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Praying for ultimate victory
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This weekend, we Americans face three end-times scenarios which already have been making breaking news.  One, of course, is the final installation in the Harry Potter Series, Deathly Hallows Part 2.  Ever since the first film, the Sorcerer’s Stone, screened ten years ago (2001),   J. K. Rowlings’ dark fantasies (first published in 1997) have defied all the odds - all the analysis, criticism and scandal - to break records and influence an entire generation.  For Potter fans, however, this last episode could be the end.

For residents of Los Angeles and visitors thereto, it will take an earthquake of 2012 magnitude or a collision with an asteroid to match the deep impact of Carmageddon.  Even the June 26 upset of the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl stadium, as traumatic as that was to Americans (should I say, “non-Latino Americans”?), hasn’t garnished as much press.

My vote goes for the match between the two dominating women’s soccer teams, set to take place this Sunday.  For us, it would certainly be exciting to grab another American trophy.  Our teams have had to struggle against enormous odds, rising from underdog status to unlikely victory since that first World Cup twenty years ago, against Norway in China’s Guangzhou Tianhe Stadium.  Carin Gabarra, superstar forward, would go on five years later to assist her country in winning the Gold Medal in 1996’s Olympics.

Since our women won the World Cup again in 1999, they are far from the underdog status they once endured, but no doubt their knuckles are white and their knees a bit shaky as they prepare to face Japan’s amazing ladies.

Yet the Japanese women have never advanced to the playoffs.  Since their surprise upset against Sweden last Wednesday has been portrayed as a bold gesture of national determination in the face of their nation’s devastating losses from the March 11th earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant meltdown, how can anyone, even us Americans, be rooting for their defeat?

Forgetting what happened between Japan and the United States nearly 60 years ago, which began in 1941 and ended horribly on August 6th and 9th four years later, what we all want now is to be part of their healing process.

But does this mean that we need to pray for their victory against our own women?   Everyone has to answer that for themselves.  But what we can’t deny is how the fates of these two teams have become intertwined.  Take, for example, last weekend’s respective victories over Germany and Brazil.

“Obviously, coming from behind against Brazil is historic,” said Abby Wambach.  Scoring in the last minute of extra time to tie the game, she forced a shootout. “It’s one of those moments that may never happen again.

 “I want it to be life-changing at the end of the road.  Because right now, I’m still very much involved in this and I’m not trying to think anything other than Sunday and winning.”  Wombach’s aspirations parallel those of Japan. While her team would out-score France, Japan’s would beat Sweden.

Well, the odds are definitely against our Asian friends.  In our 25 matches since 1986, the American women have beaten the Japanese twenty-two  times, and have never been defeated.   But, in God’s Providence, there can always be a first.  If the U.S. women’s team sees Sunday’s game as another opportunity for victory, the Japanese women are out to lift up their nation.

It’s been done before, and we’ve seen it in recent history.  I’m praying that our American women play an awesome game, and that they score a lot of dramatic goals.  But - forgive me for this, fellow Americans! - I’m praying that the Japanese women land just as many, or even, God willing, one more.

Fr. Dean McFalls, St. Mary’s Church, Stockton, CA. Written July 15, 2011