At the beginning of Mass on Super Bowl Sunday morning, I mentioned to my small congregation that they should be mindful of the large electronic “liturgy” later that day that would bring millions together for a football game between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks.
Being “mindful,” I suggested, meant praying for all those people, asking God to bless the spectators gathered in the stadium in Arizona — there would be 70,288 of them — and the millions who would be watching on television — there proved to be 114.4 million of them according to the Nielsen count. It was the most watched broadcast in U.S. television history.
Those are large numbers, but not at all beyond the reach or reckoning of God. Certainly not beyond the reach of prayer. So it is a good thing to quantify the reach of your prayer from time to time and, as in the case of the Super Bowl, it is a good thing to see the large crowd in the stadium and imagine the legions of televiewers and realize that you can touch them and really help them with your prayer — just by thinking of them, simply being mindful of them.
Through prayer, you have an unimaginably long reach.
A week earlier in Manila, some 6 million Filipinos gathered for a genuine eucharistic liturgy with Pope Francis, the largest ever turnout for a papal Mass. The Holy Father told them that God “created the world as a beautiful garden and asked us to care for it,” but due to sin, we have disfigured “the unity of the human family.”
Large crowds present opportunities to think of the human family, the untold millions who are within reach of your prayer. God wants you to be mindful of them and mindful of your ability to weave them, through prayer, into the unity of the human family. That unity is a work in progress. Each human person has a role to play in advancing that work. That task is yours, although the power, of course, to achieve that task of bringing about the unity of the human community is the Lord’s.
Psalm 103 helps you to wrap your mind around the dimensions of the challenge: “For as the heavens tower over the earth, so his mercy towers over those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us” (Ps 103:11-12). Those words describe the vastness of God’s mercy. We call it infinite without adverting to the fact that infinite means no limits, no borders, no end.
We have just learned that Pope Francis will address a joint session of the U.S Congress when he visits this country in September. Surely, there will be television coverage and the TV audience will be vast. He will celebrate a Mass during that visit in Philadelphia that will attract hundreds of thousands — just how many, we don’t know, but the number, large as it is, will be within reach of your prayer.
So, use this Lent as a warm-up, a good stretch for your prayer arm, and get in touch with the rest of the human family in whose unity you hold pride of place.
Jesuit Father Byron is university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.