October 24, 2008

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Reckoning what is important on All Souls Day

Cynthia DewesDid anyone besides me see any irony in the recent news stories about the gala opening of Lucas Oil Stadium and the death of Lucious Newsom? Stories about the two events appeared on the same day, and I couldn’t help but think they contrasted sharply in their essential significance.

Now, both of these subjects were newsworthy, of course, but their juxtaposition struck me as a lesson in what human life is, can be or should be. But then, maybe I am just old and crabby.

We must have heard by now that Lucious Newsom was a 93-year-old Catholic convert who devoted his retirement years to serving the poor. Not that he exactly ignored them previously since he was a Baptist minister many years before he moved to Indianapolis.

Lucious took the Gospel literally as so few of us can do. Dorothy Day and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta come to mind, but otherwise such people are scarce.

Lucious truly believed that when we have faith, God will provide everything we need. Not only did he believe it, he acted upon it.

He spent his days looking for people in dire straits, and he didn’t have far to look, unfortunately. He furnished food and clothing for them, and scrounged housing, jobs, transportation and medical care for them. Whatever they needed, he tried to provide it promptly, cheerfully and without condescension.

Naturally, being a humble retired minister, he hadn’t much money to share.

But he had lots of faith, both in God and in other people. He was not afraid to beg from anyone, including church congregations, local celebrities, merchants and politicians. And his charm, despite his bib overalls and missing teeth, prevailed with almost everyone he met while begging. He got results.

Lucas Oil Stadium, on the other hand, is a different kind of success story. It is the culmination of efforts by sports enthusiasts, businessmen, politicians and captive taxpayers to produce the latest thing in sports palaces. It is a tribute to the pursuit of entertainment, luxury and superiority among cities. It cost a tremendous amount of money, but supporters feel it was definitely worth it. And I am not here to say it isn’t.

Now, I love to watch sports as much as the next woman (which truthfully may not be as much as some), but I found the contrast between the importance of Lucious and Lucas to be a bit disturbing. I thought, what do we find praiseworthy and, by implication, necessary for a satisfying life? With what causes do we want to share our attention and our treasure?

It isn’t just about money. Certainly, the amounts spent on the stadium would have covered a multitude of needs presented by the poor. But that is the same tired argument as selling off Vatican treasures to feed people. It is a fine idea, but it is short-term. As Jesus noted, the poor will always be with us and their needs will not go away.

Rather, I think it is a matter of perspective. Are we more interested in serving the poor or in serving our own appetites? There is nothing wrong with enjoying sports competitions, but do we do it at the cost of neglecting what we say we believe in as Christians?

Considering the worthy values expressed in the character of many current Indianapolis Colts team members, is it not even more incongruous to enshrine their work in symbols of excess and luxury far beyond typical human needs? It is something to think about.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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