Can I pray for my team to win?

Jason Marquis by magannie [Flickr]I’ve always been a slow riser in the morning, even as a child. But on October 10, 1968, I popped out of bed as soon as I heard the rolled-up St. Louis Post-Dispatch hit the front step. I rushed downstairs to grab the newspaper before my brothers got to it. I found a pair of scissors on my mother’s sewing table and flipped the paper open to the sports page. I cut out the special score sheet that the Post was printing each day of the World Series. Today was the final day of the series, against the Detroit Tigers, and the St. Louis Cardinals had won “Game 7″ in every World Series they had ever played.

I got ready for school, and Mom drove my brothers and me to St. Gerard Majella, where I was in the third grade. My classmates were as antsy as I was, and there wasn’t much in the way of formal education that was happening that day. After lunch, the good sisters finally gave up and rolled black and white televisions into a few of the classrooms. It wasn’t a big sacrifice for them. They were of the Immaculate Heart of Mary order, and their mother house was in Monroe, Michigan—40 miles south of Detroit. The sisters, it turned out, were rabid Tigers fans.

I prayed hard that day. I prayed for Bob Gibson, the Cardinals starting pitcher—perhaps the best in the history of baseball. I prayed for strikes when Gibson threw and for hits when the Cardinals were at bat. Gibson seemed unbeatable. He had already shut out Denny McLain, the fearsome Tigers ace, in Game 1. He allowed only one run in a rematch against McLain in Game 4. In Game 7, Gibson would square off against Mickey Lolich, who had turned hot during the series, winning Games 2 and 5 for the Tigers. But Lolich was fatigued, and Gibson had plenty of rest. There was no way we could lose.

Gibson mowed down batters like blades of grass. He had a no-hitter going deep into the seventh inning. And then—disaster. With two outs under his belt, he offered up a rising fast ball to Norm Cash, who drove it into right field for a hit. The previously unshakeable Gibson was rattled, and he allowed a second hit by left fielder Willy Horton.

I prayed hard. Three strikes were all we needed. But it wasn’t to be. Catcher Jim Northrup slammed a screamer to deep center over the head of Curt Flood. The ball one-hopped on the warning track and Northrup wound up on third—scoring the two runners ahead of him. That was all the Tigers would need to go on to win the game and the series. God, I thought, had not answered my prayers that day.

Where does prayer come from?
   
Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.
   
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2562

Looking back on that day, it seems a little silly, doesn’t it? Most of us would agree that God doesn’t follow sports and doesn’t intervene in the outcome of games. And yet, many of us pray for the win. So is our idea of prayer confused? Are we really expecting God to send down angels to guide the ball or speed the pace of a runner? If not, what exactly are we praying for?

The answer might depend upon who is praying. Or perhaps it depends on how they are praying. For Christians, prayer can be grouped into five general types (and these overlap, of course):

  1. blessing and adoration
  2. prayers of petition
  3. intercession
  4. thanksgiving
  5. praise

Blessing and adoration

We think of God blessing us, which is true. But we also bless God. A blessing prayer is a dialogue between us and the divine creator. By blessing God, we acknowledge that all we have is gift. Adoration is the foremost way in which we bless God. By adoring God, we acknowledge that God is the creator and we are God’s creation.

Prayers of petition

Prayers of petition are supplications that recognize the gap between the perfection toward which we are headed and the human frailty and failure in which we exist. We cry out to God for justice, salvation, relief, or forgiveness. Because we are not God, we are in constant need. And so we need to beseech God constantly.

Intercession

Intercession is an amped up form of petition. When we ask someone to pray for us, we are asking for someone to intercede on our behalf. For Christians, all prayer is fundamentally intercessory, because we always pray through Christ, asking Christ to intercede for us with the Father.

Thanksgiving

If petition is the acknowledgement of our human frailty, thanksgiving is a celebration of our divine inheritance. Just as we are in constant need, we are also in constant joy since we are one with Christ. The official rites of the church—the sacraments—are prayers of thanksgiving.

Praise

Praise is simply proclaiming that God is God. When our faith is weak, a prayer of praise will help strengthen us. In praise, we do not ask, we do not engage in self-pity, we do not fear. We simply lift our hearts to God, and recognize God’s supreme power and love. The more we truly “see” God, the more we are filled with praise.

I’ll come back to this in a future post and say more about what I think we are praying for—or how we are praying—when we pray for our team to win. But first, I’d like to get your thoughts.

  • Do you pray for your team to win?
  • Do you expect God to miraculously intervene in the outcome of the game?
  • Of the descriptions above, which most closely resembles the way you pray when you pray for your team?
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