Friday, August 12, 2016

NatsMass 2.0

I hope what I'm about to write isn't a total shock to you. Unfortunately, you don't hear about it often enough, but I'd like to share an important truth.  The Catholic Church meets people where they are. It's been the message of Francis' pontificate in word and in deed. But, I know long before this Jesuit became the Holy Father, the Catholic Church was showing up in the streets, homes and ballparks of the faithful.

Ballparks? That's right. And, I'm not referring to the many teams, like my alma mater, that have a chaplain that travels with certain (shall we say high profile?) teams. In fact, I'm not even talking about the Church tending to the spiritual needs of athletes. No, like the call of the Good Shepherd to tend to it's flock, the Catholic Church is tending to Washington Nationals baseball fans and their Sunday obligation in what is known as NatsMass. Nats colors of red and blue, jerseys sporting your favorite player and prayers for good sportsmanship are required. 

The website of the host parish, St. Vincent de Paul in South East, Washington DC  reports
Sunday @ Noon on game-days. 
Our parish is proud to serve game-goers who want to worship God and enjoy our nation's pastime. Join fellow fans for Sunday Mass before the game and enjoy the short walk over to the stadium in plenty of time for the 1:35 PM first pitch.
We're one-block from the center-field Gate at Nats Park -- half-a-block from Navy Yard Metro (exit: Half Street) -- at South Capitol and M Streets, SE
I was thrilled to discover my annual August visit to our nation's capital coincided with not only a chance to see the San Francisco Giants play the Washington Nationals, but another chance to attend NatsMass. Last year, I shared the Good News of NatsMas with friends, students, colleagues pretty much anyone who would listen. Aware that my enthusiasm might have been overblown or over-hyped, I was anxious to discover if it was as special as I remember it to be. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

My brother and I pulled into the parking lot only to find an Eritrean community considers SVdP its home church. A country of 6 million people, the great distance runner Mebrahtom "Meb" Keflezighi, is their native son. A naturalized citizen of the US since 1998, Meb is competing for his first Olympic gold medal in the marathon. He is the only marathoner in history to have won the Boston Marathon, the New York Marathon and an Olympic medal! With this simple encounter, I was reminded that the Olympics has a way of connecting us to others.
Once inside the church, I noticed that my brother and I were the only fans sporting colors of the enemy. I suppose if it were an appropriate venus for talking trash, I might have reminded folks about 2014 (I still can't believe we won NLDS) or asked a mother and daughter both wearing a navy blue "Span #2" jersey who they were cheering for. Denard Span, signed by the Giants in January, is our starting centerfielder. My take away from the NatsMass faithful is that Bryce Harper is by far the town favorite. Harper, also known as "Bam-Bam," was taken as the number one pick in the overall draft by the Nats in 2010.

Also a fan of a shorter mass, the pastor reverently moved through the order of the mass with a haste. He even joked that if it ran long, it's because the readings—the Gospel in particular—was lengthy. I love a presider with not only a good sense of humor, but an awareness of time. I wondered if the game of baseball might not learn a thing or two from his leadership.

The prayers he offered in the spirit of NatsMass were exemplary for how all athletes and coaches should pray together. During the intentions, he asked for the health and safety of all athletes and fans. He prayed that both teams demonstrate their God given talents for all to enjoy. He offered his prayers in a spirit of true sportsmanship, and at the conclusion of the Mass, he thanked everyone for coming to his parish and participating in NatsMass. Father Andy was sincere and kind in his gratitude, as his parish stands in a neighborhood that might otherwise, not have a crowd of this size at noon mass. I looked at my watch and saw that NatsMass ran all of but 40 minutes. We had nearly one hour until the first pitch. 
The late Yogi Berra, is known not only for his Hall of Fame career as a Yankee, but his pithy quotes and sayings. They stay with us because in their irony, they reveal a truth.  He said, "If people don't want to come out to the ball park, nobody's gonna stop 'em." Too often, I think about those who don't come out to the Church. It's disheartening to sit in a beautiful church that's nearly empty. I think of the souls who sat, prayed, listened to the word of God before me. I hope people will be there after me, too. But, nobody is stopping people from staying home or, rather going straight to the ballpark or their other Sunday obligations. But NatsMass presents a viable and warm alternative. We can say yes, to the Word, the Eucharist and the Nats faithful. 

Yogi said "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." This fork—at South Capitol and M Streets is worth taking.

Photo Credits
Pope Francis

Harper fan

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