There are, after all, other cities in the US and the world—even other bay areas. I explained that my childhood is colored with memories of that fateful trek to “The City” to visit my grandparents. Today, I take great pride the fact I live in the place where my mother was born and raised. This is the language my mom and I speak, we know San Francisco as “The City.”
So imagine my chagrin when I recently read a cultural review of “Sex and the City” by James Martin, SJ editor of "America" magazine. He launched this same complaint about New Yorkers. When I read his words “the place that New Yorkers annoyingly call ‘the City, “ I suddenly felt a little defensive, a little territorial. “The City” is San Francisco. New York already has its fair share of unique descriptors—the Big Apple, Gotham City. Compared to Zoo York, we are but a one-horse town. Can we at least keep “The City?” With this question looming in my mind, imagine my pleasure when I read that "The New York Times," the unofficial source of wisdom and truth for one too many San Franciscans, gave a nod to the Bruce Mahoney basketball game. New York has a lot over San Francisco, but I would find it hard to believe that it has much over the high school rivalry that beats all in “The City. Truly, it is a spiritual experience.
In his article “I’m Spiritual, Who Needs Religion?” Tim Muldoon writes
People want spirituality (read: they want to feel good about their lives), and so will hop from one form of spiritual practice to the next in search of what they think will help…. The problem with this approach to spirituality is that it doesn't take seriously the very basic wisdom that comes from not only the history of spiritual literature, but also from more contemporary studies in psychology, sociology, political science, and others: namely, that human experience naturally involves suffering, and that living wisely means confronting this reality. Authentic spirituality takes seriously the fact that human beings across the ages have confronted many of the same basic dilemmas about being human: growing up, growing old; falling in love; pain and suffering; hope and joy; fear of death and hope for rebirth. It further recognizes that no individual can make him- or herself grow into wisdom, but that we must seek the counsel of others who have wrestled with these “limit questions” over time.James’ article “Catholics Gather Courtside to Put Their Faith on Display” alludes to much of what Muldoon claims in terms of how and why “authentic spirituality leads to community.” Participation as either an athlete or a fan in the Bruce Mahoney games (football, basketball, and baseball) is a rite of passage for any St. Ignatius or Sacred Heart student.
These games serve as the lens by which the same basic dilemmas about being human are revealed. The rituals and the ambiance leading up to the game—the spirit themed days, the pep rally, the players dress up on game day and the extra attention they get in the hallways capture hope and joy. After losing the Bruce Mahoney trophy last year, this year’s senior class came into this school year with hope for rebirth. The game itself is a battle. The stakes are so high that at one point you can smell the fear of death. Once glance at the student section—a royal fire hazard or the lower seats—filled with a significant number of alums, gives witness to the reality that we grow up and we grow old. A win on Tuesday would have captured the Bruce Mahoney trophy for the year. Instead, our players and students had to confront pain and suffering not only on the court but perhaps more palpably the next day at school.
It is amazing how one game can serve as the paradigm by which my students wrestle with limit questions and hopefully grow into wisdom. The day after the Bruce, two former students who are basketball players came into my classroom just to talk about the game. After hugs and listening to their thoughts about the game, I myself was struck by what Michael, the team captain told me his coach advised. They were reminded that this game with this many fans, friends and family members was like no other. At some point during the game, their coach said they should take a moment to recognize what they were a part of, to remember to have fun and enjoy. I thought to myself, if a player, a student or an alum could do just that, how could he or she not feel good about their life? It is, after all, a spiritual experience.
Sure, I wish that the common faith of both schools still had the influence it once did. I would love for my students and their families to attend mass regularly and willingly and not have to apologize for doing so. Reality is, however, something different. It can be isolating, lonely and downright challenging to bear witness to all that the Catholic faith asks of us. But I find comfort in the words of Archbishop George H. Niederauer; “it isn’t ultimately a question of numbers and percentages. It is, you know, the quality of the faith life and of the spirituality.” Our students led prayer before the game, the players took a moment at their coach’s recommendation during the game to give thanks and their classmates, parents, and friends cheered for them and supported them until the end. I couldn’t be more proud of this unconventional way that Catholics put their faith on display this past week. Truly, authentic spirituality was found in this community—a community of faith and a community that is ready for the Bruce Mahoney baseball game that will take place in “The City” on April 16.