In defense of Bandwagon Canucks Fans

I used to think that people in Vancouver were not very religious. That was until I went to my first Canuck’s game last year. My friend won tickets and although I do not know much about the sport, I was happy to go. Though the game was fun to watch, I found all the ceremony surrounding the game much more fascinating. It was a masterfully executed religious event! I would know, I am in a very similar field myself.

Walking to the game, I found the positioning of Rogers Arena significant. In the past, cities were often centered around a place of worship like a cathedral, synagogue or mosque. This tradition continues, only now the temple is the arena. During the game there were many effects aimed at producing an emotional response: special lighting, smoke, and music (complete with an organ!). Most impressive was the sense of ownership that was instilled in the spectators. The announcer repeatedly told us to cheer for “our” Vancouver Canucks. We are all Canucks! It’s like when I tell students in catechism class, “the Church isn’t a building, YOU are the Church!”

This new religion has its own system of morality for fans. The greatest virtue a fan can possess is loyalty. A good fan is a diehard fan, a real Canucklehead. The greatest sin a fan can commit is to only support the team when they are doing well. A bad fan is a bandwagon fan. Now that the Canucks have entered the playoffs, die-hard fans express their displeasure with the bandwagoners’ sudden interest in the team. It’s like Mass on Christmas Eve. The Catholics who come every Sunday start griping that the “Christmas and Easter” Catholics are taking up pew space.

Here’s the thing: supporting the Vancouver Canuck’s is not like supporting an orphanage somewhere in the developing world. Giving your time, attention and money to an orphanage is a good thing to do. Ignoring or withdrawing your support, especially when the orphanage is most in need, would be a bad thing to do.

The truth is, they are not “our” Vancouver Canucks. They are owned by people who hope to make money from the team. It is in the owner’s best interest that we feel the team belongs to us. It is in the owner’s best interest if team loyalty is exalted as a virtue. It keeps the money coming in when people follow the team with a religious devotion. I don’t know exactly how much the players make, but I assume their monetary compensation is enough to overcome the hurt feelings that arise when fan numbers and enthusiasm fluctuates.  We are not all Canucks. Those paid by the team are Canucks. The rest of us are just consumers.

Not that there is anything wrong with being a consumer! In the end, supporting the Canucks is entertainment. We all spend our time and money on a variety of things that entertain us. Do you enjoy being a die-hard fan, supporting the team through all its ups and downs? Fantastic. Do you enjoy being a bandwagon fan, only paying attention when the team is performing well? Wonderful. Be whatever kind of fan makes you happy. Be aware, however, that if you attach moral significance to fan loyalty or disloyalty, thinking one is “good” and the other “bad”, you’re the one who got played.

Easter: How we experience the Resurrection

John 20:1-9 (Easter Sunday, year B)

As part of a project for the students at our school, we placed a large, wooden cross in the Church’s sanctuary at the start of lent. During these past 40 days, the students gradually blanketed the cross with leaves they made from green paper. Finally, before the Easter Vigil, we covered the the cross with paper lilies students created from tracings of their hands. Eat your heart out Pinterest! This project caught the attention many parishioners, some of whom asked me what was going on. One woman summed up the questions of many when she asked “what’s up with the cross? It looks different!” I was glad she recognized that the cross looked different. The entire purpose of this endeavour was to help students and parishioners look at the Cross differently. Because of Easter, we want to look at both the Cross of Jesus and all the crosses we carry in our life differently. In fact, with this project we tried to demonstrate visually an ancient expression used by Christians as they struggled to look at the Cross differently:
Behold how the Cross stands revealed as the Tree of Life!

The first story told in the Bible is about the Tree of Life, Adam, Eve and a garden (Gen 2-3). We read that after God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in a garden.  In the garden’s center were found the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God told Adam and Eve that though they could eat the fruit of any of the trees in the garden, they were not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, “for on the day you eat of it you shall most surely die” (Gen 2:17). We know the rest of the story. Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In response, God exiled them from the garden and barred them from eating any longer from the Tree of Life. This story reveals fundamental truths about our human condition. Because of sin, our relationship with God was severed. This is represented by our exile from the garden, the place of close communion with God. As a result of sin, death entered the world. This is represented by our being barred access to the Tree of Life. This death was eternal. After our physical death, we would be permanently separated from God, the Author of Life. This was the hopeless situation we all found ourselves in before the coming of Jesus.

One of the last stories told in the Bible is about the new Tree of Life, the New Adam, the New Eve and a new garden (John 18-20). Jesus is the New Adam and Mary is the New Eve because they always remained faithful to God, whereas the original Adam and Eve disobeyed Him. In the Gospel of John’s account of Jesus’ death and Resurrection, a garden plays an important role. “At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried.” (John 19:41) After His death, Jesus is placed in the tomb just like a seed is planted in the dirt of a garden. After three days Christ rose from the dead, like a seedling breaking through the ground. The new life of the Resurrection came about because of what Jesus did for us on the Cross. Christ, the New Adam has undone the damage caused by Adam in the original garden. We once again have access to the Tree of Life. Behold how the Cross stands revealed as the Tree of Life! The Resurrection of Jesus gives us a certain hope that after we die we will rise like Him. Because of Jesus, the Cross is no longer a dead piece of wood. His death transformed the Cross into a source of life for all of us.

We must learn to look at the Cross of Jesus differently. This is the only first lesson the student’s project teaches us. The second lesson lesson is that we need  to look at our own sufferings - our crosses - differently. The new life brought about by Jesus is something we experience here and now, not just after our death. In our lives, God brings new life from our sufferings just as He did from the Cross of Jesus. God is able to transform any painful or difficult experience into a tree of life. In this we truly experience the Resurrection.

This is something I have experienced personally. When I was in university I went to work at High Tech company in Japan for two semesters. My first few weeks were extremely difficult. The work was way above me, there was a large cultural barrier and I was hitting my head on the many low ceilings! On top of this, I began having health problems like I had never experienced before. Suddenly and without warning my heart would start racing and I would begin feeling terrible all over. To add to my stress, I had no idea what was happening to me. One night when I was walking towards a Metro station, I had my worst episode of all. At the time I thought I was having a heart attack. It got so bad that I could no longer stand up. In broken Japanese, I asked some people to call an ambulance. I thought to myself, “this is it, Nick, the end” and I laid down in the Metro square under the blinking neon signs and loud street noises. Eventually an ambulance came and the workers lifted me onto the stretcher and took me away. Now, when Japanese people lift something heavy, they tend to say “Yish! Yish!”. I can tell you that there were many “yishes” coming from the ambulance attendants that night! Eventually I found out that what I was experiencing were panic attacks. For two months they continued. They would come at work, on the bus or when I was out on the street. It was a very dark time for me. I felt helpless and lost hope that things would improve. Thankfully, after some time, the panic attacks became less and less frequent until it was something I could manage.

Though my struggle with panic attacks was a difficult cross, I see now that God transformed it into a tree of life for me. When I went to Japan, my faith was weak. I prayed little and was not really sure what I believed. At the time my plan in life was to become an engineer. My suffering made me rethink the purpose of my life. It started me on a journey to rediscover my faith. It made me question what my vocation was. God certainly brought life from my suffering. If I had not struggled with panic attacks in Japan I doubt I would be a priest today.

Behold how the Cross stands revealed as the Tree of Life! Easter forever changed the world. Because of the Resurrection of Jesus we have the certain hope that we will live with God forever. Because of the Resurrection of Jesus, God works to bring life from our suffering. Today, take a moment to think of one cross you carried that God transformed into a tree of life and give thanks. If you are currently carrying a cross that seems too heavy to bear, try to surrender it to God today, trusting that He will bring life from it. “What’s up with the cross? It looks different!” Because of Easter, we should never again look at any cross in our life in the same way.

Good Friday: Do I want justice or do I want mercy?

(Good Friday, year B)

The front page story of today’s Vancouver Sun describes the horrible terrorist attack in Kenya. Masked gunman killed 147 university students simply because they were Christian. The media has interviewed many people, victims’ relatives, politicians and members of the general public. They all express a desire for one thing: justice. This action was terribly wrong. This is not the way the world is supposed to be. Spoken or unspoken, those interviewed and all of us following the news ask the same questions, “Who is going to pay for this? Who will be held responsible?” Whether the hurt is grievous, like a terrorist attack, or minor, as when a friend insults us, whenever someone wrongs us our inclination is to want justice.

When we are the guilty party, however, things are very different. For example, at the end of one semester at university I become swamped with exams and assignments and completely forgot to do one essay. By the time I remembered it, the deadline had passed. I quickly finished the assignment in a day and went to the professor to personally hand it in. As I walked to his office, my mind was racing with excuses. There was too much to do! The due date was unclear! My computer crashed! Everything in me wanted mercy. But the truth was, I messed up. I was late and deserved to be punished by having marks deducted from my grade. What a difference in my response. When someone hurts me, I want justice. I want them to apologize, preferably in public, and make up for it. However, when I am guilty, I beg for mercy. I want to say sorry quietly and have my transgression quickly swept under the rug.

In his letters, St. Paul vividly describes the grave situation we find ourselves in because of our sins. “You were dead in your transgressions and sins… we were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1,3). Let this reality sink in. We have all sinned, hurting others and destroying the order and goodness of God’s world. We all deserve punishment, not mercy. St. Paul explains that if justice were carried out, we would all be found guilty and sentenced to the ultimate punishment of eternal death. This is the hopeless situation sin leaves us in. We do not deserve mercy. We deserve to be held accountable for our sins.

But here we come to the reason why we call this Friday “good”. In the darkness of sin, the light of God’s mercy and love unexpectedly breaks through. When we look at Jesus hanging from the Cross, we realize that we did not get what we deserved! God gave us mercy, not justice! Justice looks to hold the wrongdoer accountable, following through with the appropriate punishment or consequences. However, in His infinite mercy, God chose to take the punishment for our sins upon Himself. He paid our fine. He suffered in our place.  “But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins ... by his stripes we were healed.” (Is 53:5ff). We did not get what we deserved.

Mercy is not meant to end at the Cross. On the Cross, Jesus unleashed a fountain of mercy that is meant to flow in and through us to those around us. God is merciful to us so that we can be merciful to others. Each one of us has been hurt. We have all been insulted or betrayed by friends, family or coworkers. Some hurts seem impossible to forgive. Jesus knows our pain because He suffered the same. Mercy does not pretend no wrong was committed. Rather, when we are merciful, we choose to cancel the debt others incurred against us. In doing so, we break the power these hurts hold over us and become free to love as Christ calls us to do.

Does mercy end at the Cross for you? Is there someone in your life that you cannot forgive? Is there some hurt you cannot let go of? Are there people in your life from whom you demand justice and stubbornly refuse to show them mercy? What might this say about your understanding of what Jesus has done for you on the Cross?

Today when you look at the Cross, think of one person who has hurt you. Look at the Cross and soak in the unfathomable mercy God has shown you. We did not get what we deserved! In view of the Cross ask yourself, what do I want for this person who has harmed me? Do I want justice or do I want mercy?