How to Be a Catholic and Stay Sane, With Help from Nick Saban

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!” and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

-- Matthew 24:3-8.

If you are a Catholic, perhaps you are a bit exhausted right now (I know I am).  It's been a busy ten days--Pope Francis comes, Pope Francis talks to all sorts of people, Pope Francis meets with Kim Davis, Pope Francis meets with a gay couple.  Conservatives are furious, liberals are furious; conservatives are cheered, liberals are cheered.

And, it isn't going to stop any time soon, because part two of the Synod on the Family starts in Rome today, leading to another round of potential upheaval and confusion.  How should a reasonable Catholic process of all this?  I have a suggestion, but, if you will forgive me, it involves an extended sports metaphor.

For those who do not follow U.S. college football, let me give you a brief primer on Nick Saban.  Saban is the head coach of the University of Alabama (the "Crimson Tide").  Alabama is one of the most storied programs in college football history, and so they had many victories and achievements prior to Saban's arrival in 2007.  But Saban's tenure has been perhaps Alabama's most successful--three national championships ('09 season, '11, '12) and another conference championship
('14) in only eight seasons.

Saban is also one of the most disliked coaches in college football.  A big part of that is a function of how much his teams win.  Part of that is that he has left some of his previous coaching stops in a manner that has left bad blood.  But I think the main reason is because Saban very intentionally trolls the media and opposing fans.  Now, there are many coaches who troll people, usually by making outrageous and inflammatory statements (University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is a good example; for international sports fans, Jose Mourinho is probably the best example).  But Saban trolls people in the opposite way, by being as boring and uninteresting as possible.

One of Saban's key tools in this troll campaign is "The Process."  Saban talks constantly about "The Process," how important it is to follow and to trust "The Process."
It's never exactly clear what "The Process" is from a content standpoint, there is no question that "The Process" heavily influences the way Alabama plays.  Watching Alabama play is often like watching a big boulder roll slowly down a hill--it's not the most exciting thing in the world to watch, but if you are in the path of the boulder you are definitely going to get crushed.  Every Day Should Be Saturday, the best college football site on the Internet, calls the experience of a team being crushed under the boulder that is the Crimson Tide being "Processed."

In the third game of this college football season, Alabama lost at home to the University of Mississippi 43-37.  Frankly, it was kind of a weird game, and Alabama demonstrably played poorly (five turnovers).  Still "Ole Miss" is usually a middle to bottom tier team in the Southeastern Conference ("SEC"), and so the Alabama fanbase was very concerned.  Is The Process failing us?  Has Saban's magic gone away?  Concerns were particularly high since for Alabama's next SEC game they had to go on the road and play a top 10 ranked Georgia team.  People were saying that this game was a "litmus test" of the state of the Alabama program.

Well, predictably, Alabama "Processed" the hell out of Georgia yesterday, beating them 38-10.  I am not remotely an Alabama fan, but this should serve as a good lesson for those that are Alabama fans.  You see, like most fanbases in the SEC, Alabama fans are very excitable.  Any loss, any slip-up, and the fans begin to question the state of the team and the state of the universe as a whole.  This is simply the way it is in the SEC (not just the SEC, but particularly in the SEC), and at Alabama.  When faced with people that tend to panic at any bump in the road, Saban's focus on "The Process" works not as a troll move, but a calming influence on his own fans.  Or at least it could, and should, act as a calming influence if the fans were willing to embrace "The Process."  Those that don't do so--such as, for example, the man who poisoned the trees on rival Auburn's campus in 2010--are not doing themselves or anyone else any favors.

I would argue that as Catholics, like Alabama fans, we have two basic choices.  We can be like Harvey Updyke the tree poisoner and fly off of the handle at the every ebb and flow of a long season or coaching tenure, or we can trust The Process.  If you believe in Nick Saban and his Process, and there are solid, perhaps overwhelming, reasons to do so, the obvious solution is to Trust the Process and let things ride.  And if you believe that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus and inspired by the Holy Spirit, unlike Alabama football, there is no reason not to have faith in The Process.  Worrying about early season losses to Ole Miss as a sign of impending crisis will just make you tired.

We cannot, and should not, trust The Process uncritically or unreservedly--sometimes The Process is broken, and sometimes a coach's Process was B.S. to begin with  (for example, if you are a fan of the University of Texas, like Friend of the Blog Frank Strong, it seems perfectly reasonable to conclude that the current Process is not working and it is time for a new Process).  But an otherwise trustworthy Process does not become untrustworthy over night, or after a single problem or loss.  Distinguishing between the two is very hard, and it's equally hard to filter out the noise to get the signal, but it is really important to try to do both.  Otherwise, you will be emotionally buffeted by the back and forth of the normal tides of events.

So, to my fellow Catholics--be like smart Alabama fans.  The Process is trustworthy, and so you should Trust the Process.  The Synod is interesting but it is not the final say on anything.  See what comes out of it, take it in stride, and try as much as possible to stay above the fray.  You will be a happier and more sane Catholic that way.

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