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A Catholic War on Primetime

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I'm quite certain both teams were included in the intentions of countless rosaries during morning Mass. Prayers not specifically for a win, but as a diplomatic priest would say from the pulpit, "Blessings for our boys to play their best."

(But please Lord, make sure our team's best is better than the other team's best.)

Whether these weekly wishes were being uttered from Jesuits or the Congregation of the Holy Cross, the "Catholic football prayer request line" likely receives its heaviest traffic each year when the Boston College Eagles face off against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in what the football media (and likely not the Vatican) loves to dub, "The Holy War."

This past Saturday night, as a far superior, (undefeated) primetime playing Notre Dame team took the field against a "rebuilding" Boston College, there was hopefulness in the sold out stands. Perhaps, it was the same feeling when Doug Flutie floated an appropriately named "Hail Mary Pass" into the end zone some 30 years earlier to win the Orange Bowl. Or the feeling in 1993 and 2002, when Boston College spoiled an undefeated Notre Dame season and brought various forms of tears to the eyes of all in attendance. Why could tonight not be the same?

As a BC alum, I had two tickets to the game. These tickets became exponentially more valuable each week as Notre Dame continued an undefeated season. Who would be the team to slay the giant green Catholic dragon ... err, leprechaun? Would it be the "Bad News Bears" BC Eagles? Five times the ticket price was what people were willing to pay to see. Like Jesus, tempted in the desert, my desert was called "Stubhub" and each day felt like 40.

However, the love for my mother far exceeds any entrepreneurial profiteering of tickets. An avid college football fan and devout Catholic, this was a marriage of her two loves. Throw in a soft pretzel and padded seat cushion, and yes, she was in heaven.

As the game began, I couldn't help but think just exactly how God processed all of these prayer requests; likely thousands coming in from Catholics, for Catholic schools, to support great triumph on Catholic soil ... or turf. As the players fought hard on the field, I imagined an epic prayer battle in the celestial gridiron above, with special novenas from nuns in South Bend whizzing past and stiff-arming intentions from candles lit by deacons in chapels in Chestnut Hill. With each miracle catch or subsequent fumble, I wondered just how much specified prayer for particular sports played a role in the victory or defeat in a simple game; and whether God paid more attention because they were for Catholic schools, or maybe he just likes watching the ABC game of the week.

Essentially, as I pondered both pigskin and prayer, I had to know: Do Hail Mary's actually help Hail Mary passes?

In 1984, I'm sure Doug Flutie would say, 'Yes.' As for Saturday night, they didn't help my Boston College Eagles beat the still undefeated Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. It was never really that close and we ended up leaving a bit early because my mother wanted to beat the traffic. As we sauntered back to our car as the muted cheers of a hopeless crowd faded out, I thought while yes, I could've had a cool $700 in my pocket and warmly watched the game on TV that night in the comfort and convenience of HD and DVR, it was an absolute thrill, honor and joy to be a player through prayer that night; on the front lines riding into battle with my mother by my side, armed with rosary beads and hope, as the Holy War kicked off once again.

For more humorously spiritual musings by Matt Weber, check out his new book 'Fearing the Stigmata' (Loyola Press 2012).