The high holy days of America

The high holy days of America

The high holy days of America

Pope Francis reaches out to grab a baseball thrown by someone in the crowd as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 24. The pope gave a sign it was okay for the ball to be thrown, then leapt and almost caught a slightly high throw. The ball was picked up by Domenico Giani, the pope's lead bodyguard, center. The pope signed the ball, which according to a YouTube video was thrown by a member of the Koeppel family from St. Edward's Church in Palm Beach, Fla., in the hope of raising money for their parish. (Credit: CNS photo/Claudio Peri, EPA.)

It’s opening day for Major League Baseball, and the liturgy of the game is part of the civic religion in the United States. The rituals of the ballpark in many ways echo the rituals of faith, and knowing that can give us a deeper understanding of both.

Commentary

There are so many high holy days this time of year for us who teach and profess the Catholic faith. There’s Palm Sunday, with the drama of the reading of the Passion. Holy Thursday reminds us that God loved us enough to leave himself to us in ordinary bread and wine transubstantiated.

Good Friday reminds us of the God who loved us enough to become man to live and die for us. Holy Saturday reminds us that he shared in our very real, and often very painful, death.

Easter Sunday, without question the greatest of all holidays, reminds us of the conquest of sin and death in the resurrection of one who disobeyed the ultimate order of the civil state in his refusal to stay dead against the penalty of death.

There is no replacing a single moment of any of these days for the devout. We who love Christ rightly live these days with prayer and solemnity, and rejoice in their outcome. Still, we live in the world, and we live a hope that so many beyond the Church also live this time of year, when the world springs to life.

For Americans it has a silly civic root, which we should allow to dare us to remember the depths of the humanity with which God created us all.

We need to be filled, Christian and Non-Christian alike, with the hope that life begins again. We need to be filled with the reality of spring and the simple reminders of all that we once were and could be. Today is one of those days. Today reminds us that Spring and life, and not Winter and death, win.

Today we dwell in this peculiar time in a holiday which calls us all, whatever we believe, back to ritual, to the anthem and the first pitch, to the anticipation and the Home Run. That’s right… there’s another day to remember in these days, and though it is not high, there is surely something holy about it in how it unites us, and in that it gives us the ability to talk to those who might not agree with us.

Today is opening day for Baseball in the United States of America.

Today everyone has a winning record. Everyone has the legitimate hope of winning that last game and being champions. Today youth is served, and the old men dream their dreams.

In short, each year, Catholics are given in opening day and the baseball season, with all of its rituals and traditions, which has its own tales of saints, Stan Musial, and sinners, the Chicago Black Sox, a place to tell our story. A good part of the skeleton of salvation history is there in baseball. Though it is obviously not anywhere close to the whole of what we hold, love, and profess as Catholics, there is a part of us which knows how each season’s story goes, how it is explained, hashed out, and digested by those who might hear.

Each season is an occasion of grace for us because our families are there, it is an occasion of grace because so many of our failings and the failings of our teams are there, and because so much of our hope might be placed there. So many of our friends worship at the altar of sports, not knowing what they worship, but in some strange way baseball can point them to salvation history and to friends, family, and maybe to God. We shouldn’t push it, but somehow there’s just something good here, and we’d do well to pay attention to it.

It is not about being Catholic, or even religious. It is about those rituals, friends, family, and above all…the savage hope that somehow, beyond the daily grind of 162 games, when simple good deeds and daily consistency might go unnoticed, that there is hope of something more and of immortality in Cooperstown, or beyond. Sound familiar somehow?

There is a sense in which these days, the opening days of spring as people from the United States actually account them, are that long awaited hope which renews us civically and which, for those of us with a sacramental imagination, remind us that the darkness never wins, that ritual is important, and that our vices and virtues mean something.

There is an elegant common grounding for our metaphors regardless of our belief, in a silly white ball covered in rawhide and spun with string.

Today is opening day. It is, for the Christian, one of many minute precursors of that day which it is too far superseded by each metaphor in every sense. It is that day which should, however, for the believer, compel us in the bonds of common hope to have real conversations about what compels hope with those friends and family in the seats adjacent to us in Camden Yards and Wrigley, Busch and Fenway, the Bronx and Chavez Ravine.

It is a day about hope itself, plain and simple.

Today is a day of hope, a hope for our teams, a hope for the conversations that we’ll have over warm summer days in the bleachers, and a glance of affection in a beer passed in the grandstands on a cool April, and hopefully also an October, night.

Today is a day of hope, as surely as spring is today that thing bounding over the hill and reminding us that we were made to live.

So, welcome to a civic high holy day, embrace your friends and neighbors… and, for myself and my family at least…. Go Red Sox.

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