Mass

Hail Mary passes and Lombardi in daily Mass: Catholicism ignored in NFL 100 coverage

Hail Mary passes and Lombardi in daily Mass: Catholicism ignored in NFL 100 coverage

The NFL turns 100 this season. You may have noticed the “100” anniversary logo on footballs, jerseys and in TV commercials. You may have noticed all of those Peyton Manning mini-documentaries.

This anniversary has also given newspapers, sports sites and TV stations a chance to look back at the players and coaches who made NFL history.

Exactly what is included in those histories matters. Mentioning statistics, great plays, Super Bowl performances and impact on the sport are all a given. What about what players and coaches believed? What about their motivations? es, how about religion and the impact it left on the game? These are very important questions that have not been answered fully (or some cases even explored) in many of the retrospectives that have been rolled out this season.

Football and religion are not such strange bedfellows. The league has been — and currently is — loaded with outspoken Christians. Evangelicals have included Tim Tebow, Kurt Warner, Reggie White, Tony Dungy, Nick Foles and Carson Wentz. There have also been some prominent men who also happen to be devout Roman Catholics to make gridiron history. Harrison Butker, Matt Birk, Philip Rivers, Don Shula, Roger Staubach and Vince Lombardi are a few notable ones.

Before players took a knee to protest the national anthem, it wasn’t so unusual to see them praying before the opening kickoff. And, of course, some of those kneeling protesters have been praying.

It’s the faith of some of these men that has been overlooked — whether intentionally or not — in the “NFL 100” celebrations. Let’s look specifically at Lombardi, the great Green Bay Packers coach.

Under Lombardi, the team won five NFL championships in a span of just seven years during the 1960s (including three in a row). Those victories also included winning the first two Super Bowls. After all, Super Bowl champions are presented with the Lombardi trophy.

Lombardi isn’t only arguably the best coach in NFL history, but he was a devout Catholic who wasn’t shy about his faith. Major mainstream newspapers and TV networks have largely ignored the Lombardi faith angle.

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Is belief in the body and blood of Christ ‘too magical’ to handle in hard-news coverage?

Is belief in the body and blood of Christ ‘too magical’ to handle in hard-news coverage?

Journalists love polls, surveys and studies. One week, wine, for example, is good for you. Seemingly the next, it’s not. There is especially true of medical studies. It was also true during the last presidential election. When it comes to polls, studies and surveys, there has been a reckoning of sorts. Nonetheless, news outlets can’t stop reporting on them despite issues with veracity.

The primary reason is that they get clicks.

As a result, they are widely shared on social media platforms. Another reason is that they provide news sites with diverse news coverage. It “can’t be Trump all the time” has become a popular newsroom refrain the past few years.

What we learned this month is that polls, survey and studies involving politics and health — despite their polarizing natures — are fair game. The ones around faith — and specifically around a specific belief — is not. How else would one explain the dearth of coverage around a Pew Study released on August 5 around a central belief that should be held by Catholics, but is increasingly not. Catholic news sites were abuzz with coverage, but secular news outlets chose to ignore it. 

Transubstantiation — the belief that during Mass the bread and wine used for Communion become the body and blood of Jesus Christ — is central to the Catholic faith. Pew found that just 31% of U.S. Catholics believe that statement. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the priest’s offering of bread and wine, known as the eucharist and a re-enactment of The Last Supper, are changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The reaffirmation of this doctrine came in the year 1215 by the Fourth Council of the Lateran. When consumed, God enters the life of a Catholic. This is essential to salvation.

On the other hand, let’s take another subject that sparks debate and division: belief in ghosts and UFOs. Yes, the phenomenon of people seeing an Unidentified Flying Object, sparking the belief that alien life is out there, has been taken more seriously in the press than any Catholic belief deemed too magical or strange by secular society and mainstream news outlets.

Don’t believe me? UFOs have been in the news this summer, and at other periods of the year, whenever possible. It’s a subject that stretches one’s imagination. It serves as clickbait. It’s important. These are all reasons why UFO stories may be covered, even though they border on conspiracy theory whenever the government may be involved.

For example, Politico, USA Today and the BBC all chose to do UFO stories this month. Why not transubstantiation? By comparison, the central belief of the Catholic faith — so out of reach for many reporters to understand and explain — is relegated to the religious press.

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Yo, New York Times editors: There are several Catholic angles linked to Joe Biden's abortion flip

Yo, New York Times editors: There are several Catholic angles linked to Joe Biden's abortion flip

As many pro-life Democrats and others have noted in social media: That didn’t take long.

After years of opposing the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortion — supporting the Hyde Amendment — former Vice President Joe Biden bowed the knee to primary-season realities in this “woke” era of Democratic Party life and reversed himself on this issue. Thus, he erased one of his few remaining ties to his old role as a centrist, compromise figure in his party on moral, cultural and religious issues.

Needless to say, the word “Catholic” may have something to do with this story. That term even made it into the New York Times coverage of this policy flip. See this all-politics headline: “Behind Biden’s Reversal on Hyde Amendment: Lobbying, Backlash and an Ally’s Call.

The overture focused on the political forces that yanked Biden’s chain, from members of his staff to rivals in the White Race. The Planned Parenthood team called early and often. Then, down in the body of the story, there was this:

A Roman Catholic, Mr. Biden has spent decades straddling the issue of abortion, asserting his support for individual abortion rights and the codification of Roe v. Wade, while also backing the Hyde Amendment, arguing that it was an inappropriate use of taxpayer money.

But Mr. Biden, his allies acknowledge, had plainly misread what activists on the left would accept on an extraordinarily sensitive issue. For all his reluctance to abandon his long-held position on federal funding for abortion, Mr. Biden ultimately shifted in order to meet the mood of emergency within his party’s electoral base.

The big word, of course, is “base” — which usually means “primary voters.” The question is whether the “base” that turns out in primary season has much to do with the mainstream voters that are crucial in the Rust Belt and the few Southern states that a Democrat has a chance to steal in a general election.

So where, in this Times report, were the voices from pro-life Democrats and progressive and centrist Catholics who wanted to see Biden try to reclaim blue-collar and Catholic votes that, in 2016, ended up — #LesserOfTwoEvils — going to Donald Trump? I would imagine they are hiding between the lines in the following material:

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Episcopal cathedral plans Beyonce 'Mass'? California media fall over themselves praising it

Episcopal cathedral plans Beyonce 'Mass'? California media fall over themselves praising it

Every so often, a piece crosses one’s desk that makes you wonder how journalism has survived up to this point.

Puff news coverage of a “Beyonce Mass” does leave one shaking one's head. How, you wonder, can a singer better known for quadruple platinum albums be associated with the holiest rite in Christianity?

Answer: When the host organization is San Francisco’s Grace Episcopal Cathedral and the music critic penning the piece doesn’t know much about religion.

Here’s what appeared recently in the San Jose Mercury News:

For die-hard fans, the words “worship” and “Beyonce” have gone together for years.
Yet, probably not like this:
San Francisco’s stunningly beautiful Grace Cathedral will host a contemporary worship program featuring the music of Beyonce on April 25. This “Beyonce Mass,” which is part of the church’s Wednesday night The Vine service series, is at 6:30 p.m. and admission is free. No, the megastar won’t be there -- at least in person.
“Beyoncé? At church? That’s right!” says an announcement on the church’s website. “Come to The Vine SF to sing your Beyoncé favorites and discover how her art opens a window into the lives of the marginalized and forgotten -- particularly black females.”

(In response to that, redstate.com sarcastically noted: Surely the poor and marginalized will be so relieved to know there’s a church out there brave enough to let one of the richest women in America speak for them.”)

Now, a Mass is a specific rite in a specific denomination: The Roman Catholic Church. Grace Cathedral is Episcopal, not Catholic. There are conservative Anglo-Catholics who frequently use the term "Mass" in an Episcopal context, but -- obviously -- that is not what we are dealing with here.

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'This is not a drill': The Washington Post pays attention after nuclear threat interrupts the Mass

'This is not a drill': The Washington Post pays attention after nuclear threat interrupts the Mass

Please allow me to flash back, for a moment, to a major national and international story from a week or so ago. I am referring to that stunning false alarm in Hawaii about an incoming ballistic missile.

For those of us who grew up during the Cold War era (I spent part of my childhood across town from an Air Force base full of B-52 bombers and their nuclear payloads), it is hard to image any message more terrifying than, "This is not a drill."

Lots of journalists and commentators asked a logical question: If you saw this message flash across your smartphone screen, what would you do?

I wondered, at the time, if many journalists considered pursuing religion-angle stories linked to that question. This is, after all, kind of the secular flip side of that question the Rev. Billy Graham and other evangelists have been asking for ages: If you died today, do you know where you would spend eternity?

However, The Washington Post picked up -- in a piece mixing aggregation with some new reporting -- a fascinating piece out of Hawaii that looked at this question from a Catholic point of view, focusing on some very interesting liturgical questions.

Journalists: Here is the crucial point to remember. While skeptics may scoff, for believers in liturgical churches, nothing that is happening in the world, at any given moment in time, is more important than the mysteries that are taking place on an altar during Mass (or in Eastern churches, the Divine Liturgy). Thus, here is the top of that Post piece, which opens with a priest distributing Holy Communion in a Mass at a Diocese of Honolulu chapel:

Suddenly, a deacon interrupted him and held up a cellphone showing the incoming missile alert that went out shortly after 8 a.m. It urged people to seek immediate shelter. ...
Despite the possibility of impending doom, the Rev. Mark Gantley, who was leading the Mass, didn’t mention the alert to worshipers or stop the service. But he did forgo the closing song.

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When Pope Francis rails against smartphones at Mass, what's the best way to cover this news?

When Pope Francis rails against smartphones at Mass, what's the best way to cover this news?

Recently, Pope Francis criticized folks who are glued to their iPhones during Mass, calling such flippant behavior “a very ugly thing.”

Chances are the typical Catholic didn’t hear of Francis’ remarks, even though they were widely covered. All the same, the New York Times decided to have some fun with the idea.

This is what appeared in last Sunday’s paper:

Dianne Alfaro sat in a pew in the back of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, her head bowed during Mass on Sunday morning. She cast her eyes down as the hymn “Jerusalem My Happy Home” swelled around her.
As the words “Hosanna in the highest!” echoed in the cathedral, she never looked up. That is, until she finished buying a pair of black boots off the internet on her iPhone.
“At some point, the priest during the Mass says, ‘Lift up your hearts.’ He does not say, ‘Lift up your cellphones to take pictures,’ ” Pope Francis said last week during a general audience at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, where he urged Catholics to leave their phones home.
But during Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, it seemed either the pontiff’s message had not yet reached across the Atlantic or the churchgoers were not listening.

The article goes on to record interviews with several people attending services at the cathedral that day, many of whom were quite involved with their cell phones. It is clever, I admit, and honest about what people are really doing in those pews.

It’s also what reporters and editors used to call a quick-and-dirty: Reporter and photographer visit one church, take notes, interview a few people, then put in a call to the archdiocese for comment.

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Telegraph hits some sour notes in a simple story about a footballer becoming a priest

Telegraph hits some sour notes in a simple story about a footballer becoming a priest

In the decades that I have studied attempts by news media to cover religion events and trends, I have heard this question many times: Why don't they GET IT?

"It," of course, is religion. "They" are editors and reporters in mainstream newsrooms.

Of course, there are journalists -- some religious, some secular -- who totally get the role that religious faith plays in the lives of millions and millions of people. They see the ways that religious questions and beliefs are woven into the fabric of private lives, as well as public life. There are professionals who do a great job on this beat. We need editors to hire more of them.

Yet, I am reminded, from time to time, of that statement the liberal commentator Bill Moyers -- of CBS, PBS, etc. -- made years ago. He told me that far too many journalists are "tone deaf" to the "music of religion." It's more than an intellectual thing, more than a lack of knowledge. They know that something is going on in many news stories, but they don't hear the music. It's just a bunch of sounds to them. It isn't real.

I'm thinking about this today as I prepare to give another lecture at a conference for young journalists in Prague, in the Czech Republic. Most of the participants are from Eastern Europe. Reporting about religion, especially in conflict situations, is a major theme in the conference.

But let's look at a smaller example of these problems. Here is a nice, simple human interest story, in which a footballer from one of the world's most famous squads has been ordained as a Catholic priest. At the very least, the reporter and editors working on this story for the Telegraph need to understand a few simple things about the priesthood and how Catholics talk about it.

Prepare for some sour notes in this song.

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Question for podcast listeners: How does your zip code affect doctrine in your pulpits and pews?

Question for podcast listeners: How does your zip code affect doctrine in your pulpits and pews?

It was a pretty ordinary Catholic news story in The New York Times in the age of Pope Francis. The headline proclaimed: "As Church Shifts, a Cardinal Welcomes Gays; They Embrace a ‘Miracle’."

The story hook was that Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark had welcomed 100 LGBTQ Catholics and members of their families to a Mass on their behalf at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

This newsworthy event was called a "pilgrimage," but the Times called it a homecoming. Here is some crucial material that ran high in the story:

“I am Joseph, your brother,” Cardinal Tobin told the group, which included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics from around New York and the five dioceses in New Jersey. “I am your brother, as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother, as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.”
The welcoming of a group of openly gay people to Mass by a leader of Cardinal Tobin’s standing in the Roman Catholic Church in this country would have been unthinkable even five years ago. But Cardinal Tobin, whom Pope Francis appointed to Newark last year, is among a small but growing group of bishops changing how the American church relates to its gay members. They are seeking to be more inclusive and signaling to subordinate priests that they should do the same. ...
Four years ago, Pope Francis shook the Catholic world with his comment about gay priests seeking the Lord: “Who am I to judge?” But it was unclear how his words would affect Catholics seeking acceptance in the pews.

The story, of course, does not include a crucial word found in all discussions of this topic by LGBTQ Catholics who strive to live out the teachings of their church -- "Confession."

When Pope Francis referred to gay priests who are "seeking the Lord," the implication was that these priests were wrestling with their temptations and sins in Confession. (Click here for a transcript and discussion of news coverage of this issue.)

Thus, who was Francis to judge? This issue was between the sinner and his spiritual father and, of course, the ultimate judge was God. Was this the message in Newark?

But never mind doctrinal details like that. This Times story entered into this week's "Crossroads" discussion for another reason. (Click here to tune in that podcast.)

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The Los Angeles Times team acts like it's never seen the Holy Eucharist before

The Los Angeles Times team acts like it's never seen the Holy Eucharist before

Does The Los Angeles Times truly not know what Holy Communion is?

A reader of an article entitled “Bishop of Orange signs construction contract for renovation of Christ Cathedral” in the local news section might well wonder.  

The decline of the late Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral, one of the first mega-churches in the United States with a nationally syndicated worship service, has been discussed at GetReligion over the years. As has the subsequent purchase of the landmark property by the Roman Catholic Church for repurposing as its new cathedral. 

The article in the May 26 print edition reports the first phase of reconstruction has been completed.  

More than 10,000 panes of the cathedral’s mirrored glass already have been re-caulked and resurfaced, under budget and on schedule, Rev. Christopher Smith, rector and episcopal vicar, told guests at the signing ceremony.

So far so good.

However, the reporter’s lack of knowledge of the subject soon overtakes the story.

The contract signing is timely, as the Catholic Church has feast days ahead, Vann said, noting Pentecostal Sunday on June 4 -- often called the birth of the church -- and the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, who built the great basilicas in Europe, on June 29. 

Perhaps “Pentecostal Sunday” was a spell-checker error, where the thought that passed from the reporter’s brain to her fingers to the page was intercepted by word processing software -- correcting Pentecost to Pentecostal.

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