Back in South Bend last weekend, I must say I never remember the Notre Dame campus being so quiet. Of course, the students were gone on winter break, and while there were several smatterings of Irish athletic activity sandwiched between my daughter's swim meet Saturday, as both the Irish guys (which I saw) and gals (who lost to Candace Parker and her Tennessee teammates) played basketball, amidst the winter peace two thoughts stood out. First was the power of Our Lady's presence, not only at the Grotto, atop the Dome and inside Sacred Heart Church, but everywhere. The second was the empty football stadium, seemingly standing at attention waiting patiently for "Our Lady's tough guys" to return.
Yes the O'Tooles trudged to the Grotto (unlike Tom Dooley, I made it back with the snow still on the ground) at least a half dozen times, though it still didn't seem like enough. We attended Sunday Mass at Sacred Heart Basilica (and were ushered out of church Saturday so a young Domer duo could get married) and looked up at the Dome more times than I can count. But we also took a long look at the stadium, and while I was happy to see the B-Ball team's game against UConn, I, like the University's athletic site, began counting the days 'til Fighting Irish football's return.
If 2007 was the year of the Suffering Irish, perhaps '08 will be the year of Notre Dame's return to Mary's glory. 2007's 3-9 tally saw an astounding five players (Zach Frazier, Demetrius Jones, Matt Carufel, Konrad Reuland, and recently Munir Prince) leave the program. But three fifth-year seniors (led by the pre-season All-American linebacker Maurice Crum) committed to stay another year, and so far, despite Notre Dame's worst season in more than forty years, only one high-schooler has defected from Weis' 2008 recruiting class (which includes quarterback Dayne Crist, receiver Michael Floyd, and cornerback Robert Blanton) which is currently considered the best in the nation.
Just as I had to get back to Notre Dame when the snow covered the ground (and few souls were around) to truly appreciate the powerful presence of Our Lady interceding for Our Lord at Notre Dame, so did the Fighting Irish football players and fans (not to mention Coach Weis) have to suffer through a season of struggle to truly appreciate the symbolic importance their team has to millions of Catholics, not to mention the "subway Catholics" who are drawn to Our Lady through Her team and later become Her Son's loyal followers through Her intercession. When walking through campus last weekend, I remarked to Jeanette how when I lived there as a student, I often felt as if Mary was holding me in Her arms. May our new recruits feel Her comfort as I once did, and may they never fail to seek Her intercession as they play (and pray) "onward to victory."