Two prominent Catholic universities are scheduled to play NCAA Tournament basketball games this week on Good Friday, the most solemn day on the Christian calendar, without causing a ripple of controversy in an increasingly secular society.
Notre Dame and Gonzaga both advanced to the Sweet Sixteen and are scheduled to play on the day that Jesus Christ was crucified and died.
The occurrence has become increasingly more accepted
among Catholics in recent years, with nine Catholic schools playing NCAA tournament games on Good Friday in 2008.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan,
archbishop of New York City, wrote about the increasing Catholic embrace of secular events during the Easter season in a blog column on March 10.
"One of my favorite memories of baseball is about the pitching legend Sandy Koufax," the cardinal wrote. "This cherished recollection about one of the game's greatest pitchers did not occur on the mound, however, it came in 1965, when Sandy informed the manager of the Dodgers that he would not be able to pitch on the Jewish high holiday, Yom Kippur. For Sandy, his faith was more important than even baseball."
"What about us Catholics?" the cardinal asked.
Referring to the Lenten season that precedes Easter, he writes, "We continue to schedule celebrations, parties, and fundraisers during what should be forty somber days of penance….
"Our Catholic colleges will compete in 'March Madness' even on Good Friday, and coaches in our parishes will complain that CYO games cannot be scheduled on Holy Thursday and Good Friday."
A similar change can be seen overseas, where former Anglican cultural bastion England allowed betting shops to open on Good Friday
in 2008 for the first time in national history. Last year, an English soccer team angered fans by scheduling a game at 3 p.m. on Good Friday. Christians traditionally believe darkness came over the land as Christ was dying on the Cross from 12 to 3 p.m.
A Catholic fan of Middlesbrough told the Mirror newspaper
last April that he would be missing his first game in over a decade because of the scheduling conflict.
"The football authorities have quite rightly clamped down on football fans who don't show respect to minorities who are of different race or sexuality," Joe Watson said.
"It's a shame they won't show some respect to the substantial minority of their lifelong fans who are practicing Christians and are genuinely offended at this kick-off time."
At least in March Madness-crazed America, the games don't start until 7:10 p.m.
Still, Cardinal Dolan is concerned at what he sees.
"Sociologists tell us that a religion needs what they call 'markers' to flourish, external signs (like Sabbath observances and fasting) to flow from internal conviction.
"Am I exaggerating when I ask if we Catholics have lost it?
"Where's the Catholic Sandy Koufax?"
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