Sean Bryan, the Papal Ninja, was one of only 95 competitors on American Ninja Warrior this season to take on stage one of the national finals in Las Vegas. Out of those 95, he was one of 41 that advanced to stage two. And of those 41, he was one of only three to advance to stage three (no one advanced to stage four, Mount Midoriyama, this year).
While words like amazing and blessed have been used to describe his performance this season, perhaps a better one would be providential.
Prayer and fellowship are a big part of his ANW life and success
Sean often asks fellow competitor and friend, Grant McCartney to pray over him before a run. This proved to be a major part of his success during stage one of the finals! Shortly before his run, Sean started experiencing cramping throughout his body and could not figure out what was wrong. Seeing his friend Grant, he asked him to pray over him, which Grant did. Sean then experienced no cramping or body aches whatsoever during his run! After completing the course, Sean turned to another fellow ninja, Dr. Noah Kauffman who diagnosed him with hypovolemia, which meant that Sean, although hydrated, did not have enough blood in his body due to lack of electrolytes. Now you know why he drinks Pedialyte regularly!
Another part of the fellowship on the show was the community formed with fans and spectators. On his first run, after Grant had prayed over him, Sean started his jog to begin the first obstacle, Snake Run. But he stopped just before jumping on to the obstacle in a moment of doubt. As he was praying for the Lord to banish all doubt from his heart, from the crowd, Sean heard someone yell, “Sean, don’t worry about it. Just do what you know you can do!” He then took on the obstacle with focus and confidence as he only used half the steps.
It was through someone else that Sean was able to fully open himself to the Lord. We must always be open to the Lord working through us for others.
Sean finds humility while competing
In the first stage of the National Finals, Sean skipped a few steps on the first obstacle, Snake Run. In the second stage, he completed the Criss Cross Salmon Ladder in only three moves (fewer than anyone else!) and was the first competitor of the night to finish the course. He was also the first of the remaining competitors to attempt the third stage.
During the competition, Sean took calculated risks and assessed them by asking himself: “If I wasn’t on TV and just doing this in a gym, would I hesitate?” This question flows from the virtue of humility. Contrary to popular belief, humility isn’t just avoiding cockiness and keeping the ego in check. Instead, true humility is putting aside showmanship and recognizing gifts and talents as a gift from God.
A close priest friend told Sean that true humility is right estimation: knowing who we are, what we can do, what we should do, and how we should do it. Sean keeps this in mind as he prepares for other ninja competitions and the next season of American Ninja Warrior. Right estimation helps quell his fears about not performing well enough or getting too big of a head over his successes.
Competing on American Ninja Warrior made Sean more authoritative in Lay Mission Project
The mission of the Lay Mission Project is to help lay people order their secular affairs to God’s plan, which is exactly what Sean is doing by competing on American Ninja Warrior. Sean integrates his secular life and his Catholic life when he competes not just by praying on the courses and praying with his fellow competitors, but also from his presence, and his manner of engagement ninjas and fans alike. Far from making monetary bank by his appearances on the show, Sean is making spiritual bank by showing that Catholics are normal people, and that secular life can be a good life, and Sean shares what he has been given by engaging with fans through social media and at competitions.
With Lay Mission Project seeking to expand this year (it currently works with one diocese and is seeking to establish more cohorts in other dioceses), this new authority will serve Sean well. He is proof that their mission is worthwhile and he is proof that the evangelistic side of Lay Mission Project is good, as well.
Through the show, Sean has become a sign of hope
When speaking about his purpose in competing on American Ninja Warrior, Sean says he doesn’t have performance-specific expectations; he is not outcome-focused. Rather, Sean focuses on what God has and is doing in him and through him. Sean has become a sign of hope. People have reached out to Sean to tell him how seeing him compete has brought them back to prayer or to the Church. His appearance on the competition gave viewers a renewed hope for the future and in God.
This is what Sean has sought to do all along. When he first chose to don the Vatican symbol and colors, when he first chose the name “Papal Ninja”, Sean wanted to show people a life in Christ was not just spent reclusively in a chapel, but that a life with Christ is actually freeing and adventurous! Checking out his social media accounts or reading fan responses to the show, you will see that Sean has accomplished this in spades. His hope is that he can continue to do this in the years to come.
A Providential Future
Now that the regular season of American Ninja Warrior has finished, Sean is looking toward the future. He will be competing in a few other ninja competitions throughout the year and hopes to be on the American Ninja warrior All-Stars episode. He also has his sights set on Team Ninja Warrior, which will air in early 2018.
As far as American Ninja Warrior goes, Sean says he has the potential to hit that final buzzer and conquer Mount Midoriyama, but whether or not he has the focus and technique and that everything comes together perfectly for that to happen…well, we see veteran competitors go out all the time. So what he’s really hoping is to do his best in competitions and show the world the love of God whether he hits every single buzzer or whether he fails.
He’s also looking to keep engaging with people by putting more intentional time into interacting on social media. He especially is looking forward to engagement with the American Ninja Warrior show producers, so that they can continue telling his story in a beautiful and truthful way. After all, when the producers filmed his intro video for the show, they were open to Sean’s suggestions to make their portrayal of him and the Catholic faith as authentic as possible.
God’s providence is always at the forefront of Sean’s mind. He shared that one of the mottos of the Dominicans is “Deus Providebit,” or “God will provide.” Something the Salesians focus on is “God’s foreseeing love” – that God knows our needs before we even ask for them. Sean desires to see all the ways that God provides and gains confidence and security from His love, and he hopes that his story inspires others to do the same. So far, so good!