May 15, 2009

Be Our Guest / Jim O’Connell

A Christian Super Bowl victory for those who see with eyes of faith

As I entered Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on May 3 with members of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King Parish in Paoli for the celebration of 175 years for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, I was awed by the surroundings.

Those to be confirmed, along with their sponsors, navigated to their assigned section on the floor while parents, relatives and friends were seated in the arena section.

I was Jack’s sponsor. He chose Paul as his confirmation name.

Jack loves football. I shared a football image with him: “Jack, imagine that you are the quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts and you’re playing for the AFC Championship against the New England Patriots. You are behind by three points. It is the fourth quarter, and you are exactly on this spot. It is third down and one yard to go with less than two minutes on the clock.

“You put your hands under center Jeff Saturday and begin your cadence: red 34, blue 99, hike, hike, hike.

“You look up and see all the people around you, and they are cheering and roaring for you to come up with a first and 10. What would you do?”

Jack’s eyes lit up, and he took in the sight and felt the emotion of playing on this field that he was standing on for the first time.

He looked all around and visualized the image in his mind. He saw the bright lights, the banner overhead that proudly displayed the Colts’ Super Bowl victory in 2006, the crowd and the end zone.

He then asked, “Are Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne in my lineup?”

I assured him they were, and he confidently said, “I’d pass for the first and 10.”

We were letting our imaginations run wild with football thoughts until we heard the African drum call to worship.

I began to see the similarities and differences between football and religion as the celebration unfolded.

The similarities are the uniforms, sacrifice and discipline, collaboration, teamwork, roles of particular players, and individual skills and unity amidst diversity.

Football players have uniforms that they wear representing their team. The clergy wore the same vestments representing their team.

It takes hard work, sacrifice, a team effort, collaboration and solidarity to play football. It certainly took a team effort, collaboration, sacrifice and solidarity to put a celebration like the 175th anniversary Mass together.

The offensive line battles the defensive line to create an opening for their running backs to run through, or drop back and block to protect the quarterback to pass.

The Knights of Columbus and the laity reminded me of offensive lineman who protect the quarterback and running backs as they escorted the clergy to the altar.

The priests who were sent out during Communion made me think of the wide receivers running a specific pattern to catch the ball and take it into the end zone. The priests’ specific pattern was to take Jesus to everyone in the stadium.

The talents and skills of each professional football player demonstrate the diversity and uniqueness of the team.

The prayers of the faithful illustrated this concept very well. They were said in Latin, Spanish, Igbo, Korean, German, Vietnamese, French, Italian and Latvian. This diversity reminded me of Thomas Merton’s epiphany when he went to Louisville, and, standing on a street corner, looked around and noticed all the people. In the midst of the crowd, he realized his oneness with humanity. The prayers of the faithful encapsulated this diversity and oneness in the midst of unity and solidarity.

The differences that I came away with on the drive home were vast.

Professional athletes are motivated by a contract that rewards them here and now. The majority of people attending the Mass were volunteers motivated by a covenant based on love and a heavenly reward.

The memory and glory of football players and team victories are short-lived, whereby the memory and glory in celebrating heroic spiritual lives and events will last indefinitely.

For example, I do not know who was in power in the 12th century, but I do know that St. Francis of Assisi lived during that era and I know his accomplishments.

I imagine Blessed Teresa of Calcutta will be remembered longer than particular players—even Peyton Manning—for the Colts and their Super Bowl victory.

Lucas Oil Stadium is typically loud, boisterous, fast-paced and filled with cheering fans on game day.

On May 3, I imagine that was the quietest the stadium has ever been with 25,000 people attentively listening to the silence and mystery of the Holy Spirit descending upon the crowd.

My original thoughts were transformed after attending the 175th anniversary celebration.

I entered the stadium with the secular thought of how glorious it is to be a professional athlete, and left with the feeling of how fortunate and lucky I am to have my Catholic faith, heritage and support of my fellow Christian sisters and brothers throughout central and southern Indiana. I wouldn’t trade it for all the money in the world. The secular is so passing, but the spiritual is everlasting.

It was indeed a Christian Super Bowl victory for those who see with the eyes of faith.

(Jim O’Connell is a member of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King Parish in Paoli.)

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