At a young age, I was encouraged to root for Penn State because head football coach Joe Paterno was a paisano. He was one of us, in other words…someone you could trust.1 By all accounts at the time, he ran a tight ship, and though my parents would never let me attend Happy Valley,2 I could at least root for its classy football program.
Affectionately known as Happy Valley, Penn State ain’t so happy these days; it’s hurt and in need of healing in the wake of the child sex-abuse scandal that rocked the football program and the university alike. Yet their unity and identity remains.
I don’t know if the faithful will continue to fill the 100,000+ capacity cathedral of the Diocese of Penn State (Beaver Stadium). Part of me thinks people will cancel season tickets, protest outside the stadium, and even leave the Penn State faith in which they were raised to worship at other temples like The Horseshoe or The Big House. They’d have good reason to do so. According to an internal report, the paisano in whom we all trusted betrayed us, knowingly keeping a predator around children on campus. The NCAA has hit Happy Valley with harsh sanctions–not quite the Death Penalty, but still tough to recover from. With starters and recruits transferring from the football program, Penn State might not be a winning program for a long time.
Yet Penn State is not just JoePa and football. From The Creamery to The Thon, Penn State is a rich and vibrant community with much to unite it. The same can be said about the Church in the wake of its own sex abuse scandals. It is not just the hierarchy–from education to health care, from baptisms to funerals, we as Church are a rich and vibrant community that serves each other along the path to God. Much unites us.
Yes, We Are…The Church
And we are so not because of charismatic human leaders or successful initiatives. We are the Church because of God, the God who became human for our sake. The same God who transforms the pain of our human messiness and ineptitude into unity, peace, and ultimately healing. The same God who we can trust even when we lose trust in coaches, politicians, family, friends, and bishops. This is the God who makes us Church–especially when we’re hurt and in need of healing. With God, our unity and identity remains.
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