(Originally written October 30, 2014)
Last night, my favorite baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, won the World Series for the third time in the past five seasons. It was game seven in the best of seven series, and it came right down to the wire. Watching my Giants make the trip to the fall classic these past few seasons has been exhilarating as well as educational. As I’m prone to do, I try to see connections to the spiritual life in my day to day goings on and today I thought I’d expound on one principle of Catholic spirituality that I see at play in baseball, particularly in a World Series run.
The Unity of the Fans
One of the things all sports fans understand is the kinship we find with other fans of the same sport. I always instantly feel a connection with someone whose favorite sport is baseball. This connection is deeper when fans share a favorite team. It’s interesting to see a large crowd cheering on a team.
On one hand, there’s a lot of unity in cheering on the home team. Everybody cheers when something great happens, and moans in misery when things don’t go well. The basic connection of sharing the same team brings everyone together and forms them into one corporate body of sorts.
On the other hand, when you get a large crowd, you also see diversity at play. And here’s the cool thing: the unity and diversity work together and co-exist. In fact, if everyone at a Giants game had to wear the same style of Giants gear, or have the same look, etc., it would really ruin it.
Some fans will wear an old school jersey (I mean old school, like Willie Mays). Others will have the latest star’s number on their back. There’s old people all the way down to little children, wealthy folks eating sushi as well as folks who are sitting in the bleachers that can’t afford any of the food at the stadium, and people of all different races, educational backgrounds, etc. Yet in their common allegiance to the same team, they find deep fraternity and unity.
The Unity of the Church
Something like this happens in the Church, when it is understood to be the Body of Christ. We all have a certain affinity toward fellow Christians, and a deep connection. More to the point, we can identify with the hopes and fears, the joys and the tears we all experience in life. In a much deeper way than fans of the same sports team, Christians are able to understand and even share in the life of others in the Church. This union is rightly called mystical, as it goes beyond the ordinary experience we have as human beings.
In a similar way, in the Church, the principle of unity is built up by a legitimate diversity of spirituality. This harmony between the various approaches and styles of prayer helps to build up the Body of Christ. Of course, underlying this diversity is a commitment to the same faith, the same belief. It is only the expression that varies. This is really important to understand, because many wrongly think that all Catholics must be the same. Not so. Some people will find fulfillment in a charismatic spirituality, others will find it in the Latin Mass. Both of these belong to the Catholic way, and neither excludes the other. Jesus didn’t come to make us all clones; he came to call us, in perhaps slightly different ways and expressions, to union with Him and His Church. Just like a shot of the crowd at AT&T Park reveals a wide panorama of culture, ages, etc. all united in their dedication to the same team, so too the universal Church brings people of diverse background and spirituality into one faith.
The Importance of Wonder
Perhaps nothing is cooler in a game 7 of the World Series than to see it hanging in the balance until the final out. The other games had contained a few lopsided victories, but that was not the case for the final game. I think this sense of wonder, of not knowing, of life being free and open, is really a great way of experiencing the Catholic world-view.
There are philosophical, epistemological, and other reasons that many in our modern world have a more closed off look at the world. They see things being mechanical, fixed, and unchanging. We are matter, colliding around randomly, nothing matters, etc. Not the most exciting stuff. But for a Catholic, our free will, the capacity for man to respond creatively to his creator, means that we can look at the world with a certain wonder and awe.
In the bottom of the 9th with two outs and a runner on third base, anything can happen. The pitcher (okay, Some pitchers, not Bumgarner) could throw a wild pitch and the tying run could come in. The guy at the plate could launch one deep into Kaufmann for a walk-off hit. There are so many possibilities. It elicits wonder, excitement, high pulse rates, and fits of nervousness on all sides.
That sensation, that feeling that anything could happen, is a good analogue to the life of faith. When we’re open to God’s grace, and His will in our life, no matter what the situation is, we know that all is not lost, that something mysteriously and wonderfully new can happen.
The Sabbath and Game 7
I think there’s also something to be said about the significance of a game 7. I shared this with a friend last night while the game was on: there seems to be a certain similarity between game 7 and the seventh day of creation. In that seventh day, God rested, pleased with His creation, letting it freely be what He had made it to be. I would argue that a game 7 of the World Series lets baseball be what it is; it’s the game at is finest, because every minute counts, and there’s no question of tomorrow, nor any fretting about the past. It’s the ultimate present moment. And indeed, this is the Catholic vision of heaven: an eternal now, where we are one with God and the Communion of Saints. You want to know what that’s like? Basically like the moment after your team wins the World Series. Except, it’s forever. Imagine this, somehow lasting forever: