VATICAN CITY - God announced today that He will cease immediately taking a position on specific sporting events, including the baseball, football and basketball play-offs, or even the World Cup. The announcement came directly as a "Word from God" to Pope Benedict XVI, as he mediated before Vespers yesterday evening.
Pope Benedict, in his weekly appearance on the balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica, made the proclamation on behalf of God to an obviously disappointed crowd composed of devout pilgrims, ordinary Roman citizens and curious tourists of all faiths from around the world.
"After millennia of considering the prayers of both players and fans, God said that there was simply no way any longer to be fair, even for Him, God Almighty," said Benedict.
Here's the way He put it: "St. Johns plays Notre Dame, for example, how is anybody, including me, going to do right in that situation? Priests, nuns, small children, grandmothers all praying fervently for their team. I try to be fair, I really do, but any way I go there are players with broken hearts, cheerleaders with tears in their eyes and coaches with curses, and rightfully so, on their lips. This just couldn't go on."
Benedict was emphatic, however, that God was not saying that He was stopping listening to prayer in general.
"God made a point He would still answer prayer in other domains. For example, God said, He will continue to answer prayers for the sick, if only intermittently. God pointed out that it is rare occasion that one petitioner is praying for healing and another, equally devout, is praying for death for the same person. It happens, He said, but only now and then."
Benedict then quoted God as saying, "I can deal with that."
Benedict continued, "But, God said, to consider for a moment pre-game locker room prayers for a football game, American or otherwise, the dozens of guys praying on both sides, many of them sincerely. How the hell am I supposed to deal with that? asked God."
Paraphrasing God, for what Benedict said were issues regarding the nature of the crowd, which included women and many school children, the Pope said that God said He had just had "enough of this stuff."
"Back when it was the Christians versus the lions," Benedict said, "God said He could deal with a contest like that. But when it's the Lions versus the Bears, and you've got entire albeit only nominally Christian cities praying on each side, that's a whole different matter."
TiVo, said God, is what finished it for Him. "When people started praying over digitally delayed broadcasts, 'That's about enough,' I said."
As late as the 1960's, when Catholic boys were earnestly crossing themselves before shooting free throws, God said, according to Benedict, that He could "go that far." But once it became just a ritual, and then when "believers on both teams started asking me to cover the point spread, then I quit."
God, said Benedict, said He did want to make a clear distinction between the efficacy of prayer on games of skill and on games of chance.
"With games of skill you can work, train, study and prepare, so you don't really need me, the way I look at it. On games of chance, well, what else have you got? Winning the Powerball lottery, hitting double zero in roulette, making a draw to fill an inside straight, without divine intervention, what chance do you have?"
"Besides," said God, "Einstein had it right, I don't play dice with the universe."
Copyright 2006, Douglas Salguod