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: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.