There was an observation made frequently during my time studying music and liturgy at the University of Notre Dame: the best liturgy on campus was held in the football stadium. Never having attended a game, I wasn’t able to verify this personally, but the number of persons who made the observation and the frequency with which it was made caused me never to doubt it.
As an odd corollary, I did have the experience one Saturday morning in South Bend of deciding to take myself out to breakfast. At the restaurant, I came to learn that I was wearing the wrong color sweatshirt, which evidently was the color of the opposing team that football weekend. My indifference—both to things sartorial and to organized sports—was mistaken for hostility. Within five minutes or so I received nasty comments from the hostess, from a man who I presumed was a manager of some sort, my server, another server, and other customers at a nearby table. I decided to leave without eating and drove through a fast-food place. (It has long mystified me as to how a place with that kind of attitude survived, given the number of opposing team visitors who come to South Bend.)
Living in Chicago these days between the Chicago Cubs’ world series victory and election day has certainly given me plenty of opportunity to witness the mania—and inappropriate or disproportionate response—that team allegiance generates in the surrounding culture. I know that my general indifference to organized sports is its own kind of bias, so I don’t pretend to have objectivity on the matter. (I unintentionally wore a pale blue plaid shirt to work the day after the world series concluded. I was told several times that it was the “wrong” blue—so history does rhyme, if not repeat.) Also, as a citizen and member of the body politic in the U.S., I certainly do have my own viewpoints, but I’ve not been able to bring myself to the point of sweeping aside the ability to think critically about issues and candidates, or to “unfriend” people on social media, or to think that ignoring others is actually civil or charitable behavior.
Whether as a member of the Body Politic or the Body of Christ, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the values of the surrounding culture impact us as people of faith, and consequently our liturgical practices and decisions. These values, I believe, seep into our lives in a gradual, sneaky manner, and only eventually manifest themselves in overt ways. Those of us involved (or hyper-involved) in church and ministry will think of the worship wars, or the ecclesial factionalizing that leads to incredible amounts of vitriol and contortions both linguistic and logical for the sake of the team. The same mentality leads many of us to live in echo chambers, where we don’t have to face up to the possibility that we might be wrong, or embrace the potential to be enriched by other points of view.
In a less overt way, I notice a divergence in the language of corporate identity when it comes to sports allegiance (in Chicago, I’ve come to refer to this corporate identity as the “Corpus Cubsti”) and church membership. At work, at church, in the grocery store, on the TV or radio news, most who talk about the Cubs’ world series victory will speak of what “we” did or how it looked like “we” were going to blow it after game four, and so on. Perhaps my ears are bit more finely tuned in the days after All Saints/Souls, but among my church-ministry friends and colleagues, I don’t hear we/us vocabulary speaking of the Church, the communion of saints. When I go to different parishes (usually as a substitute organist), the language of the intercessory prayer for the Church rarely uses us/we/our language; it often sounds as though this “church” is an entity (like hurricane victims on a distant island) separate from this group of people gathered to pray. This is a divergence I noted nearly thirty years ago when doing my graduate studies at Notre Dame, and I continue to experience it to this day.
Both social anthropologists and neuroscientists tell us that our team/pack mentality is very deeply seated in our human nature, as part of our self-preservation system. So it seems to be part of how we were created, and have evolved. Some are beginning to speculate that the recent quieting of the worship wars may be happening because the urgency of larger-scale self-preservation has taken over. Others have noted that the self-preservation instinct has led to an alliance between some Roman Catholics and Protestants who would have been—fifty years ago or so—condemning the other “team” to eternal damnation. Admittedly, some remnants of both groups have been condemning the recent events connected to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
I believe that the pervasiveness of the team/pack mentality, along with its inappropriate or disproportionate responses, qualifies as a “sign of our times” and, therefore, we can be guided by the wisdom of the Spirit, assess it critically, and live it out carefully, as Vatican II called us to:
[. . .] the Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served. To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. (Gaudium et Spes 3, 4)
We do not and cannot know what the next few days—and beyond—will hold. All we can hope for, and pray for, and show forth by our living is the friendship generated by the Spirit’s wisdom, as we continue on in Gospel light.