Prayers are fine, but God probably doesn't care who wins

Stefon Diggs (# 14) of the Minnesota Vikings leaps to catch the ball.
Stefon Diggs (# 14) of the Minnesota Vikings leaps to catch the ball in the fourth quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff game against the New Orleans Saints on Jan. 14, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Hannah Foslien | Getty Images

Julie Craven was sitting in the stands a few weeks ago when Stefon Diggs made that incredible touchdown catch to advance the Vikings to the next round of the NFL playoffs.

The catch was quickly dubbed the "Minneapolis Miracle."

Craven recalls how, just before that play, the row of men behind her all had their heads down and hands clasped in what appeared to be prayer.

As the Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives for Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in northeast Minneapolis, prayer naturally catches her eye. As do miracles.

"I was having a hard time sleeping when I got home," Craven said this week. "There was so much energy. And I thought 'there has to be a Facebook post there.'"

That led her to create a Facebook post for Our Lady of Lourdes.

You may remember it:

"If you made any promises during the last ten seconds, Sunday masses are at 8:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. Downtown Minneapolis."

It was hard not to smile.

The message instantly went viral. ESPN and Sports Illustrated were among national outlets to tweet her post.

Craven and the church's pastor, the Rev. Dan Griffith, said they have noticed a bump in traffic at mass in recent weeks. Several new parishioners have also officially joined Lourdes. "My sister-in-law and niece told me they prayed a "Hail Mary" during those last 10 seconds," quipped Griffith, who grew up a Packers fan in Wisconsin. "I laughed and said: 'I didn't even know you were Vikings fans.'"

Does God actually control who wins?

Religious phrases have a long history in sports, especially football. Diggs' catch, after all, will always be known as a miracle.

The pass that quarterback Case Keenum threw was a 'Hail Mary.'

When Brett Favre connected with Greg Lewis in the end zone as time expired to beat San Francisco in a 2009 game, radio announcer Paul Allen screamed "Oh my heavens!"

And let's not forget one of the most famous plays in NFL history, the "Immaculate Reception."

All well and good, noted Griffith, who said the viral post is a way for the church to use popular culture to invite people to worship.

But let's not pretend God actually cares who wins.

I spoke with Griffith about our need to turn to the heavens when a game gets tight.

Why do you think people pray or even mock pray when a game gets close?

I think sports are such an important part of our American culture. Sometimes sports are so important that they're in desperation, crying out to God. The other thing I think that happens is people get caught up in the moment. There's so much drama. It comes down to the end and they kind of just reach out to God. I come at it from the Catholic teaching, which is: We're all made by God. We're made in the image and likeness of God and we're given a special capacity as part of our human nature and transcendent goal that we can literally commune with God, and we do that through prayer.

Now, does God favor one team over another? I don't think so.

Clearly, if God favored a team it would be the Saints or Angels.

No, it'd be the Packers. I'm from Wisconsin.

I wonder if some of this conversation is really about our free will or whether it is that God is in control of all our actions. Isn't that really the eternal conversation about God?

Yes, and it's mysterious. We believe in the Catholic tradition that God is on the surface of everything. That God's spirit is moving but God always respects our freedom. In the Catholic tradition we don't believe in the watchmaker God who just winds the clock and steps back, nor do we believe in a God who's a puppeteer. Rather, we believe in a God who respects our freedom but is always working for our good and always inviting us into a relationship with himself and also inviting us into a life of charity.

There's such a chasm between God and our finite human nature that we don't know how God is answering prayer.

Is it at all sacrilegious to pray when it's just sports?

I don't think it's sacrilegious because it's manifesting someone's belief there is a God. Could you say a sporting event is more frivolous than other things in life? Yes. But it's also something that binds us. Sports bind us. What would advise fans watching Sunday's game, if the game is close and they're about to ask God for a certain play? I would advise them there's a more important prayer. If their spirit is moved to reach out to God - and I'm not trying to be a downer here - but maybe they could pray that God's will would be lived throughout their life.

Or maybe they could pray for a friend who's struggling. Maybe they could transfer that prayer to something that's a more worthy thing.

Now, I don't want Patriot fans and Eagles fans storming Our Lady of Lourdes!

I wish them both well. But that movement to prayer could maybe be directed.

But really, just have fun. It's a big cultural moment.

If their prayers are answered, they can come to your church, right?


Masses are still at 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

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