‘Coltriots’ country

When New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completed a couple of passes to move his team closer to what would be a game-winning touchdown in the last seconds of this year’s AFC Championship game, I was excited. When Indianapolis Colts defensive back Marlin Jackson stepped in front of the intended receiver and intercepted a pass, enabling his team to win the game and go to the Super Bowl, I was excited. That’s because I’m a supporter of both the Colts and the Patriots--a “Coltriots” fan.

Like the Colts franchise, I’m a transplant, only from the opposite geographical direction. A year before the team snuck out of Baltimore in the middle of a snowy March night in 1984, heading for Indiana, I had moved to Boston from the Hoosier State for my first job out of law school. I spent five wonderful years in New England working for Massachusetts Citizens for Life and following the professional teams here.

In 1988 I piled my belongings into boxes again and moved back to Indiana to take a legal job there. I met my wife Elaine, and our daughter Miriam was born, in Indianapolis. I rooted for the Colts and Pacers. I relocated yet again to the Boston area in 1997, this time with a family, to work for the Massachusetts Catholic Conference. My sports loyalties now encompass both regions.

In the Venn diagram territory of fan allegiance, dual citizenship has its advantages and its challenges. Yes, happiness comes no matter who wins. But that attitude incurs the suspicion and perhaps even the wrath of others. Isn’t such happiness really a matter of infidelity, since the truly faithful fan would choose and follow one team, through victory and loss, and refuse to be happy if the rival won?

It’s a good question, and it makes me think back to my childhood antipathy against Indiana University, the main rival of Purdue University, where my dad and many of my siblings attended college. It’s the Hoosier State version of Red Sox vs. Yankees. Who could ever be neutral when it comes to a match between such fierce rivals?

The motto of the Catholic high school I graduated from, Bishop Dwenger in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is “We Are Citizens of Two Worlds.” The student body heard often from the administration how we must carry our Christian values to the world around us, outside the swing of the church and parochial school doors.

Yes, we were reminded, while in the world we are not of this world. There are transcendent priorities, and we must be alert to worldly pressures to elevate lesser goods in a way that obscures our witness to the higher Good. We can’t be non-partisan in our spiritual allegiances. Nonetheless, ours is a faith that deals in the blood, flesh and temporality of the natural order. As Catholics we do not renounce what is good in the world just for the sake of renunciation. Instead we strive to put worldly goods in their proper place, at the service of the ultimate.

So this Patriots fan rejoices that another team, the rival Colts, could experience the final stop in the playoff journey, a trip to the Super Bowl, just as this Colts fan cheered for the Patriots in past seasons as they reached the big game even after defeating the Indianapolis squad.

Recognize good, wherever it emerges, and thereby become better ambassadors of the Good News. That’s the mission of Catholics. Yet it’s not always easy.

I think of the thousands of people who came to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 22, to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling, and to rededicate themselves to the mission of evangelizing the culture of death. As yet another year marks its passing with the continued imposition of a court ruling mandating abortion-on-demand, how hard it is not to give up on our culture, to refuse to turn heel, and resist the urge to run. Yet those giving pro-life witness remain steady in their call and in their efforts to “love them both--mother and child.” By virtue of such powerful witness, minds and hearts continue to change.

Recognizing the good, or the possibility of good in even the most seemingly unredeemable culture, is not an infidelity against truth. To be “neutral” in the sense of allowing for the possibility of something good coming from a victory by the Colts over the Patriots is not to be unfaithful to the Patriots. In my case, I finally had to acknowledge that good could be associated even with Indiana University. Can you guess where my wife went to college?

So we Catholics are domiciled at one house with two addresses, and our approach to debates in the public policy arena reflects this dual citizenship. We see the issues in divine terms while at the same time we communicate our values in worldly terms. We enter the debates because we see the potential for good in our culture. We will not give up since we live in “Coltriots” country, except it’s not the Colts and Patriots involved--it’s heaven and earth.

Daniel Avila is the Associate Director for Policy & Research of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.