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: Strong temptations? Defeat them like the Desert Fathers

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The fact that we don’t do what we want but instead do what we hate is a problem as old as our first parents. Yet, we can interpret temptation either as that which is always keeping us away from God or as the very vehicle to grow closer to him.

The Desert Fathers believed it to be a necessary vehicle: “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” St. Anthony of the Desert used to say. They saw the fight against these evil enticements as a step to love God in a deeper way.

Here’s how these radical followers of Christ – who fled to the Egyptian desert during the 3rd to 5th centuries to live a form of daily martyrdom in a land where being a Christian was no longer a risk – survived the strongest enticements of the flesh and the devil, as they sought to live out the Gospel and grow in perfection.

The sayings, teachings, maxims and stories they left behind, compiled and known as the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, show that a combination of three things: self-awareness, prayer and practicality, are key to battling the strongest disordered passions.

Alertness and action

“The early monks understood that temptations often come in the form of thoughts. We become attracted and have fantasies, whether that be in petty things, bodily appetites or social interactions,” explained Father Columba Stewart, O.S.B., expert on early monasticism, scholar and director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn.

The first disposition they considered to be key, was self-awareness, “knowing what happens in our minds and hearts… how to recognize [bad thoughts] before we actually do a sinful action,” he said.

After this base, which requires continuous self-examination and attention to the inner impulses of the heart, the importance of prayer and practicality follow.

A hermit of the desert said to a young monk suffering from strong temptations, “This is the way to be strong: when temptations start to speak in your mind do not answer them but get up, pray, do penance, and say, ‘Son of God, have mercy upon me.’”

Prayer is not isolated from action. The hermit tells him to “get up,” “do penance” and “pray.”

Practicality can take on different forms, such as going in the opposite direction of the temptation or seeking help from another, Father Stewart pointed out.

“For example, when you’re angry with someone… thoughts of anger start emerging, and you replay in your imagination what made you angry. Then that turns into a mental video of how you’re going to get revenge. This is when self-awareness comes in and you realize that the thoughts you’re having are inappropriate,” Father Stewart said.

A first practical action would be to step away instead of going to find that person, he continued. “Then to use your mind and imagination to instead remember the times when your relationship [with that person] was better or think about the future and how great it will be when this passes.”

Light overcomes darkness

Also, this “get up” practicality consists in bringing to light one’s sins or temptations to someone else and not fighting alone.

“A common exhortation, attributed to many different monks, was that the Enemy, the devil, rejoices in nothing so much as unmanifested thoughts… A sin which is hidden begins to multiply,” Father Stewart wrote in an article.

He then explained that “If the devil was delighted by a monk’s self-imposed isolation, surely this was because the opposite of isolation, encounter with another, was the way to salvation.”

According to Father Stewart, this understanding led the Fathers to break from “the illusion of self-sufficiency, a pose which encourages self-absorption,” and find spiritual fathers.

“The desert tradition is universally insistent upon the young monk’s need for a discerning elder,” he explained. “The basic insight of the desert… was that one cannot grow towards perfection through isolated, solitary effort: grace is mediated through one’s neighbor, especially one’s abba [spiritual father].”

The way these early hermits fought temptations is one of many treasures that Father Stewart says they left behind. In fact, he encourages readers to look at the Sayings of the Desert Fathers as a source that is still “amazingly relevant.”

“[The Sayings of the Desert Fathers] have been very popular sources of wisdom and inspiration throughout history,” he said. “What sets [them] apart… is that they speak from and to experience rather than text or theory.”

“The tradition of Christian wisdom is great,” he concluded. “People only need to know where to find it.”