On Feb. 7, when the New Orleans Saints take on the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, it won’t be the only bowl game worth watching: Catholic baseball players will appear in “Faith Bowl III.”

The half-hour round-table discussion will air on the Eternal Word Television Network that afternoon, as well as on several other major Catholic TV stations the same day and at later times (see schedule below).

The creation of Family Theater Productions in Hollywood and Catholic Athletes for Christ, “Faith Bowl III” brings together 12-time All-Star and future Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza, five-time All-Star first baseman Mike Sweeney, and Bobby Keppel, the Minnesota Twins’ winning pitcher for the 2009 American League Central tie-breaker game.

They’ll talk about the challenges and importance of living the Catholic faith and Catholic family life amid the glitz and glamour of professional sports, as well as prayer and their roles as husbands and fathers.

“We want to share there’s so much more to life than a great football game on Feb. 7,” says Sweeney, “and more to life than fame and fortune and ‘living a dream,’ as the world calls it. The true dream is living a life centering on Jesus Christ. The finish line is spending eternity with our Creator, the Lamb of God. That’s the true Super Bowl.”

Faith First
“With all the noise and, unfortunately, some of the bacchanalian things you get at the world’s most watched sporting event,” says Catholic Athletes for Christ’s founder and president, Ray McKenna, “we thought it important to have a strong Christian Catholic witness and counterbalance to the world’s perspective.”

These athletes’ mission is “to share the good news through sports,” McKenna says. “We especially want to reach the youth of America. You can be a world-class athlete, be the best in your profession and involved in sports, but you also can keep Jesus Christ central in your life and profession. You’re better off in your career and in your life professionally and spiritually.”

That’s much needed in our culture, where what the world calls happiness is actually emptiness, says Sweeney, who acknowledges a fellow athlete who has his priorities straight: Grant Desme, 23, the rising star in the Oakland Athletics’ farm system who left the outfield to become a priest. He will enter St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County, Calif., in August.

“Guys who have Christ in their life,” says Sweeney, “have what St. Paul says in Philippians 4:7: ‘the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.’”
The importance of husbands and fathers leading their families in faith is a key aspect of the show. Says Sweeney, “Christ calls the men to be leaders in the home, and it’s terribly sad in our culture that the [majority of] men are not leading their homes the way they should,” putting other pursuits and hobbies ahead of family and faith. “But if men look at who Jesus Christ is, they’d say, ‘That’s the kind of man I want to be. That’s true masculinity.’ If we truly embrace Christ, we will become the men who get our families not only provided for and protected, but fulfilled spiritually. (We will say), ‘My kids and my bride, we are going to Mass today.’ We become the men who lead our families to heaven. That’s my goal: to embrace Jesus Christ and lead my family there.”

Productive Partnership
The production partnership of Catholic Athletes for Christ (CatholicAthletesforChrist.com) and Family Theater Productions (FamilyTheater.org) developed after the organizations put on their first retreat for athletes and Hollywood professionals in Malibu, Calif., three years ago. At first, they were only going to interview some of the participants.

But the success of Family Theater Productions’ “Rosary Stars” — which features athletes and actors praying the Rosary — came to mind, which led to “Faith Bowl I.”

“Our goal,” says Holy Cross Father Willy Raymond, the executive producer of “Faith Bowl III” and the national director of Family Theater Productions, “is to reach, especially, young single men who are moving toward marriage and younger married men and their wives.”

The program joins a series of more than 900 radio and television programs that have featured hundreds of Hollywood stars in more than 10,000 broadcasts to bring stories of faith to countless viewers since Servant of God Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton founded Family Theater Productions in the mid-1940s.

Sweeney sees “Faith Bowl” as a great opportunity to evangelize as families gather to watch the Super Bowl. His suggestion: “One of the spiritual leaders in the home can first turn on ‘Faith Bowl III,’ and it might inspire someone who doesn’t know the Lord … or thinks, ‘Gosh, I haven’t been to Mass in years, and I feel empty inside.’ It might inspire someone like that, and might bring him fulfillment that so many are searching for in this world.”

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.

Scheduled and TBA broadcasts include (all times Eastern, unless noted):

Sunday, Feb. 7:

EWTN 5pm (2pm PST)

CatholicTV, Boston 5:30 and 10:30pm (2:30 and 7:30pm PST) throughout New England, nationally on Sky Angel IPTV and at CatholicTV.org.

Catholic Life Channel (Diocese of Baton Rouge, La.): 3:30 and 8pm

Catholic Community Television (CCTN), serving central Florida, 4pm.

Other airing times include:

CatholicTV’s “Catholic Saints and Lay People” Feb. 16, 11:30am; Feb. 17, 5am; Feb. 19, 8am; Feb. 21, 10:30pm.

Catholic Life Channel (Diocese of Baton Rouge, La.) Feb. 16, 9:30am and 9pm; Feb. 17, 7pm; Feb. 19, 9pm; Feb. 20, 9:30am and 9pm.

Archdiocese of New York Feb. 16, 7pm.


CatholicTV, Scranton, Pa.

Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, N.C.

Salt + Light Television Network, Toronto (broadcasts throughout Canada)