We've been playing defense for too long, and the opposition seems invincible. It isn't.
They say there are four seasons in Louisiana: Mardi Gras, crawfish, hurricane, and football. Down here, football at every level -- high school, college, and professional -- is serious business. Many houses fly banners and flags; a good number even have decorative lights. LSU, Tulane, and of course, the Saints. No, I'm not giving up the Patriots, but I am adding the Saints. I figure between the two teams, I've got both God and country covered.
The real saints of New Orleans, though, don't wear shoulder pads. They fill the churches here every Sunday morning. They talk freely about their faith. And they always find something to celebrate. On any given weekend, there are numerous festivals in the area. Some are fundraisers for charities or churches. Others are just opportunities for cultural extravaganzas, like Italian Fest, Sachmo Fest, and the Treme Fall Festival Gospel Music concert. (I'm happy to report that the Catholic choirs were actually the best.)
New Orleans is a city that knows how to party, (Exhibit A is my local drive-thru daiquiri spot). What people may not know is that New Orleans is also a city that knows how to pray. In most parishes, Sacramental Confession is offered before every Mass. Liturgies aren't rushed. People show up for perpetual adoration, rosary processions, prayer breakfasts, pro-life events, and even a mass incarceration teach-in. There are noticeably more men at Mass, too.
A friend in Texas once told me her version of the difference between North and South. "Up North," she said, "people hide their crazy, but in the South they sit it on the front porch and hand it a drink." I think that's what I like best about New Orleans. Like Boston, this city has a whole lot of culture and history, but even more personality. But unlike Boston, though, God has not been pushed out of the conversation, and religious belief and practice are not viewed with suspicion or disdain. People who are intelligent and educated are not assumed to be atheists.
Don't get me wrong: Louisiana has its problems. There are homelessness and addiction, gang and gun violence, and one of the highest per capita rates of incarceration in the country. Jobs are fewer and wages are low. The French Quarter may have the best food and drink on earth, but it also has the sights, sounds, and smells of sin. In other words, signs of the human condition abound. But God's grace abounds too.
Every place has its blessings and challenges. God is present in both Boston and New Orleans. He rides the T and the streetcar. He sleeps on the Common and under the overpass. He hears the prayers of His children at the rocky edge of the Atlantic and along the muddy Mississippi. He sits in the classrooms of the most prestigious universities and on the front stoop of the brightly colored shotgun house.
Because God is real and very much alive, Catholics can and do encounter Christ in every corner of the world. Saints don't fill the stands; they take the field and live their faith where they are. They struggle in the heat and cold, get dirty, and sometimes injured. They play hard and work as a team. And when their best isn't good enough, they reflect, retrain, and try again. Sometimes, there's a spectacular catch or a breathtaking run to the end zone. But usually, they advance play by play and yard by yard.
Today, a lot of us have lost our drive. We've been playing defense for too long, and the opposition seems invincible. It isn't. You know what happens when the enemy scores? We get the ball. That's where we are as a Church, in Boston, in New Orleans, in Rome, and around the world. Now is not the time to give up. True saints and patriots never lose heart. As they say here in the Crescent City, Geaux Team!
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.