I write to you in the midst of a semi-“religious” event: the Super Bowl. People have donned their sacred attire and are shouting praises. The game really lit up toward the end of the second half and again in the last quarter. I enjoy football, but see it a lot less since I am a priest and tend to be busy on Sundays! Yet, I remain quite fascinated at how passionate and dedicated many Americans are to the game and their team. Would that more Catholics had the same dedication to the Mass and the Church that true football fans have for the game. (Fan is short for fanatic). Would too that all priests and religious had the same sacrificial dedication that foot ball players have.
Consider for a moment the players. They spend years coming up through a system of high school, college and professional levels. Priest and religious do as well. Football players give their all to the game. Their whole life is centered on it. Exhausting, year-long practices, weight lifting and punishing games. They risk injury, and suffer many pains, all for the game. Do priests and religious show the same dedication and are they willing to make the same kind of sacrifices for Jesus? Will they risk injury and attack? I pray we will and do, but I wonder. True, we are not paid multi-millions, but we don’t do it for the money. Are we as dedicated and sacrificial?
And what of the faithful? So many Catholics are dedicated to the game. They even come to Church wearing the jersey of their team and someone else’s name on their back! Let’s compare and contrast some of the aspects of football and see if the same kind of thrill and dedication are exhibited to the Lord, the Mass and the Church.
Disclaimer – I write a lot of this “tongue in cheek.” I am not brooding over this, just observing. I am also using a technique known as hyperbole. Hyperbole uses exaggeration to make a point. For example the phrase, “There must have been a million people there” is an exaggeration that is not literally true but does convey the truth that a lot of people were present. Please take these comparisons in the light-hearted manner they are intended.
That said, the point remains a serious one: that we often exhibit unusual priorities when it comes to worldly vs. spiritual matters. We do well to humorously look at ourselves in order to ask God for a greater passion for what matters most. Football is about a bag full of air going up and down a field. Faith is about our eternal destiny.
Consider the following Super Bowl behaviors and contrast them to Mass and the faith:
- Super Bowl – Many fans prepare for weeks for the game. They follow playoffs, review stats, listen to commentaries and predictions. They are “up on the game.” At bare minimum they know who is playing, and usually a great deal more. They often plan parties and invite others to join them. They discuss with fellow fans their wishes and the likely outcome of the game. They often boast of their team and loudly proclaim their intent to watch the game and see their team win! They anticipate the game and joyfully look forward to it.
- Mass – Little preparation is evident by most who go to Mass. Generally they do not review the readings or spiritually prepare by frequent confession. Fasting is gone from the Catholic landscape. In fact ¾ of Catholics don’t go to Mass at all. Many who do, don’t joyfully anticipate it. Many even dread going and try to fit it in at the most convenient time and hope for the shortest Mass. This is true even of the great feasts like Christmas and Easter, Holy Week etc. Most Catholics do not speak to others of going to Mass or invite them to join them.
- Super Bowl – Many wear special clothes for the occasion, even at general football games. Many wear jerseys, hats with insignia and other “sacred” apparel. Some even paint their faces and bodies.
- Mass – Sacred apparel for Mass is all but gone. Little special attire or care is given to display one’s faith through clothing or other marks of faith. Sunday clothes were once special. Women wore hats and veils, men wore suits and ties and would never dream of wearing a hat into Church. But that is gone. Come as you are seems the only rule.
- Super Bowl – People who go to games often spend hundreds of dollars for game tickets. Those who are fortunate enough to go to the actual Super Bowl spend many thousands, gladly. Those who stay home often spend a lot of time and money on parties.
- Mass – Most Catholics give on average 5-7 Dollars per week in the collection plate. Many are resentful when the priest speaks of money.
- Super Bowl – Most fans arrive early for the game. They do so eagerly. Many, at regular games, have tailgate parties. At home, fans joyfully anticipate the kick off and spend time in preparatory rites such as parties, beer etc. Even ordinary games find the fans watching pre-game shows and gathering well before the kick-off.
- Mass – Many Catholics time their arrival for just before the Mass. Many, as high as 50%, arrive late. The thought of arriving early to pray or greet fellow worshippers is generally not something that is planned for.
- Super Bowl – People LOVE the game. They are enthusiastic, they shout, cheer, are focused and interested in each play. They are passionate, alive and celebratory. They also care a great deal, exhibiting joy at good plays, sorrow at bad ones. They are alive, exhilarated, expressive and passionately care about what is happening on the field.
- Mass – Many look bored at Mass. In many ways the expressions remind more of a funeral than of a resurrected Lord. Rather than joyful faces, it looks like everyone just sucked a lemon: bored believers, distracted disciples, frozen chosen. One finds exceptions in Black Parishes, charismatic Masses, and some Latino parishes. But overall little joy or even interest is evident. It is true many would not think of loud cheers etc as proper for Church, but even a little joy and displayed interest would be a vast improvement.
- Super Bowl – Many sing team songs. Here in Washington we sing: Hail to the Redskins, Hail victory! Braves on the warpath! Fight for ole DC!
- Mass – Most Catholics don’t sing.
- Super Bowl – Even a normal football game goes four hours including the pre and post-game show. Towards the end of a half the game is intentionally slowed down since incomplete passes stop the clock etc. Fans gladly accept this time frame and are even happy and excited when the game goes into overtime.
- Mass – Frustration and even anger are evident in many of the faithful if Mass begins to extend past 45 minutes. People even begin to walk out. Many leave after communion even if the Mass is on time.
- Super Bowl – Fans understand and accept the place of rules and expect them to be followed. Often they angry when they are broken or when penalties are missed. They respect the role of the referee and line judges and, even if they are unhappy they accept the finality of their judgments. They seem to understand that a recognized and final authority is necessary for the existence of the game.
- Mass – Some Catholics resent rules and routinely break them or support those who do. They also resent Church authorities who might “throw a penalty flag” or assess a penalty or any sort. Often do not respect Bishops or the authority of the Church. Many refuse to accept that recognized and final authority is necessary for the existence of the Church. Many Catholics resent pointed sermons at Mass where the priest speaks clearly on moral topics. Praise God, many Catholics are faithful and respect Church authority, sadly though others do not.
- Super Bowl – Many who go to any football game endure rather uncomfortable conditions for the privilege. Hard seats, freezing cold, pouring rain. Often the game is hard to see and the sound system is full of echoes. Still the stadium is full and few fans complain.
- Mass – Many complain readily at any inconvenience or discomfort. It’s too hot, too cold, the Mass times aren’t perfectly to my liking. Why aren’t the pews cushioned (hard to keep clean that’s why). Why wasn’t the walk to my usual door shoveled of snow? When will the sound system be better, why do they ask me to move to the front in an empty Church? Etc.
OK, enough. Remember I use hyperbole here and intend this in a light-hearted manner. We people are funny, and what we get excited about is often humorous. Truth is, people love their football. And this one point is serious: would that we who believe were as passionate as football fans. We need to work at this at two levels.
Clergy and Church leaders need to work very hard to ensure that the liturgy of the Church is all it should be. Quality, sacred music, good preaching, devout and pious celebration are essential. Perfunctory, hurried liturgy with little attention to detail does not inspire.
The faithful too must realize more essentially what the Mass really is and ask God to anoint them with a powerful and pious awareness of the presence and ministry of Jesus Christ. They must ask for a joy and a zeal that will be manifest on their faces, in their deeds, in their dedication.
Enjoy this video by Fr. Barron who also uses a sports analogy.