Many are the struggles and disappointments in life, but with Christ our Great Hope we triumph
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
“In God alone be at rest, my soul, for my hope is from Him.” — Psalm 62:6
As I prepare this column, it is Holy Week, and by happy coincidence the beginning of a new baseball season, which always renews my hope that the St. Louis Cardinals will add a 12th World Series win to its record.
But as Lent gives way to Easter, we should be reminded of that “Great Hope” we must always have, particularly during the “lents” of life, in Christ Jesus Our Risen Lord, who makes “all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
Though not everyone shares my love of baseball, there is something I have learned from this sport, which I would like to share regarding the setbacks and failures we encounter in life and the Easter hope we must always keep before us.
I am reminded of a quote of Rabbi Harold Kushner that says “life… is like a baseball season, where even the best team loses one-third of its games and even the worst team has its days of brilliance.”
Indeed, like a long baseball season, our spiritual journey has periods of successes and disappointments—wins and losses. And just as a baseball player who has hope plays differently, so the person who has Christ as his hope lives differently, particularly in overcoming stumbles and falls.
Sometimes we may feel there is no hope for us, that we are in last place and that in order to become a winner we need to make all kinds of changes: a new team, a new uniform, a new home field, better equipment, etc. But God tells us differently.
Like a good team manager, he takes us as we are and asks us only to trust in His good management and to faithfully follow His instructions. We are to forget about our ego and statistics and be ready to make sacrifices for the good of the team and for the victory we seek. In this way He can lead us against all (natural) odds to winning the “World Series” (of sanctity) and become a saint!
As a youth growing up in St. Louis, I was inspired by one of baseball’s legendary greats, Stan Musial. Known affectionately as “Stan the Man,” I was blessed many years later to be his pastor at Annunziata Church.
And when he died in 2013, I gave his funeral homily. I think the quality that most defined this Hall of Fame player, both on and off the field, was consistency—as an incredible outfielder and batter, as a husband and father, and as a generous citizen of the community. Above all, it was the consistency in which he lived as a hope-filled Catholic. Statistics might defi ne a great baseball player, but he showed us what was more important.
Another great player of long ago and perhaps the best second baseman in the history of the game was Charlie Gehringer of the Detroit Tigers, who last played in 1942. His nickname, “the Mechanical Arm,” was given to him for his consistent throwing skill. But one thing he was even more consistent in was his attendance at daily Mass. Even when he was on the road, he always made daily Mass, on game days, too.
As consistent as we try to be in living out our faith, we still stumble and fall. Baseball is unique in that it records the errors committed in each inning. But great players are not necessarily defined by how few errors they commit, but by how well they recover from them.
Baseball fans will remember Game 6 of the 2011 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers—one of the greatest games in the history of the sport. Twice the Cardinals were within one strike of losing the game and the championship.
The big hero of that game was David Freese. But earlier in the game, he dropped an easy fly ball that Texas was able to capitalize on. David Freese didn’t dwell on that error and allow it to affect how he played the rest of the game. He tied the game in the ninth inning, forcing it into extra innings, and hit the game-winning home run in the 11th. That’s consistency.
Without humility and hope, consistency falters. Jesus reminds us that “the last will be first and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). I think of all teams, the Red Sox best represent this truth. In 2013, the Red Sox went from “worst to first,” winning the World Series against my beloved Cardinals after being the worst in their league the year before. But in 2014 they went from “first to worst.”
Reasons unique to baseball aside, we all need humility—the knowledge that we are weak and in need of the consistency that only Christ can provide.
Even the Chicago Cubs offer us a lesson in how humility and hope always lead to triumph. The Cubs, affectionately nicknamed the “Loveable Losers,” took consistency in a different direction with 108 years between World Series wins.
But, despite this long interval, each year Cubs fans renewed their hope in their team and in 2016, in a matchup against the Cleveland Indians, they won the World Series.
In a certain sense, we are all “loveable losers”—God loves all of us even though we are sinners. But if we frequent the sacrament of confession, we become winners! Though Lent is over, be consistent with frequenting the great sacrament of reconciliation—only then can you go the distance!
I love how our Lord can transform us if we only hope in Him and open our heart to His grace. I am also edified by others who have that wonderful gift of not being focused on themselves, but always on our Lord and on His Mother.
This is how we become consistent in living our life in hope and are able to joyfully sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. So leave your ego and your statistics at the door, and simply follow Christ and rejoice with the Psalmist who prays, “Hope in God; I will praise Him still, my savior and my God” (Psalm 42:12).