Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Arena of the Masses

My latest for the Catholic Telegraph, weekly paper for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, appears this week. (Loyal readers here will notice a common theme with my Easter Homily.):

The Final Four always draws a big following. From the moment the brackets are released to the final horn of the tournament, college basketball seems to be the only thing discussed. Productivity reports even suggest that the first two days of the tournament are the least productive work days of the year in America. Everyone seems to be listening in online, predicting the upsets, and if your team is not in the ‘Big Dance, then rooting for Cinderella to keep that slipper on becomes a primary focus.

What amazes me every year during this tournament is the amount of energy and passion devoted to researching the next opponent, analyzing math-ups and actually watching the games. It is an annual holiday!

This year, the first two rounds of the tournament coincided with Holy Week and the celebration of Easter. I wonder what would happen if we spent the same energy and enthusiasm in our faith that is spent on a basketball tournament. After all, as enjoyable as the tournament is, it will not bring us to Eternal Life like our pursuit of the faith!

Imagine if we researched our Catholic All Stars (the saints) as we did potential MVPs for a basketball game; if we idolized and emulated Saints like Peter, Paul, Agatha, Lucy, or Anastasia as we do some of our professional athletes. Instead of the horrific examples offered by modern celebrity, we would have heroic examples of self-sacrifice, purity, passion for Our Lord and the desire to give it all over for Christ. Would not the world be a better place?

Really, it is not that difficult. One of the simple ways to do this is have a ‘home team’ of saints. List a patron saint for each member of the family, either based on their name, their birthday, confirmation patron, or chosen profession. This would be a constant reminder that we are not alone in our journey, but have constant companions leading us closer to Christ. Praying for the wisdom and guidance of these saints during meal and evening prayers reinforces this continual presence.

I see another interesting paradox in life as well. During so many sporting events, from the grade school fields surrounding parishes all the way to the two massive ‘cathedrals of sports’ on the Cincinnati riverfront, we often argue about the interpretation of rules: whether this was a called third strike or was really out of the zone; was that drive through the lane really a charge or a block, did the receiver get both feet in-bounds; but we rarely argue about the rules themselves. The Official Rulebook is seen as the guide to keep all things fair, and to promote safe and equitable play on both sides of the ball. Because of this, coaches, players and fans all pour over the rulebook so that they can keep each other on task and in the playing field.

Yet, the rules of life as dictated by the Church (the Ten Commandments) are often seen as nuisances, bothersome, or irrelevant. This is a dangerous position to inhabit, as the One who gave us life is the designer and source of these rules; and just as a rulebook for a particular sport is designed to promote fair and just play; our rule book for life is designed to bring us to Eternal Life, which supplies a greater and more lasting joy than a Super Bowl championship ever could.

G.K. Chesterton stated that “it is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, rather it is that Christianity was found difficult and therefore not tried.” Living the ‘Rule Book of Life” as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and based in the Ten Commandments is not easy. Jesus never promised that it would be. But what He does promise is that He will be with us until the end.

To reach any championship in sports takes dedication, sacrifice and perseverance. The saints have used these traits, plus that great abundance of grace from Christ, to reach the great championship of a life in heaven. Should we not also strive for the same?


Anonymous said...

Your article was the best thing in the Telegraph today.


Tim Lang

uncle jim said...

great article and theme

and to think that i set up until almost 1am twice this week [and leave for work at 5:45am each morning]to watch NHL hockey play-offs ... about which only 1% of Hoosiers have any interest, which means no one wants to talk about it - they don't follow it, they know very little about the game, and unless you talk basketball, there's no conversation.

so maybe we should talk about your article instead, eh?

Anonymous said...

Father--what an excellent article. Your analogy is spot on and very vivid. Thank you for the reminder and the challenge!