The elders of Israel and all the leaders of the tribes, the princes in the ancestral houses of the children of Israel, came to King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the LORD's covenant from the City of David, which is Zion. All the people of Israel assembled before King Solomon…
On this day after Super Bowl 2018 we hear a passage from 1 Kings describing elaborate religious rituals as King Solomon, the priests and people dedicated the new Temple in Jerusalem. Some have suggested that sports replaces religion in the American imagination but I disagree. Sports is the American religion; fascinating, meaningful and dominant. It is challenged only by the entertainment industries of television, cinema, videos and music. Christianity runs a distant third behind these powerful forces. Living my adult life in rectories and friaries, I can attest how pervasively this religion insinuates itself into the conversation, free time and imagination of Christian clergy.
There is nothing unusual about people swearing allegiance to differing religions. The Life of Pi describes a comical incident in which clergy of Catholic, Muslim and Hindu rites discovered their protege is loyal to all three. So no one should be surprised to discover their pastor is a rabid Patriots fan, nor that his attention at Mass was distracted on Super Bowl Sunday. In Australia I met people who watched the sports scene attentively, to determine if they should attend Mass on Saturday. If the pastor’s team lost earlier that afternoon, he’d be in no mood for prayer that evening. Better wait till tomorrow.
American sports celebrates the rule of law, cooperation, fair play, honesty, teamwork, competition and ability. Internationally, sports allows warring nations to compete on friendly terms; it might occasionally provide opportunities for friendship and new beginnings.
It has been used to suppress racism and segregation. Everybody wants a Jackie Robinson on his team, regardless of his color. Everyone is delighted when Jesse Owens outruns the competition in Nazi-controlled Berlin. Given the lessons of these athletic precedents, most of us would choose a competent Muslim surgeon over an incompetent Catholic surgeon, and a competent Hindu pilot over an incompetent Christian pilot. Too much depends upon competence, and not that much depends upon religious beliefs or ethnic identity.
With the football season behind us, the scriptures and the virgin martyr Saint Agatha invite us to ponder our faith, and how resolutely we believe it. With the spectacle of halftime shows and Super Bowl ads still ringing in our ears, we remember the blaring horns and smoking incense of God’s entrance into the Temple. We remember a courageous girl who refused to marry a pagan husband, preferring betrothal to her Resurrected Jesus. Were they deluded, as so many critics say today? Was Solomon’s spectacle like the Superbowl, only an empty show to promote secular authority? Was Agatha’s death actually a misguided sacrifice to patriarchy?
In the face of these criticisms we must ponder our own beliefs, and examine our own motives. Are my decisions, ethical behavior and lifestyle grounded in my faith in Jesus Christ, or some other religion?