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Prayer, Plain and Simple

A 30-second television commercial that ran in the United States during the England-USA soccer match on Saturday has some Catholics up in arms and charging Hyundai, the sponsor, with blasphemy for mocking the core teachings of the church. Other Christians – myself included – take a different view: it’s actually a powerful and convicting – albeit accidental – sermon!

The ad begins with Latin singing in an Argentine “church” complete with a stained-glass window of a soccer ball. “Worshippers” (mocking the religious devotion some in Argentina have for the game) are taking Eucharist on their knees receiving slices of pizza rather that communion.  The commercial also shows a soccer ball covered with a crown of thorns, part of Jesus Christ’s passion.

Catholic officials fired back. “This ad is an outrageous affront to Catholics and a mockery of our most sacred beliefs and practices,” said Fr. Marcel Taillon, a parish priest in Narrangansett, Rhode Island. Hyundai, a World Cup sponsor, was attempting to link fan loyalty with auto sales: “Fans show their loyalty in all kinds of ways; ours just buy another Hyundai,” the narrator says at the close of the ad.

Hyundai apologized and has pulled the ad titled “Wedding.” “The unexpected response created by the ad… prompted us to take a more critical and informed look at the spot,” the company said in a statement. “Though unintentional, we now see it was insensitive.”

Mmm…. Wrong reaction! First, Christian faith is not off limits to comedy and satire. We should be able to hold our own through the barbs of ridicule. Yes, holy communion- and all our Christian beliefs and practices – are sacred. But we are not Islam where drawing a cartoon of Mohammed might get one’s right hand amputated. Jesus himself was ridiculed and mocked. That’s part of our own sacred history. So lighten up Father Taillon.

Secondly, Hyundai has a point, and a powerful one! We have made silly things like soccer a kind or religion. This ad simply points out the idols we have cast in the image of our own entertainment. Truth be told: many people in the world do “worship” their favorite sports team,  athlete, rock star, or reality show, with more loyalty than they show God.  So accidental kudos to Hyundai for pointing out in clever satire the sad truth… We have other gods including soccer players and yes, new automobiles!

Hyundai might not have intended it, but their ad preaches! I for one am not offended, except at my own anemic faith that sometimes favors sports over real acts of faith and love for God!

“God, forgive us for worshiping false gods. We love things that do not matter, and ignore what does. You are a jealous God, not because you demand attention, but because you long for relationship with us. We turn to pass-times instead of time with you. Thank you for convicting us of our sin, and for even using things that offend us to drive the point home. And forgive us too for objecting to the wrong things, and for attacking what reveals our sin instead of heeding the truth revealed. We repent for our wayward affections. Turn us again to a single-hearted devotion. In Jesus…”

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