If we’re reading the “signs of the times” as Jesus implored (Mt. 16:1-3), we find that the signs of God’s presence in the world sometimes appear in unexpected places. Such was the case last week when football fans showed a refreshing public display of virtue toward a notorious man whom most had never met.

By now it is well known that the Philadelphia Eagles welcomed former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick to play here following his conviction for operating an interstate dog fighting ring. This came only days after the National Football League reinstated him, which cleared the way for the Eagles to sign him to a lucrative contract.

So where is the virtue in offering more than a million dollars this year (with possibly millions more next year) to a man convicted of torturing and killing dogs for profit, merely to play football? There is something to be said for Eagles coach Andy Reid and the team’s management for giving a second chance to a man who served his sentence in the criminal justice system.

The bigger lesson comes from the outpouring of opinion from Eagles fans in conversations, online postings and media interviews. While some cannot look past Vick’s misdeeds, heinous as they were, most expressed forgiveness for the man with hopes that he has reformed his life.

Cynics might say it’s all about winning football games. Perhaps it is. Whether the signing of Vick is good for the Eagles on the field remains to be seen. He has only an opportunity. In football and life, there are no sure things.

Michael Vick does not claim to be a religious figure in the mold of St. Francis of Assisi, himself no stranger to misspent youth and later conversion. Vick must walk the same rocky path toward holiness as we all do.

The virtue here comes from the people who felt compelled to voice their opinion on the matter. Some protested the signing because of concern for animals, which is a noble motivation. Other people showed that through their expression of forgiveness, this “sign of the times” reveals God’s mercy and forgiveness for each one of us, no matter how serious if less public our sins may be.

If football fans eager for a Super Bowl championship can forgive a convicted felon, how much more does our all-merciful and loving God forgive us, who hope for the final victory of eternal life? A public sign of forgiveness in our times is unexpected, and welcome.