A picture of the scene of the State Know Your Faith Competition hosted at Bishop Ryan Feb. 3rd, 2016
We are days away from the pageantry of the greatest annual spectacle of competition in the world, the Super Bowl. Television ads are beginning to prepare our nation for another round of the Olympic games. A few days ago, I witnessed parents sitting in the stands in the evening after long days of work to watch a junior high school girls basketball scrimmage. There is something about games, about voluntary competition, that captures the attention of seemingly everyone in the world with a pulse.
If you consider for a moment that it was estimated by CNN that the television audience for the Sochi Winter Olympics would be watched by some 3 billion people, it is clear that the appeal is universal. The World Cup and the Super Bowl reach around the world and to every corner of this globe. The International Business Times report that "Sunday night’s championship game will be broadcast and viewed in 180 countries in 25 languages, including nine languages on site at University of Phoenix Stadium (http://www.ibtimes .com/how-many-countries-will-watch-super-bowl-1799734). Sport is at the center of all of civilization, we would do well to pay attention to it.
Just yesterday, there was a real spectacle of competition in our very own Lion's Den. Bishop Ryan hosted the annual State Know Your Faith Competition wherein the four Catholic High Schools in the state come together in order to compete in a contest of knowledge about our Catholic faith. It was by all accounts a grand occasion, with much pomp and circumstance. (If you would like to listen to it, Real Presence Radio will have a podcast of it on their website.) It was not Sochi, the World Cup, or the Super Bowl. But it was a competition, and it mattered to the students. For two hours the faith, and knowing it, was the most important thing in the lives of our students. For two hours, the energy and passion that are experienced most frequently at a state basketball or football game, were present around a fight for primacy in the one competition that matters: the faith.
St. Paul, apparently, was not free from this human interest in competition. He wrote in his Letter to the Phillipians: "Brothers, I do not think of myself as having reached the finish line. I give no thought to what lies behind but push on to what is ahead. My entire attention is on the finish line as I run toward the prize to which God calls me - life on high in Christ Jesus." I do not think that St. Paul looked on the pomp and circumstance of Wednesday's State Know Your Faith Competition with any less passion and ardor than the raucous crowd of youths cheering their schools on in the pursuit of the trophy displayed in the center of the ring. He has now run the race, and won. St. Paul has realized the great truth that all worldly competitions intimate: each human life is a competition, a race, a trial of the highest stakes. There are winners and losers. There are those who claim the prize and those who do not. There is truly happiness and misery, eternal in its kind, at the finish line of each life. No participation ribbons will be given.
Catholic Schools Week is a highlight of the year for many students for various reasons. For most, they love the pomp and circumstance of the Know Your Faith competitions, both local and state. For others it is Mass with the bishop, or a speaker, or bowling. For me, it is an opportunity to highlight the great drama of human existence that is found seminally in each and every competition: our claim to eternal life can be won or lost. The glory of the Super Bowl or World Cup win and the majesty of a Gold Medal in the Olympics pale in comparison to the glory of the attainment of the beatific vision, just as the importance of the same worldly competitions pale in comparison to the importance of the trials present in each person's soul as he runs the race run by St. Paul and every human being who has preceded us in both life and death. Our lives have meaning, purpose, and are of infinite importance.
The effort and energy that go into our Catholic school are worth every early rising and late to bed of teachers and parents alike; they are worth all the fundraisers and volunteer hours, the raffle tickets and tuition payments, the prayers, meetings, and sacrifices. Our school is a proving ground, a kind of Olympic training center for the competition of earthly life and eternal life. It is a place where the most important competition is the battle for minds and hearts in the midst of a world so quick to sabotage the happiness and innocence of us all. I hope this week has reminded us all why Catholic schools exist. Our students' souls are worthy of an school that helps them understand the value of their lives and their choices in light of their vocation to eternal life with God. Their faith is deserving of some pomp and circumstance.
Fr. Jadyn Nelson