By Peter Finney Jr.
NEW ORLEANS (CNS) – I get it when people tell us to just get over it.
That’s normally a therapeutic suggestion. Holding onto anger – like tightly clenching shards of glass in a balled fist – can become much more than a flesh wound to the soul.
Just open your hand and let the shards fall to the floor!
And yet …
There is something about what happened – or did not happen – in the NFC Championship Game Jan. 20 that has left citizens of the Who Dat Nation in shock, anger and denial, prompting spiritual leaders to pick up the pieces.
Father Joe Palermo, who spent many years as a spiritual adviser to young men studying for the priesthood at Notre Dame Seminary, became pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Metairie last July. Because he was free on weekends to celebrate Masses across the Archdiocese of New Orleans, he frequently received calls from pastors looking for a “supply priest” for the evening Mass on the first Sunday of February.
“The priest who needed the substitute never would call me personally – it was the poor, unsuspecting secretary who would have no clue and call in October or November,” Father Palermo said, laughing. “I would say, ‘Oh, he’s got a Super Bowl party to go to.’ And she would say, ‘Huh?’ I would tell her, ‘I’ll take the Mass.'”
In all of his years doing the Super Bowl evening Mass – kickoff for the game is 5:25 p.m. – Father Palermo barely was able to fulfill Jesus’ command: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”
“Fifty is the most I’ve ever seen at a Super Bowl Mass,” Father Palermo said.
So when Father Palermo became a new pastor, he started thinking about his lonely, echo-inducing Super Bowl Sunday liturgy experience.
“There’s usually only a handful of people in the church, and you want to have a vibrant liturgy,” Father Palermo said. “The more I thought about it, I thought we might not have a Mass during the time of the Super Bowl. But, if the Saints were in the Super Bowl, we were absolutely not going to have it. We would have nobody in the church, and I would be missing the game.”
Father Palermo posted the cancellation notice in his Jan. 27 bulletin, which went to press a couple of days before the Jan. 20 NFC Championship Game between the Saints and the Rams.
Then, all larceny broke out in the Superdome.
The non-call heard round the world robbed the Saints of a near-certain berth in Super Bowl LIII – which, someone noted the other day, might forever be remembered as Super Bowl “LIIIE.”
“That was a game-changer,” said Father Palermo, who was at the game and saw the officials’ sin of omission face-to-face on the HD Jumbotron, not as a shadowy crime through a confessional screen.
The next day, at morning Mass, Father Palermo encountered black-and-gold parishioners who were red-eyed and blue, hurting just as much as he was.
“It was clear that people had been hurt and that they were emotionally down,” Father Palermo said. “It’s funny, because even people who are not big Saints’ fans were telling me, ‘Father, this just doesn’t seem fair and just.’ So, I thought, rather than not have Mass on Super Bowl Sunday evening, we needed to have Mass to celebrate our unity as a community and celebrate all the good things that the Saints have done for us and brought to us – and pray for healing. All those things seemed very well-suited to a celebration.”
As Father Palermo reflected on what he would write for his “Pastor’s Corner” column for the Feb. 3 bulletin, he decided first that the parish would, in fact, offer a Super Bowl Sunday Mass at 5:30 p.m., and he invited everyone attending all five weekend Masses to wear black and gold and stay after Mass for Saints-themed hospitality.
But then, the muse in him could not sit still. In just a few minutes, he penned a new blues’ tune, which he titled, “Super Bowl Blues!”
At the end of Mass on Jan. 27 – during the announcements – he debuted his Casey Kasem Top 40 hit:
“I had my heart set on Atlanta/I’ve got the Super Bowl Blues/The ref’s blown call made me a ranter/I’ve got the Super Bowl Blues/Now I’m drinking straight Mylanta/To shake the Super Bowl Blues!
“I didn’t think anything could rhyme with Mylanta,” Father Palermo said. “That came from out of left field.”
The response? “Applause,” Father Palermo said.
In addition to the post-Mass pastries and coffee Feb. 3, Father Palermo also offered the blessing of the throats, courtesy of the feast of St. Blaise. Many throats were still raw from overuse injuries two weeks earlier.
In his Feb. 3 bulletin, Father Palermo recognized the unique bond between the Saints and the city, especially the team’s role in lifting spirits after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and then winning Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.
“Thanks be to God we have the Saints,” he wrote. “May we stand with them in this time of suffering, remembering that God didn’t promise justice in this life but victory for the Saints in the life to come. O Lord, bring healing to our grieving team and city, and, next year, help us to win a second Lombardi Trophy – with a heaping helping of Ram gumbo!”
Until then, I’m opening my clenched fist just enough to pick up a baby blue bottle – and swigging straight Mylanta.
A priest told me it would be good for the hole in my soul.
(Finney is executive editor and general manager of Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.)