By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
FALL RIVER, Mass. — Back-to-back snowstorms during Catholic Schools Week in the diocese forced the postponing of a planned Mass celebration at St. Anne’s Church with the six schools in the Fall River Deanery to a week later, on February 4.
Despite the rescheduling — and probably because they just had several unanticipated “snow days” off — students from Bishop Connolly High School, Espirito Santo School, St. Michael School, St. Stanislaus School, Holy Trinity School and Holy Name School all turned out in full force for a Liturgy that was celebrated by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V.
Packing the pews of the main church, located upstairs from the venerable shrine on Middle Street, the more than 1,300 students from each school could be readily identified by their unique uniforms while similarly-colorful namesake banners that were carried in during the opening procession flanked either side of the altar.
Taking on the role of teacher, Bishop da Cunha began his homily, appropriately enough, by quizzing the students.
“I’d like to begin by asking you all a question and I hope it won’t be too difficult to answer,” the bishop said. “And the question is this: ‘How many of you here watched the Super Bowl last Sunday?’”
The question elicited smiles from the young congregation while hands immediately shot into the air.
“Now how many of you were rooting for the Patriots?” the bishop continued, knowing full well that he was speaking to a captive audience.
Again, more hands were raised.
“Probably some of you were thinking that you’d like to be in the place of those players,” Bishop da Cunha said. “You probably said to yourself: ‘One day I’d like to be there, playing for the team on the NFL, and maybe even being in the Super Bowl.’ It’s probably something deep down that we’d all like to attempt in our lifetime.
“But you need to know something — in order to get there, those players had to go through a lot of hard work. It’s not something that just happens. In order to be in the Super Bowl and to win the Super Bowl, they had to go through a lot of training, a lot of practice, a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of discipline.”
Quoting from that day’s first reading from Chapter 12 of Hebrews, Bishop da Cunha drew an interesting parallel.
“‘My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by Him; for whom the Lord loves, He also disciplines.’
“When I read those words and I thought of the players in the Super Bowl, I realized they got there because they were able to organize their life in such a way — in such a disciplined way — to prepare and get their bodies in shape for the game.”
Noting that life can sometimes be like a football game, Bishop da Cunha said, “we have to learn how to be disciplined, we have to learn how to make sacrifices, we have to learn to listen to our coaches — our parents, our teachers — we have to learn our lessons.”
Most important of all, in order to win and attain “the trophy of victory” — which is eternal life in Heaven — the bishop said you have to follow “the example of the greatest Coach of all, Jesus.”
“He left us with a strategy on how to win the game: He left us the Gospel,” Bishop da Cunha said. “He left us His teachings. But unless we follow this strategy, unless we follow His instructions, we may not win in the game of life.”
And just as Tom Brady and his teammates on the New England Patriots worked together for the Super Bowl win, the bishop said we likewise need to rely on each other.
“None of the players were sufficient by themselves — not even the quarterback,” Bishop da Cunha said. “He depends on all the other players and all the players depend on each other to win the game. Each of the players on the Patriots took credit for the victory … but none of them could take credit alone. They won as a team, they won it together, and they collaborated with one another to win the game.”
Although God has set out the game plan for our lives and we are called to follow the strategy and instruction of our coaches to win, Bishop da Cunha said it’s up to us to “be there at the right place, at the right time, when the ball is passed.”
“When the Lord blows the last whistle and calls our game over, can we say that we were there — at the right place, at the right time?” Bishop da Cunha said. “That we fulfilled our role? That we listened to the coach? That we were part of the victory? So that when the last whistle is blown, we shall be chosen for the prize of Heaven.”
In order to succeed, the bishop urged the students to always press on, despite whatever setbacks or challenges they may face in life.
“Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, sometimes we fall, and then we get up again,” he said. “But the game goes on; life goes on. And with Jesus as our coach, guiding us and telling us the strategy for victory, we shall be there and we shall win — not a crown of metal, but a crown of joy and happiness with God, our brothers and sisters, our family and friends, for all eternity. And that is the greatest trophy of all.”