You probably know that there is a really, really big football game coming up on Sunday. You might even be able to identify the teams playing, the starting quarterbacks, or the head coaches. If you’re really into it, you’ll know which team’s defense is better statistically, the top rusher on either team, or why one team’s punter had to buy an extra ticket. Of course, you won’t care about much of this if you don’t follow professional football or if you live in a town that just lost its NFL franchise. But for the vast majority of people who have been unable to escape from the spectacle that is the Super Bowl, it’s going to be, well, a spectacle.
One of the reasons why the Super Bowl has become such a big circus is because it is just one, single game. Of the four major professional sports leagues (NBA, MLB, NHL, & NFL), the Super Bowl is the only one that is a single winner-take-all contest. It all comes down to this one game on one night. It’s not a long, drawn out, best-of-seven series that could take almost two weeks to complete. The Super Bowl gives everyone – even spurned NFL fans – the opportunity to tune in one time and see the final chapter.
If the NFL was a religion (on second thought, maybe that’s not such a hypothetical question after all), watching the Super Bowl would be considered one of its fundamental commandments: “Thou shalt watch the Super Bowl every year” it might say. Of course, the dedicated followers of this “football-ism” watch every game every Sunday, Monday, Thursday, and the occasional Saturday. On off days, they study the teams and the best players to prepare for the coming week. The “bandwagon fans” who show up only when their team is doing well, or the “Super Bowl fans” who only care once a year because it’s “part of their culture,” would come and go but they wouldn’t get much out of it. Sure, they might have fun with their friends at the party, and they will feel good for a short time when their team wins, but doing the bare minimum only does so much.
The Catholic Church has bare minimum requirements too, which are the commandments, or precepts of the Church. The Catechism outlines five precepts which “are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor…” (CCC 2041) One of these precepts is to confess our sins at least once a year.
But, just like an NFL “fan” who only watches the Super Bowl won’t get the full experience of being an NFL fan, a Catholic who only goes to confession once a year is not completely living the life of a practicing Catholic. Unfortunately, 75 percent of Catholics say they go to confession less than once per year or never at all. That is part of the reason why Pope Francis called for a Jubilee Year of Mercy, to welcome Catholics back into the sacrament of reconciliation who may feel afraid, judged, or too sinful to go.
“Confessing to a priest is a way of putting my life into the hands and heart of someone else, someone who in that moment acts in the name of Jesus,” says Pope Francis. “Confessionals should never be torture chambers.”
Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. This penitential season offers us a natural opportunity to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation in a meaningful way so that we can more deeply appreciate Christ’s resurrection during the celebration of Easter. Your parish likely has regular times when confessions are heard, and may even have a full reconciliation weekend. If it doesn’t, talk to your pastor or search for confession times on archstl.org. With some planning and reflection, you can make the sacrament of reconciliation a normal part of your life, and soon you will be going to confession more than just the minimum of once per year, because let’s face it, you don’t want to be a Super Bowl Catholic.