Sunday, February 5, 2017

Super Bowl Sunday: A Great American Feast Day

In "Faith and Football" I refer to the Super Bowl as an unofficial American holiday. Given the fact that after Thanksgiving Day, Americans eat more on Super Bowl Sunday than they do all year, I suppose it's more fitting to refer today as a great American feast day. Feast days in the Catholic church are days of celebration. 
As written by New Advent,
Feast Days, or Holy Days, are days which are celebrated in commemoration of the sacred mysteries and events recorded in the history of our redemption, in memory of the Virgin Mother of Christ, or of His apostlesmartyrs, and saints, by special services and rest from work. A feast not only commemorates an event or person, but also serves to excite the spiritual life by reminding us of the event it commemorates. At certain hours Jesus Christ invites us to His vineyard (Matthew 20:1-15); He is born in our hearts at Christmas; on Good Friday we nail ourselves to the cross with Him; at Easter we rise from the tomb of sin; and at Pentecost we receive the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Every religion has its feasts, but none has such a rich and judiciously constructed system of festive seasons as the Catholic Church. The succession of these seasons form the ecclesiastical year, in which the feasts of Our Lord form the ground and framework, the feasts of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints the ornamental tracery.
Many Catholics might be unfamiliar with the rich tradition of feast days in the Church. One could point to the fact that today's society has grown increasingly more secular—which it has—but I would also like to note that unless we teach one another about traditions, low and high culture and celebrate it—religious or not—we lose something more. 

For example, on Thursday February 2, I walked into class, my students half asleep. In a small attempt to wake them up and get things rolling, I said "Happy Groundhog Day." A few students did, well, what a groundhog does. They bobbed their heads and looked up. Some asked "What is Groundhog Day?" Others quipped "Did he see his shadow? And what does that mean?" A few knew that Punxsutawney, PA is Ground Zero on this day. Another student pulled up's website and we made time to watch the annual celebration. Students smiled as they saw that the honorary rodent—Phil— is no light weight. One student commented "there's a really good movie called Groundhog Day." Suddenly we were off and running. One furry friend, one quizzical tradition—that may have had more meaning in the past but today, it breaks up the winter blues. Cost my crew but a few minutes time; required nothing more than an ounce of curiosity.

Feast days and holidays should not be taken for granted. They connect us in conversation, they can bring people together. I'd like to think the notion of a feast day brings delight and helps us enjoy life a little more. If we don't stop to recognize them and teach one another a little bit about their history, significance and purpose, they could, like too many feast days in the Catholic Church, be a thing of the past. Not all are lost; I hope the Church will continue to do its part to teach the faithful about the many and varied feast days it holds dear. One question might be how. My recommendation: use what is familiar to teach what might be unfamiliar.

I purposely went to 8:00 a.m. mass this morning, as I knew my afternoon would be preoccupied with eating, drinking and celebrating Super Bowl LI. Though there is, most likely a limited connection or interest to either team for those who live in San Francisco, I was surprised that the pastor did not even mention the significance of this day. At the very least, I thought he could have said "Rise Up Atlanta" after the closing blessing or wished people well with their squares. Father Ken did however welcome people for fellowship of donuts and coffee after mass. His announcement could have easily been combined with teasing the congregation about all the other *healthy* food we find ourselves eating on this day. The hospitality committee could have had some Super Bowl signage or football regalia. I found nothing. 
I think the Church ought to bring people in to its own traditions by recognizing those all Americans share. Whether or not one is a football fan, today means gathering at the homes of friends and families to share your allegiance, utter your bias, eat your heart out, gamble on the spread, over/under, or just pick a square with a magic number. Give half of the earnings to a good cause. The Church need only give a nod to days like today; I honestly believe a little can go a long way. For example, give a shout out to Boston College fans—one of their own, quarterback Matt Ryan is leading the Falcons to victory?! Or call to light that every year, a Catholic priest is invited to offer a pre-game mass for those players who want to attend religious services. In the recognition of the low feast days that make American life, unique...that abate the daily grind...that get many out of bed in the morning, we can open our hearts and minds to the others—the high holy days, the new ones: the Feast Day of St. Teresa of Calcutta (September 4), those that may border on superstition: the Feast of St. Blaise and much more. There's too much to celebrate—and at stake—not to.  Enjoy the game. Thanks be to God.

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