Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Betting on the Mission

The over-under is a betting line, a number set by a bookie. Given this number, the bettor must decide whether a result will exceed or fall short of the number. Will the total number of points in a football game exceed or fall short of 44? That is a typical over-under bet. If you think it will be a high-scoring game, you take the “over.” Sunday evening, I asked my friend and fellow parishioner F., who knows something about betting, to set the line for a less typical bet.

The question was, How many people, on average, would attend our Lenten Parish Mission on each of three evenings: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday? Bishop John D’Arcy was returning home to our parish, the first he served as a priest, after 46 years. Our church holds 800. But the Mission is hardly an obligation and falls at 7 p.m., dinner time at the end of a work day.

My friend thought a moment and then laid the line: 235. For those of us on the Mission committee who were listening, this over-under was disappointing—lower than our hopes but not necessarily higher than our initial expectations. As such, it seemed to me a good line from the bookie’s point of view.

Under the circumstances, a bookie would have cleaned up if he had set the over-under higher, much higher, say at 450. That would have drawn plenty of losing money to the “under.” Monday evening for the faith-and-prayer service the Mission drew 750 people. This evening for the penance service there were closer to 600 in attendance. Ten priests stayed afterward to hear confessions this evening, and the last confession concluded 90 minutes after the end of the penance service. The whole thing must have been very gratifying to Bishop D’Arcy and to our pastor, who put a lot on the line for this Mission. Tomorrow evening the Mission will conclude with the Eucharist, and a new over-under has been set: 775.

For those who think the Catholic Church is dying in the United States, I would only say this: bet again or lose your shirt.

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