View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The patron saint of March Madness

This is a season of great fervor and devotion among many American Catholics.

I mean, of course, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.

You see people who’ve never glanced at the Bible religiously studying publications describing team records, rosters and history, and, of course, betting lines, as they prepare their bracket sheets. (Though you might catch their interest if they heard there’s an Old Testament book called Numbers.)

They knowingly debate the implications of such minutia as shooting percentages on Friday night games that start at 9:09, a sprained pinkie on the hand of the third guard off the bench, and the color of the coach’s tie with all the passion of members of CUF (Catholics United for the Faith) arguing with anyone who’s not in CUF.

Why, more money is passed in basketball pools than in parish bingo halls.

Now I must admit that I have been party to March Madness. Just don’t tell my Irish Catholic forebears that for many years I’ve rooted for a team known as the Orangemen.

But this year, most of my teams have been eliminated, so I have time to reflect on all this from Catholic perspective.

I sense a potential teaching moment.

The Church has a history of making use of pagan events and trappings for religious purposes – Christmas is a perfect example. Why not college basketball?

Of course, it would be helpful in our mission to catholicize college hoops if some Catholic schools would compete more consistently and successfully for the national championship.
Heck, even those Orangemen won the title not long ago.

Lacking current Catholic holy hoop heroes, however, I immediately thought of the Catholic all-star team: the patron saints.

We have patron saints for everything from paratroopers (St. Michael) to dysentery sufferers (St. Matrona).

I consulted a couple of lists of patron saints to see if we have one for college basketball.

I found patron saints for various sports-type activities, including skiers and mountaineers (St. Bernard of Menthon), skaters (St. Lidwina), hunters (St. Hubert), and archers (St. Sebastian), St. Sebastian even doubles up as the patron saint of athletes in general.

But I found no saint to intercede specifically for basketball players.

I then considered some prospects.

There’s St. Antony the Abbot, for example, the patron saint of basket makers.

Given the number of teams that have shooting problems, St. Stephen, the patron saint of bricklayers, also seemed like a possibility.

Then it hit me: St. Joseph of Cupertino.

For those not familiar with St. Joseph, he was a Franciscan who reportedly had the ability to levitate. There were more than 70 recorded instances of him soaring into the air. The most remarkable report was about a time he supposedly flew 70 yards, lifted a heavy cross that ten men had been unable to lift into place, and jammed it home.


Think of St. Joseph on defense, hovering above the rim to swat away opponents’ shots.

Imagine him on offense, soaring aloft to take passes from teammates and then dropping the ball through the basket.

So what if he never actually touched a basketball during his lifetime. Historical accuracy has never stopped hagiographers before.

Why, we could create holy cards depicting St. Joseph with a hoop above his head instead of a halo.

There could be St. Joseph posters, tee-shirts, and medals.

And just think of the proselytizing possibilities if we could get some good Catholic lads asking the saint’s intercession before games and thanking him on national television for victories.

As Dick Vitale, that evangelist of college basketball, might say, “It’s a slam dunk, baby!”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

He gets my vote! What about for Women's basketball?

5:37 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

I considered Sally Field of "The Flying Nun" fame, but that whole Burt Reynolds thing bugged me. But there is Our Lady, who was assumed into heaven. Indeed, Our Lady of Loreto is one of the patrons of aviators (along with St.Joseph and St. Therese of Lisieu). Mary - now we "really like" her.

6:47 PM  

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