Here in the South, I suspect that the spiral strands of our DNA must surely be shaped like the spiraling of a football through the autumn skies because everything here seems to revolve around the sport, especially the college variety, and especially here in Alabama, and especially on the day of the Iron Bowl, the annual game between Auburn and Alabama. This past Saturday, our entire state collectively paused for The Game, which is less a sporting event than a kind of secular Holy Day of Obligation with its own ritual colors and ceremonial customs. During these few hours, Alabama shops are nearly empty, streets are bereft of traffic, living rooms are filled with family and friends, and nearly everyone who is not actually at the game is at least within earshot of the broadcast.
Even in the monastery the game captures our attention, complete with team colors, chips and dip, and a small, stuffed Aubie Tiger that was subjected to a good-natured “kidnapping” during halftime on Saturday. But when it is time for prayers, we turn off the TV and proceed to the chapel, no matter what is happening in the game.
The game this year fell on the vigil of the Solemnity of Christ the King, a victor who wears not a championship ring nor a wreath of laurels but a crown of thorns. As sacristan of the community, I prepared for the liturgies of the day along with Sr. Michelle and Sr. Brigid. We swapped out candlesticks, spread a festive altar cloth, made ready a beautiful white vestment for the priest, and made other special preparations for the liturgical celebration.
The preparations were not burdensome, and did not take a long time. They certainly didn’t compare to the immense energy and resources expended to both play and view the sporting events that were occurring all across the nation among arch rivals seeking domination on the field of play.
What does compare, though, is the immense effort each of us must expend to continually keep the Lord enthroned in our lives. Even as we celebrate Christ’s kingship with beauty and solemnity in our liturgies, in our individual lives it can be a hard, daily struggle to let the Lord have dominion over our hearts. It seems that internally a kind of Iron Bowl is always being played as trials and temptations beset us on the road to eternal life and we fumble the ball, or drop the pass, or draw a penalty flag as our “arch rival” seeks to dethrone the Lord in our hearts.
Struggles with sin beset all of us and we need constant vigilance against the enemy. We also need one another, working together like teammates, forgiving and encouraging one another with the good zeal and fervent love of which St. Benedict speaks (RB 72:3).
The zeal and fervor of viewing a sporting contest can be enjoyable, and a perfect, spiral pass settling into the hands of a receiver on an autumn Saturday in Alabama can be beautiful to behold. But incomparably more beautiful is the love and zeal with which we uphold one another, and God’s grace which upholds us all, as we “run on the path of God’s commandments (RB Prol)” – sometimes fumbling the ball and sometimes making the perfect play – but always seeking to let His love have dominion in our hearts.