At the last Super Bowl, I was disappointed that my favorite team, the Giants (apology to Jets fans!), did not make it as one of the two contenders. Even though this was true, I felt an irrepressible urge to tune in and watch the game. I am generally bored by the halftime show, so it was not that which drew me. I asked myself: why watch it at all? All over the country, people were coming together at parties and at bars to watch a game that most did not have any personal connections to (except for New Englanders and Philadelphians!). I asked myself why that is so? What draws us? And since every question is by nature theological, I asked: what does God have to do with this?
The nature of community is that it reinforces the positive aspects of one’s need to belong to something greater than ourselves. Ultimately, we know that we belong to God; He is the great and transcendent being that validates our very existences and brings us above the mundane into the eternal. But often, this very spiritual and theological connection needs to be mediated by secondary causes. Of course, the most important of these is family and its environment of shared existence. Quite clearly and forcibly, it has been found that even if babies are given nourishment and all needs are met, if they are not held and cuddled (thus given attention), they will die. This is how elemental it is to be part of something greater. It is something greater that gives a baby (or any person) a sense that they belong and are ultimately valued.
While family is the most basic and fundamental of these connections, there are others that one can name that have a tremendous power and can easily be subverted and used to evil ends. Take, for instance, patriotism.
There is nothing wrong with loving your country. In fact, it is a virtue. A love of one’s country can be a powerful force for positive change and it can also motivate people to extraordinary levels of courage and commitment. But once it morphs into nationalism, it begins to put down other countries and create a ‘My Country Right or Wrong’ mentality. If it is combined with a purifying ethos and a supposed enemy, we have something like Nazi Germany where terrible things were done in the name of national pride. It was, though, a product of National Socialism, with the accent on nationalism.
What all these are illustrating is that we need to belong to something that engenders in us a sense of solidarity. The need for community is an aching need.
Getting back to sports, one could see the pull of community that connects people of a certain affinity. People know that I root for the Yankees. I have done so since I was a kid. My father was a Yankee fan and watched every game he could on TV. We even went together to the Stadium to watch them, and they usually won! I am sure my Dad’s love of the Yankees, living in Dodger territory, had a lot to do with a player named Joe DiMaggio. As an Italian American, my Dad connected deeply with this great baseball player and the team that had the smarts to have him play for them! So I connected as well.
Subsequently, I connected with other fans, treasured the baseball cards that featured Yankee players and, on a good day, prayed for Red Sox fans because they were deranged persons! This became part of who I am.
Sports is a good analogy of my faith in God. It is oriented to something above myself that is bigger and more encompassing and it provides for me the reassurance of connectedness with others. It makes me feel a sense of belonging. This is the mystery of the Church. Contrary to a lot of modern thought, it is not enough for me to have a vague and comforting individualistic sense of spiritual connection to God. Such a view makes God into a segment of my personal universe and cuts me off from the rest of the world. No, I am part of the community of believers that complements my individual, personal and intimate “I-Thou” relationship with God. I am also in community with my sisters and brothers in Christ, all of whom love this wonderful God who is love. This Church is truly Catholic when it is open to others to join so that the community of the faithful may grow.
While I am a Yankee fan and a citizen of the United States, I am most truly a child of God and a brother of my friends in the Kingdom of God on earth. This is my primary affiliation and my greatest comfort. It is where I truly belong. And this was why I tuned in to watch the last Super Bowl: I wanted to connect to the rest of the country in this vast and beautiful community called America and, beyond that, to the community of God’s creation!