’s Australian record of most Test runs in a calendar year and became the third player next to Don Bradman to score four centuries in a row twice.
“I actually find it a lot more rewarding in life to do the hard work in the nets and to do the hard work behind the scenes,” says Hayden, a physically powerful hulk of a man who also loves fishing and surfing.
“These simple disciplines in life give me great purpose. So when I make a hundred in the middle it’s kind of like that was just because of all this other stuff (the discipline).
“So my advice is really to follow your instincts and understand that there are lots of different ways to carry out your faith.
“Then it’s really just having the courage to follow that through.”
Being Catholic is also about finding solidarity and strength in other brothers in Christ.
In this regard, his long-standing partnership with Justin Langer has been an important part of not only his professional career but his life.
Langer, also a Catholic who attended Aquinas College in Perth and sends his kids to a Catholic primary school, has been a kindred spirit. Hayden told Anita that each time he goes out to bat he marks the crease with a cross, starting with the centre mark then Langer completes the cross.
“The Sign of the Cross is a very powerful symbol,” Hayden said. “To me, making that sign is a moment as euphoric as making a Test hundred. There are lots of other times in my life where it’s not so positive. But in the same mark of respect I’ll always start a prayer, or a conversation with God.
“It’s not that I ever hear too much back, but in that gentle way it’s starting that conversation, that communication and opening up my life to Him.” He admits that being a Catholic is tough, but he finds solitude in the Beatitudes, finding comfort in them because “it’s an attitude of hope, it looks for positives, and I think that’s something I’ve found great strength in”.
World Youth Day in Sydney in July, he says, could very well invigorate Australia as young people have a clearer vision and a “wonderful energy”. “I think that Catholic faith can do well to harness that energy for the future,” he says.
“My message to young Catholic Australians is that – and my mum always says this to me – ‘oh son, you know there are many rooms in God’s house’. I think that’s a particularly comforting thing to understand, that there’s a lot of ways to skin a cat, so to speak.”