Friday, January 12, 2007

A New Spin on "B-Ball"

You're forgiven if you didn't immediately realize the guy in the ref's stripes as no mere moonlighting official, but Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh.

That he's there is, admittedly, still a tough reality for some of us in his hometown to come to adjust to. But since heading down I-95 five months ago, the local boy done good's been moving quickly and winning 'em over on his vast new turf, so much so that the Triangle's top paper gave the rookie diocesan top billing on its slate of locals primed to make a splash in the New Year.

As he prepares to take up the chairmanship of the USCCB's Committee on Vocations later this year, earlier this month the former Overbrook rector kicked off Vocation Awareness Week, which ends today, in ways conventional and clever.

Before presiding at the diocese's newly-instituted monthly cathedral Holy Hour for more recruits to the priesthood and consecrated life, Burbidge refereed a basketball game pitting a squad of Raleigh priests and seminarians (dubbed the "Men in Black") against the varsity team from an area Catholic high school.

A Friday-evening crowd of about 600 showed up as the MIBs fell to St Thomas More Academy, 30-29. The Most Rev. Ref headlined halftime, using the break to speak about the importance of vocations. (Inverting the vaunted Philadelphia ecclesiology, the sems had been advised pre-game that any close calls would go against them.)

Given his day job, the sports-mad prelate -- who scores the big 5-0 in mid-June -- might just find himself in an unlikely position tomorrow night: rooting against 'dem Saints.

Not the saints, but 'dem Saints -- as in New Orleans' NFL franchise.

Raleigh's roughly a third of the way between Philadelphia and Miami. Figuratively speaking, with the latter hosting Super Bowl XLI in three weeks' time, that's just about the same spot Burbidge's beloved Eagles are in as they head to the Superdome for their do-or-die second-round NFC playoff match against the Crescent City's cinderella squad.

The gridiron-variety Saints have become something of a national cause celebre in light of a surprisingly stellar first season at home post-Katrina. Given the lift the team's provided to a community undergoing an unprecedented rebuilding, the storyline's completely understandable, compelling balm for the human spirit.

Then again, football is football -- and as one fan site put it, "Don't hate the Eagles because they're beautiful." And, really, how could anyone quibble with that?

(In the unlikely, highly-premature-and-grossly-hypothetical event of the first-ever Birds' Super Bowl win, just be forewarned that you won't be seeing or hearing from me for up to a week. Surely, knowing this will lead many readers to storm high heaven with prayers that said unlikely, highly-premature-and-grossly-hypothetical-event will come to pass. On behalf of a grateful and cautiously optimistic region, thank you.)

As the gameday result boded well after Burbidge attended eastern North Carolina's lone indult Mass last weekend, then maybe, just maybe, an impromptu Tridentine return trip tomorrow morning might be in order. Clearly didn't hurt last time, and it doesn't take a veteran season-ticket holder to realize that, just as in the church, back home in Eagles' Nation it all comes down to fides, spes, caritas, tria haec.

There's no other way our faithful have endured the years. Sure, different words are used for those virtues in the stands. And sometimes, of course, they can be various other four-lettered ones. Regardless, the message, and the fervor, are precisely the same.

So Go Birds, Go Burb -- and, whatever everyone else's leanings tomorrow night, pray still and pray hard for Mother New Orleans.

Diocese of Raleigh