Whether he is on NBC’s popular TV show, “American Ninja Warrior” or working for the Lay Mission Project, Sean Bryan, also known as the Papal Ninja, has made faith and scripture the center of his life.
A Universtiy of California at Berkeley graduate with a degree in physics, Bryan said that the scientific method was not his only way to discovering truths. “As much as I appreciate the amazing truths that we can come to understand through science, it doesn’t quite do it for me in terms of God,” Bryan told the campus audience of more than 30 students that gathered around the Skutt Fireplace to listen to this semester’s third Agape Latte speaker last Tuesday.
Bryan referenced biblical passages to explain how wonder and faith can lead to finding God’s presence in our lives.“Through scripture, God revealed His identity and leaves readers with the choice to reflect on what is shared through these stories. Questioning the truth of stories about the church and God is a part of the human nature to know and learn more,” said Bryan. The success of his faith journey came from a sense of wonder to approach his faith in God.
“Wonder is something that sustains my faith and something that society doesn’t really value that much,” he said.
A few students in the audience found Bryan’s talk insightful and reflective. College of Arts and Sciences senior Samantha Stoupa said that she found encouragement listening to Bryan’s spiritual experience.
“It is a challenge that resonated with me especially as I continue to hone in on my own spirituality, and I hope it spoke to everyone who was present in a similar way: a way that encourages them to engage more fully in their personal faith lives,” said Stoupa.
Betty Straub, a College of Arts and Sciences junior said that listening to Bryan’s spiritual experience taught her a different way to deepen her relationship with God. “By seeing God in His awe and splendor, we are better able to understand suffering and why sometimes we go through these hardships. I think that’s a really powerful idea and it resonated well with me.”
After graduating from Berkeley, Bryan earned a master’s degree in Theology through the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, a Roman Catholic graduate school in Berkeley. He later took part in organizing the Lay Mission Project, a three year lay formation program with a goal to “prepare lay people for the sake of their fundamental calling to transform secular society through living the faith in all aspects of life.”
While organizing this program, Bryan applied to be a contestant on “American Ninja Warrior” and was later accepted out of a pool of 80,000 applicants.
When asked why he chose the name ‘Papal Ninja,’ Bryan said that he wanted a name that stood out but also resembled his story as he participated in the show. When choosing a name, he wanted something that was not “overly Catholic.” Although papal is a Catholic word, Bryan said that not many people know what it means and this invites conversation with people that he meets.