Triumphs, the Eagles, and Sunday Mass

It was a triumph.

The Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl win unleashed an unprecedented amount of civic pride and communal celebration. The festivities began as soon as the pass from Tom Brady fell incomplete in front of the end zone at Super Bowl LII. It continued right through the gathering of 2 million people (or 700,000?)  to watch the victorious team bring home the first NFL championship in 57 years.

Though I am more of a baseball fan than football fan, I have always loved watching the Eagles, and this Super Bowl victory was a legitimately exciting moment. Like so much else in Philadelphia, it is a story of fathers and sons, families, stories and traditions.

But, as I said, it was a triumph.

In the history of the Roman Republic (and later, in the Empire), the Senatus could vote to allow generals to march through the streets of Rome with their armies and the spoils of war after major victories. It was normally the only time the army was allowed in the City of Rome. That procession was called a “triumph.” A cursory read about the event will show how strikingly similar such an occasion was to the Eagles’ parade down Broad Street, complete with the pandering encomia of politicians. (And isn’t it interesting that the Super Bowl has stuck with Roman numerals after all these years?!)

With the exception of Operation Desert Storm – which was a relatively small, nine-month long affair – the United States hasn’t had a reason for a celebratory “ticker tape” parade for a military success since August 1945. That represents almost three generations of people for whom a Roman-style “triumph” is beyond recall. Sports, however, provide the next-best thing. Actually, they provide something better. Despite the obscene money made by sports stars who tend to cause controversy for their political posturing and personal flaws, despite the very serious injury problems in the NFL, sports are nevertheless a far better way to channel human aggression than war. Even in countries outside the United States known for football “hooligans” and clashes during sporting events, almost all would vote for such a contest over the catastrophic results of war.

So yes, it is worth celebrating this historic achievement for our city’s team. It might even be worth climbing a light pole or two!

My only suggestion to my beloved fellow Philadelphia fans is this: wouldn’t it be amazing if 2 million people came to Church around here on Sunday mornings?

I know, I know. I’m supposed to say that. But really. We’ve got songs too – some of them are even better than “Fly Eagles Fly.” We have traditions. We have a community all focused on the same thing. Hey, the priest even has a uniform!

I say this partly because the parade elicited inevitable comparisons to Pope Francis’ visit in September 2015. Many remarked how much “bigger” this parade was than that visit. One person even suggested, according to a Philly.com reporter, that more people showed up to the parade than would show up if Jesus returned to earth.

Considering the fact that this is exactly what happens at every Mass – whether celebrated by the Pope on the Parkway or a priest at your local parish – it seems this commentator sadly has a point.

I grew up watching sports, and I will always enjoy a Phillies game in South Philly or an Eagles came on a Sunday afternoon. I would like nothing more than more championships from those teams, along with the Sixers and Flyers.

But the reality is this: no matter what they do, in September all the NFL teams will start Week 1 tied for first place. The business cycle will not allow any other arrangement. That means that every year, the same quest for a championship will ensue again. As exuberant as we all are now, as emotional as it is to remember all the people who loved these teams and have left us, the Eagles’ win can never truly satisfy our deepest longings. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, the desire for a Lombardi trophy is a small, small desire.

So if the excitement wears off and you’re still missing something, perhaps you can search for the One Thing that Truly Satisfies. Thankfully, he can be found each Sunday at your local parish.

Go Eagles!

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