Over a hundred years ago the Irish-American satirist Finley Peter
Dunne, through his fictional saloon-keeper Martin Dooley, presented the cheers
for two Chicago Catholic high school football teams. They went: "Take
an ax, an ax, an ax to thim! Hooroo, hooroo, hellabaloo, Christyan
Bro-others!" and "Hit thim, saw thim, gnaw thim, chaw thim, Saint
I thought of these in connection with today's readings: Jeremiah and the
Psalmist suggest that we must always have opponents, and in the Gospel Jesus
puts in perspective our human desire always to be first. As we Americans
come to basketball's March Madness, we have another opportunity to witness
the wild enthusiasms of competition. And as in peace we must triumph
over our adversaries, tragically, in war around the world our brothers and
sisters suffer because some believe they must dominate others, or take what
they want in violence.
Society could never have developed the good things we need -- more nourishing
food, effective shelter and clothing, speedy transportation, and glorious
works of music and art, unless our instinct to compete, to struggle, and
to overcome obstacles found outlets in achievements that went beyond the
ordinary. The Christian Brothers and Saint Aloysius footballers were just
starting down the road to lives better than their parents knew. Taking an
ax, hitting and sawing the opponent was metaphor, not the same as the violence
that destroys a true enemy.
In daily life for most of us, we probably do not have real persecutors, plots
against us; we may not need to be rescued from the clutches of our enemies.
The media remind us, however, that millions do, and we must remember them
both with our prayers and actions to bring peace and justice where now there
is the agony of anarchy and murder.
I suppose that psychologically, genetically, we are programmed to want to
win -- for us males, perhaps, to be aggressive, to win at another's expense.
What flourishing society does not want its members to go higher, faster,
farther, and win the medal for being first? But I think Jesus tells
us today that it is more important to do well what we can do and what we
should do, finally not for championships and for ourselves but for those
who need the products of our strengths and talents. The real winners
are not those with the obvious prizes, those who sit next to the powerful,
but those who have to the best of their ability served others as Jesus did.