by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
A few days before the Super Bowl, Bishop Michael Burbidge, who was born, raised and ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and currently serves as the bishop of the Diocese of Arlington in Virginia, contacted me to inquire if I wished to place a wager on the Eagles/Chiefs game.
His call came during Catholic Schools Week. The bishop confessed that he had been visiting several Arlington Catholic Schools, encouraging the students to pray for an Eagles’ victory, even stooping to promise a school holiday for a Philadelphia championship.
Though I thought that, according to canon law, spiritual bribery must be at least a venial sin, I accepted the proposed bet and promised, in the unlikely event of an Eagles’ victory, to send Bishop Burbidge some of Kansas City’s finest barbecue. Bishop Burbidge countered by pledging, in the case of a Chiefs’ victory, to send a Virginia cured ham. I did have some ethical qualms regarding the bet, because in Catholic moral teaching it is considered unjust to bet on a sure thing!
I told Bishop Burbidge my one concern was that the Eagles had a reputation for injuring quarterbacks. He countered by stating that the Eagles defense was misunderstood. They were only attempting to get close to their opponents in order to show a strange Philly form of fraternal love. In my estimation, the Chiefs’ offensive line deserved a collective game MVP for their protection of Patrick Mahomes from the much vaunted, ferocious Eagles’ pass rush.
The Super Bowl game was entertaining. I could do without the half-time theatrics, though they were not as tasteless as in previous years. They did provide the Chiefs’ medical team sufficient time to resurrect Mahomes’ battered body from the effects of Philly brutality!
In this past Sunday’s Gospel taken from Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Our Lord challenges his disciples, and us, to pray for our enemies, for those who persecute us. Thus, I encourage Leaven readers to pray for the Eagles’ team and fans. I placed Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas on alert to be prepared to send grief counselors, if Super Bowl Loss Depression Syndrome (SBLDS) persists in Philadelphia.
For the preceding part of this column, I need to go to confession for taking inordinate pleasure in the misfortune of others! I love sports. It provides real-life drama complete with overcoming adversity, exciting turns of events and meeting seemingly impossible challenges.
I recall, as a teenage boy in St. Louis, praying that the baseball Cardinals would win a World Series. In 1964, my prayers were answered. The Cardinals came from way back to overtake the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League pennant race and then defeated the highly favored and evil Yankees in the World Series. I was elated! My dream was realized!
Then came the disappointment, when reality set in. I still had all of the same challenges as I had before the World Series victory. There was still the tedious homework to be completed each night. There was always another paper due and another exam hanging over my head. There was the normal angst of adolescence. What I thought would make me eternally happy actually wore off in a couple weeks. There were several months before the next baseball season and the Cardinals did not repeat in 1965!
We have begun the 2023 Lenten season with Ash Wednesday, reminding us that everything in this world is passing away. Not even all of the wholesome pleasures of this life can satisfy the hungers and longings of the human heart. Lent invites us to focus on the one thing that does last and endure — our relationship with Jesus, our friendship with God.
This year’s First Sunday of Lent Gospel provides us with St. Matthew’s account of the devil’s temptations of Jesus, after his 40 days of fasting in the Judean desert. Notice how the devil attempts to entice Jesus into turning stones into bread in order for Our Lord to prove that he is indeed the Son of God. Having not eaten for 40 days, making stones into bread must have been an attractive proposition — humanly speaking.
In the second temptation, the devil once again challenges Jesus to demonstrate his divinity by throwing himself off the Temple tower in order to force the angels to come to his rescue. The Father of Lies attempts to taunt Jesus into using his divine powers for a prideful, self-serving miracle.
Finally, the third temptation completely exposes the devil’s intentions. The Prince of Darkness demands for Jesus to worship him in exchange for political power over the corrupt kingdoms of the world and the transitory pleasures these earthly realms can provide.
The devil attempted to make Jesus in his humanity doubt his identity as the only- begotten, beloved son of God the Father. The Father of Lies seeks to distract Jesus from his mission to reveal the depth of God’s love for rebellious humanity and to provide us with the opportunity to experience God’s merciful and unconditional love. Our Lord has come to offer us the opportunity to discover our true identity as his brothers and sisters, as well as beloved daughters and sons of our heavenly Father.
The things, pleasures and accomplishments of this world are fleeting and incapable of providing a lasting peace and joy. We are made to be in communion with God, the creator of the cosmos, who wants us to experience abundant life in this world and enduring joy and happiness in his heavenly kingdom.
Let us take advantage of these Lenten weeks by focusing on our true identity as beloved daughters and sons of a loving Father. Let us enjoy the beauty and simple joys of life in this world, but not be fooled into believing that this is a lasting city, that this is our final destination. Let us treasure the gift of familial relationships and friendships in this world, but also accept the reality that no earthly love can satisfy our deepest longings.
Lent is a time to recognize the idols in our lives — the things and relationships of this world that we are tempted to make gods. May Lent be a time when we deepen and grow our friendship with Jesus, the only relationship that can satisfy the deepest hunger of our hearts. May these weeks help us rediscover our true identity as beloved daughters and sons of a good and loving God.
There are still things I am looking forward to enjoying in this world, however. Like a slice of Virginia cured ham!
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