An Ignatian view of AFL crowd behaviour

How is God calling us to be a Christ-centred Church in Australia that is missionary and evangelising? Fr Provincial Brian F. McCoy SJ reflects on the first theme of the Plenary Council and the lessons learned from a day at the football in Melbourne.

I remember being at the football some years ago with two Aboriginal friends. They had come from the Kimberley to Melbourne and, so much did they enjoy visiting the MCG, spent most of the weekend watching as much football as they could.

On the day I was with them there was a spectator in front of us who was quite vocal and outspoken. He began to identify one particular Aboriginal player for abuse. His words started off as being critical of the player’s performance but gradually became more intense and racist. At one point he let out a long, abusive tirade.

It took me time to digest what I had heard. Did I hear what I think I had heard? What did my friends, sitting quietly by, make of it? What should I say or do? I was both ashamed and silent, not quite sure how best to respond.

As I wrestled with this dilemma, a man sitting nearby stood and moved purposefully to the row behind the person making all the noise. He gently leant over the group where this spectator was sitting, said a few words, and then moved away. The person who had been so noisy and offensive said nothing more for the whole game!

Crowd behaviour at sport may seem a long way away from the first theme identified for consideration at the coming Plenary Council: ‘Missionary and evangelising.’

I know many people want to go to watch football to get away from the pressures of daily life. They want to relax, let out some emotion and come home refreshed. Personally, I don’t want to see ‘crowd behavioural officers’ at the AFL.

But since that day I have wondered about my slow and hesitant reaction. What was being asked of me that day? Or, more honestly, what was God asking of me?

This past Sunday we celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. We are drawn back to remember the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the first Eucharist, the same night when his passion began.

For Jesus, meal and sacrifice were one and for those he loved. Our sharing at the table of the Eucharist is our calling to live with courage and voice his example of love.

My Ignatian spirituality encourages me to keep exploring a deeper integration of faith and life. Maybe next time I won’t be so slow to react when called to express what Jesus invites of me, especially when the dignity of others is being violated and abused.

Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial

MCG image credit: Michael Dodge / Getty