Broncos’ prayers are answered

Julie Filby

“For a Broncos’ victory, let us pray to the Lord.”

This, according to Jesuit Father Philip Steele, was among the prayers of the faithful at a private team Mass for the Denver Broncos on the eve of the Jan. 19 AFC championship game when he requested special intentions.

“I’m always kind of delicate when it comes to what we pray for during the prayers of the faithful,” he clarified. Generally intentions include that each player play to the best of his ability, be protected from injury, and that existing injuries heal.

But particularly that night, victory was on the minds and hearts of 15 players, coaches and family members gathered for a 7:30 p.m. liturgy at the team hotel. And victory was the outcome the next day when they defeated the New England Patriots 26-16 to advance to Super Bowl XLVIII Feb. 2 in East Rutherford, N.J., where they will take on the Seattle Seahawks.

“I honestly believe God didn’t care if the Broncos or the Patriots won,” said Father Steele, who’s served as a chaplain for the Broncos for eight years. “But he cares that we do.”

Father Steele is the president of Aurora’s Regis Jesuit High School, whose Jesuit community has ministered to the Broncos since the school moved their campus to Aurora in 1990, just 3 miles from the team’s Dove Valley headquarters in Centennial.

“It’s a fun way to minister, I enjoy it,” said the Denver native and longtime Broncos’ fan. “Particularly this year under Jack’s leadership. They really want to be there (at Mass). They’re serious about commending their efforts to God.”

“Jack” is Jack Del Rio, second-year defensive coordinator, and a parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul in Denver.

Another area priest, Father Terry Kissell, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel in Aurora, also had an opportunity to minister within the NFL last weekend, celebrating Mass for the visiting Patriots.

“I like the Patriots, I have for years,” said Father Kissell, who regularly visits family near Boston. “It sounded like a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

He learned of it through an email blast from the archdiocese’s Office of Priest Personnel, who received the Mass request from the Patriots’ representative at the Westin Denver Downtown Hotel. Father Kissell was first to respond to the request.

Arriving at the Westin at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 18, he was escorted to a conference room under tight security to celebrate a half-hour Mass—additional team meetings were scheduled for 6 p.m.

In a short homily, the “most abbreviated I’ve given in years,” he said, he referenced the day’s Scripture, as well as Boston Strong, reminding the five men gathered that Boston Nation is everywhere—even on “foreign turf.”

“I couldn’t identify if they were players,” Father Kissel said of the five men attending, though he did recognize team owner Robert Kraft when he was leaving the hotel.

“I thanked them for being at the Mass,” he said. “It shows how much they value it.”

COMING UP: Healing hatred and anger after Charlottesville

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The confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nationwide reaction to it are clear signs of the tensions simmering just below the surface of our society. But we know as people of faith that these wounds can be healed if we follow Christ’s example, rather than the path of revenge.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the Aug. 12 clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville that resulted in the injury of around 34 people and the death of Heather Heyer. It was an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” melee.

These events remind me of Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message, in which he pointed out that “Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mk. 7:21).”

What we witnessed in Charlottesville was an outward expression of hundreds of hearts, and as a shepherd of souls, I cannot stand by silently while people allow hatred toward others rule their hearts. Particularly reprehensible were the derogatory words the neo-Nazis and their white supremacist allies shouted toward African Americans, Jews and Latinos. This is not how God sees his children!

Every human being is bestowed from the moment of conception with the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, and we are all loved by him, even amid our sin and brokenness. Satan seeks every opportunity to twist these fundamental truths in the hearts of human beings and we can see the devastation it brings throughout history.

It can be tempting to respond to these attacks on our fellow man with violence, just as the members of the Anti-fascist movement (known as “Antifa”) did in Charlottesville. But this is not what Christ taught, since it allows hatred to gain a foothold through a different avenue. It is worth repeating: the human heart is the true battlefield.

Jesus’ response to violence and persecution stands in contrast with the way of hatred and anger. Instead, he taught his disciples to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Christ’s radical answer is only possible because God unconditionally loves every person and is ready to forgive us when we repent. God’s love is the only thing that can cut through the hatred that is bringing people to blows, heal the human heart and form it after his own. As people of faith, we are called to bring the truth of love to these festering wounds so that hearts may be healed by Christ.

Joseph Pearce, the Catholic convert and former white supremacist, is a perfect example of this. In a recent article for the National Catholic Register, he recalls how it was his encounter with the objective truths of the faith that demolished his race-centered identity and seeing his enemies love him when he confronted them with hatred that changed his heart. We must pray for the grace to love as Jesus loves, to love as the Father loves.

“The way out of this deadly spiral,” Pearce says, “is to go beyond the love of neighbor, as necessary as that is, and to begin to love our enemies. This is not simply good for us, freeing us from the bondage of hatred; it is good for our enemies also.”

May all of us follow the great example of Mark Heyer, the father of the woman who was killed after the white supremacist rally. His daughter’s death, Heyer told USA Today, made him think “about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’”

Jesus desires that every person have a heart that is whole and free from hatred, anger and pride. He desires to form our hearts, and that only comes about when we are receptive to his unconditional love, for only in receiving his unconditional love will we be able to give it to others. I pray that all the faithful will be instruments of healing for our country by bringing Christ’s forgiveness to their neighbors and their enemies.