God and the Sports Page

Does the Almighty Bend an Ear to Prayers for Smarty Jones?

With a victory in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 5, 2004, Smarty Jones will have captured horseracing’s most elusive prize—the Triple Crown. No horse has done it since 1978.

Certainly a prayer or two is in order. So maybe it’s not surprising that Smarty was recently blessed by a Philadelphia priest.

“I asked the Lord to give Smarty Jones good health, I asked Him to protect Smarty during the Belmont Stakes, and I asked Him to give Smarty the special gift of the Triple Crown,” said Father Thomas Homa. (Smarty probably thought, “Who are you, and why aren’t you feeding me anything?”)

Is this… necessary?

Haunted hoofprints
Well, it is the track—an inherently spiritual universe. Everyone prays at the track. In a sport in which two jockeys die in an average year, and there still exist those few desperate figures who wager the mortgage on the four horse in the seventh race, a metaphysical vibe haunts any racetrack like hoofprints along the rail.

But even if everybody crosses the finish line in one piece, does God really care who brought home the Daily Double? Shouldn’t He be more concerned with, say, the war on terror?

No, I can handle it, really.

“Ask and you shall receive,” Jesus told the apostles, not “Ask me only really important things, because seriously, I can’t be bothered with Game Seven of the Stanley Cup.” The Blessed Mother quietly lived this advice when she asked her Son to begin his public ministry not by healing a leper or resurrecting a friend, but by ensuring a wedding party didn’t have to close down the open bar prematurely.

The God I know is bound neither by time nor burden. Our God is a God who is all about the simultaneous walking and chewing of gum. A God who knows the number of hairs on our head surely welcomes every weensy aspect of His child’s existence. We do not “bother” God with these things; on the contrary, by welcoming God into everyday events, we draw Him further and deeper into the fabric of our daily lives.

You can pray for the President; you can pray over stoplights. The vital factor here is that you’re praying.

Does God really care who wins sporting events? As a member of the “Notre Dame family,” I don’t think I have to tell you which side of that question I’m on. To quote former head football coach Lou Holtz, “God may not care who wins football games, but His Mother might.” There you have it, Notre Dame herself.

“I’d like to thank God for this victory…”
But if the Bengals are praying to win and the Broncos are praying to win, doesn’t this set God against Himself? All things being morally equal, whose side is He on? (Clearly, given their performance over the past decade or so, not the Bengals’.)

You know what I think? I think God drops the puck and says, “Listen, you guys sort it out. If I wanna intervene, I will. Game on.”

And as for Smarty? Well, Smarty is a Catholic horse. In addition to the hands-on blessing, he carries a Sacred Heart medal beneath his saddle blanket.

We’ll see if it helps.