I love football.
I come from a family of nine: Mom, Dad, six brothers and myself. From late August through January, the Sunday family ritual growing up always included football. Packers football. No question.
We all went to Mass together, came home, ate a meal together and then settled in the living room, ready for a good game and a win for our team. We loved being able to throw ourselves into the game with Dad. And he enjoyed teaching us all he knew. As a result, I can talk football with the best of them.
Yet, and this is difficult to admit, my observation today is that football has become a kind of liturgy of the secular culture. And unfortunately, it is the only “liturgy” many people participate in on a weekend.
Consider the typical game. There is a communal gathering, most often on a Sunday. The game begins with an entrance procession in which the specially vested (uniformed) enter the sanctuary (stadium.). An opening hymn (National Anthem) is sung. The seating of the congregation (fans/crowd) takes place, and the beginning of long commentaries (mini homilies) on the game play starts. The crowd has the “appropriate” responses, before, during and after. And, of course, there is special football food and drink. The homage paid is evidenced by the offering of incredible amounts of time, money and attention on both sides of the ball, by the management, the team and by the fans. All elements of Liturgy, but without the divine.
It’s salutary to remember that worship and recreation/entertainment, are two different things. Archbishop Fulton Sheen pointed out that If we do not worship God, we worship something, and nine times out of ten it will be ourselves.
For as much as we love anything, the truth is that the coin of Caesar is not the currency of heaven. Hollywood stars, sports heroes and any famous person will not find entrance there based on their popularity, or performance in their field. They may be known the world-over, yet still hear The Lord say: “Depart from Me. I never knew you.”
One of my favorite quarterbacks has said he doesn’t think God “cares a whole lot about the outcome of a game. He cares about the people involved” (A Rodgers). As Jesus said: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world yet lose his soul.” Mark 8:36.
The measure of success in this world is hardly the measure of success in the next. But is there still room for football on a Sunday?
I hope so. With a few cautions.
Like anything we enjoy, there can be an inclination to go overboard and to give inordinate amounts of attention to what we love until before we know it, it has become a kind of idol.
Yet, it is also true that our attraction to physical and moral excellence touches on our yearning for the transcendent, which will only be completely realized in Christ. He is the fullness of all excellence! That is why excellence is exciting to see in any area. Sports is no exception.
St. John Paul II expressed this beautifully: “…every sport, at both the amateur and competitive level, requires basic human qualities such as rigorous preparation, continual training, awareness of one’s personal limits, fair competition, acceptance of precise rules, respect for one’s opponent and a sense of solidarity and unselfishness…When sports are played and understood in the right way, they are an extraordinary expression of a person’s best inner energies and of his ability to overcome difficulties, to set goals to be reached through sacrifice, generosity and determination in facing the difficulties of competition.”
These are all lessons to be learned and disciplines to be cultivated in facing the ever-present challenges and battles that need to be won in our own everyday lives. We compete, we run the race, we fight the good fight, that we may attain the one prize that is everlasting.
Sister Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT, is a sister of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity and serves at Domus Trinitatis, Willey.