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In the pre-papal visit locker room

The riptide of images, soundbites, reports, misreports, clashes and traffic jams is now just hours away. This papal visit is no preseason scrimmage for the Catholic. This is prime time.

St. Paul likened the faith to a "race that lies before us" (Heb 12:1), and our pope's visit will pull some hamstrings, rip calves and dislocate a few shoulders.

Maybe I'm huddling with the guys here, but let's see this visit for what it is: a punishing week of away games, though just miles from home. When we take to the field, it will be deafening. Chants. Profanities. Jeers. Maybe your aunt waving to get your attention from the stands. One of us might have a Rick Monday moment to save a flag from being burned.

Fact: Many Catholic guys are out of shape. Some have been skipping practice. Others can't execute a basic pass play. We constantly misread our opponents. In clutch situations, we throw interceptions. Once an elite team, today we're known for forfeiting games.

And yet … that old championship ring we still wear tells us we have it in us. For the big game, we need laser focus on three plays: run, block and tackle.


First, the run. The best part about the coming weeks for every Catholic is the sheer number of chances we'll have to run the ball for yards. Expect (wide) openings when a friend or acquaintance will ask (the only practicing Catholic he or she knows), "So (your name), how about this Pope Francis? What do you think?"

Run with your response. Don't analyze. Don't check your incoming text. Forget the jeers in the crowd or your inner doubts.

Just take the ball and run: Explode out of your comfort zone and push through your inertia. Unlock your inner-Walter Peyton (yes, I'm from Chicago) with footwork that demonstrates your pride in being a Catholic. Run.


Second, the block.

"This is a club that's going to hit you," Vince Lombardi (hereafter, "the coach") once told his team before a game. "They are going to try and hit you."

For many, speaking of "the pope" and "church" and "Catholicism" stirs up baggage and a desire to hit the nearest practicing Catholic (that would be you) hard: "So (your name), what do you think of this pope?" (Translation: You don't actually believe this stuff, do you?)

At this moment we need to block ourselves from two common errors: misreading the hit and overreacting.

First, lower your shoulders and do your job: Absorb the hit. Remember that this isn't about you and that at least for now you're not on offense. Keep your poise. "There is nothing that they can show you out there that you haven't faced a number of times," the coach said. Others are looking to you.

Second, when we get hit, we Catholic men are famous throughout the league for committing errors of overreaction: yelling, cussing, going passive-aggressive, retreating, agreeing with the criticism, complaining or undercutting our (papal) coach. None of this is the kind of "radiant," "simple" or "profound" play that coach Francis is asking of us.

Remember what the coach said: "You are just going to take it out of them." Keep your poise and confidence. If you have to, channel Oprah in order to listen effectively. Get in the game of what's really being said. Then respond as if you've just forced a fumble and are advancing with the ball for yards. Run.


Third, the tackle.

A lot of us Catholic men have forgotten how to tackle. Sometime after earning the ring, we got to thinking that we're either supposed to just wait for the pass or brace for the next block. But we need to run toward the ball and make the tackle.

Sorry, guys, but we leave wide-open pockets on the field every time we go AWOL: the opening (checking email at daybreak, instead of the Bible), our spouse (having no spiritual game-plan with her), the water cooler (silence or tacit agreement with anti-Catholic assertions), the home (not calling a family prayer huddle every evening) and the guys (sidelining faith from our friendships).

These are all places where the ball is being moved aggressively down the field - and often we're nowhere near it.

The papal visit is no picnic. "It's not going to come easy," the coach said.

Are you ready for some evangelization?

Just hit, just run, just block and just tackle. You do that and there is no question what the answer is going to be in this papal visit.

Johnson, a husband and father of five, is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's special assistant for evangelization and media. He can be reached on Twitter @Soren_t.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015