In an exclusive preseason interview, icon of masculinity for four decades “Iron Mike” Ditka chats with 1P5 contributor and Dangerous Books author Timothy Gordon (author of Catholic Republic) about the One True Faith, the Catholic sacraments, the manly virtues, feminism, the NFL protest, leadership, and the ever burgeoning secularization of America. Although these topics have been systemically excised from daily consideration in the West, there are those who resist. They resist by discussing the heart of the matter.
One of these resisters is Coach Ditka (another one is his interviewer). It made for an interesting conversation.
Coach, thanks so much for chatting with me today. What role did the Catholic sacraments play in your life and career?
People’s beliefs differ from one another, and all that. Everyone understands faith somewhat differently. But I am so grateful for the Roman Catholic faith with which I was raised. My dad didn’t go to Church, but my mom was a terrific Catholic – a fervent convert to the faith – and always saw that we went to Mass and Catholic school. The Sisters of Saint Joe taught us so much at St. Paddy’s Church and school in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. The nuns, they were really tough – they’d hit you if need be – and they taught us everything we needed. It was really great. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
So the Catholic faith was always very important to you?
“Definitely. I altar served throughout grade school. Actually, I even served a couple Masses at college at Pitt. Like I said, the nuns were tough, but it was really good for me. Everything has changed because they don’t get the vocations anymore. They need the vocations in order to do what they have to do.”
And that’s just one negative change among many in today’s Catholicism, as far as I can tell: how do you think the Catholic Church can start getting the vocations back and even maybe get the people back into church?
I don’t know how to undo this stuff – how to get people to go back to church and to the sacraments. I really don’t. People just don’t seem to value the same things anymore. I mean, a guy I served Mass with, this Italian kid, became a priest (even though he died too young – I’m 79 now, and he must have died thirty years ago). This was much more common back then: lots of boys actually wanted to enter the priesthood. Can’t even imagine young guys talking like this nowadays. You know, be a disciple by being a priest or, if you’re a girl, a nun. Course, there’s a way to be a disciple [even in the laity] – and that is to love and respect your fellow man – but the best way is as a priest, and the Church needs vocations today.
Just what do you think happened to the Catholic Church in the last fifty years? Do you even recognize it?
Well, I understand they wanted to get people more “involved” at Mass and all. Make things “more convenient” for everybody. But I’m not so sure it made things any more convenient at all. I think this turned off a lot of people: like, why would church need to be convenient? Like I said, growing up, the most important thing was the sacraments with my family. We wouldn’t have called it an inconvenience, never. Growing up in a small town, a Pennsylvania steel mill town, we loved everything about the faith. Going to Catholic school and learning the faith, I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I don’t care how many times I got hit by a nun, it was good for me. Today a teacher would get sued for that stuff. But it was good.
What’s with young stars in professional basketball and football who enter the limelight in their early careers thanking Jesus in interviews after every game – I’m thinking of one player in particular – but who wind up stopping after a couple of seasons? Is this a direct mandate from the sports media, or is it just the anti-Christian culture getting to them, or both?
I don’t know. That’s a very good question. But I noticed that as well. I think very highly of that particular athlete you’re talking about, as a man and as a player. And for one reason or another, he definitely stopped talking about Jesus. It might have been the sports news outfit that made him stop, and maybe he just felt other pressures. But it’s a damned shame.
What happened with religion – Christianity in particular – in the public square in America? Has it vanished on its own? Was it extinguished by an outside force?
It seems to have vanished, sure. I agree with you there. People don’t care much at all about religion anymore. It’s a shame. And worse, I don’t know how you turn this thing around. I have no clue exactly what they did. There’s nothing you can do about it, and there’s nothing I can do, either.
I hope that’s not right. Is there a connection between this secularization of America and things like, say, the “protest” culture in the NFL, for instance? In other words, do people feel the need to commit themselves to petty causes when they’ve wrongly resolved that there is nothing worse than death?
Sure. Look, this is a kid’s game played for millions of dollars, and these guys feel they have to protest it. It’s b‑‑‑‑‑‑‑: people taking a knee during our anthem. America is about the only country in the world where you can even play football for money, and these whiners feel the need to protest it. It makes no rational sense at all. Don’t even try to reason about it. There’s no rhyme or reason to their thinking. What they’re doing is a disgrace to the sport and to the country.
And yes, I do believe that this is somehow related to the flight from religion, or what have you. If you can’t even put the country and what’s morally right above yourself, then you have some serious problems. It’s pathetic. We’ve got some really serious problems with people’s priorities right now. Definitely, I think the retreat from Christianity is related to all this. I can’t say exactly how, though. Something needs to be done. I don’t even know what they’re protesting – whether it’s President Trump or something – and frankly, I don’t think they do, either.
What about the connection between secularism and this vile feminist protest against “toxic masculinity”?
All this stuff happened so suddenly. I don’t know where it came from: last eight years, maybe more, who knows? Men seem to be afraid to be leaders nowadays. And they seem to be told that it’s bad.
And aren’t men hardwired to be leaders?
Of course they are. Men are the leaders; that’s the way it is. Men take care of women, like Adam should have taken care of Eve. A man’s a man. I didn’t make the rules; I’m just saying the obvious. All these people are afraid of the truth. There are plenty of strong, great women, sure. I’m not saying there aren’t. But men are leaders, and we need them to realize that.
How can a guy bring himself to martyrdom for his country or family or faith if he can’t even put his hand over his heart for thirty seconds or admit that – theoretically – a man should be a hero?
He can’t. And the effects of this are obvious. The rise of Islam, the retreat in America from Christianity: All this stuff is alarming because it seems so sudden. I think a lot of these sports guys are in it for themselves. No time for country or religion.
Something I notice everywhere these days: No one is willing to apologize and admit he’s wrong. For you and me, doing so is sacramental, as Catholics. We have to do it. When America was more Christian, wasn’t it easier to get an apology now and again?
Sure, I think that’s right. That’s just why Confession matters. You gotta own up to what you do.
Any final thoughts?
Well, if you take God out of your daily life, that’s scary. That seems to be what we’re talking about, isn’t it? This country has gone in and out of a lot of different movements, but I don’t know how we come back from this atheist movement. That’s why this is so scary. Like I said, my mother was a convert to Catholicism, and it’s beautiful what she gave me, in the faith. I believe every bit that the Church teaches. Confession matters. Communion matters. To the people on the other side: I don’t know what they want. I don’t think they know what they want. They seem to believe that America and Christianity are not good. That’s crazy. Well, if you don’t like how we do things in this Christian country, then get your ass out of Dodge.
I couldn’t possibly agree more. Thanks for your time, Coach.
Timothy J. Gordon studied philosophy in pontifical graduate universities in Europe, taught it at Southern Californian community colleges, and then went on to law school. He holds degrees in literature, history, philosophy, and law. Currently, he resides in southern Mississippi with his wife and seven children, where he writes and teaches philosophy and theology. He is the author of Catholic Republic: Why America Will Perish without Rome (Sophia, 2019).