Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Super Bowl Chaplains Help Both Teams

I love stories like this! Can I be a Saints Chaplain!?! The following comes from the Catholic Online:

Sunday’s Super Bowl contenders have been well-coached—both in football and in spiritual fitness. The Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints each include a Catholic priest on their chaplaincy rosters, and they have played an instrumental role in helping these conference champions with their life both on and off the field

Fr. Peter Gallagher has ministered to the Colts since 1996, becoming their full-time Catholic chaplain in 2002 in addition to his duties as a parish priest. He celebrates Mass for Catholic players the night before every game, and has at times helped prepare players to receive sacraments. In Miami Fr. Peter will offer an additional Mass for the players’ families on Sunday morning. He will also touch base with each of the Colts’ Catholic players before the game to make sure they are spiritually ready.

Over the years Fr. Peter has seen many players put a high priority on spiritual development, so much so that it has become central to the team’s identity.

“Prayer is a natural habit for this team,” he told Catholic Online. “I have seen them grow in their faith, especially players that have been around for awhile. They have developed a sense of gratitude to God for all they have accomplished.” Fr. Gallagher said that veterans have provided mentorship for younger players, and have talked to them about how to prepare for the high pressure, temptation-laden experience that has become the Super Bowl. Their message is to stay focused on the game alone, and to avoid the surrounding distractions and temptations.

Fr. Gallagher says that paramount in the Colts’ spiritual preparation for the Super Bowl is the realization that when all is said and done football is a game, and win or lose, life is going to continue with its higher challenges and expectations. Preparation for those battles is more important than training for gridiron glory, and Fr. Gallagher is a key player in those efforts.

Likewise the New Orleans Saints are blessed with a Catholic priest to guide them on their faith journey. Fr. R. Tony Ricard has ministered to the Saints since 1999, becoming their full-time Catholic chaplain the following year while also pastoring a parish. He celebrates Mass the night before every home game and tends to players’ spiritual needs. Growing up as a Saints fan, he began to see at an early age the spiritual lessons that can be drawn from football.

Fr. Tony told ESPN of his outrage at seeing Saints fans wearing bags on their heads during the dismal 1-15 campaign in 1980. “I thought it was such a disgrace,” he said. “We all have people in our family who we don’t want to be associated with, but do you wear a bag over your head at the family reunion?”

Fr. Tony sees the need for players to discern the true purpose of life amidst an atmosphere of temporary fame and fortune. “When all that is gone, that is when they have those great falls” he told ESPN. “I just hope I helped them at some phase find a connection between the great blessings that they received from God and how they’re called to use them not only on the field but their entire lives.”

Only one of these teams will walk away with the Lombardi trophy on Sunday night. But thanks to the work of dedicated chaplains like Fr. Peter and Fr. Tony, both the Colts and the Saints will have a greater prize to cherish forever.

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