by Mr. O'Connor
On Wednesday we celebrated the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day). Thousands of people honored and prayed for loved ones who have gone before them, offering Masses and visiting gravesites, praying for a completion of the purgation process and an end to their suffering with an eternal reward of heavenly glory.
One of the men who honored his father on this day is named Wayne Williams. Mr. Williams drove from North Carolina to Indianapolis to spend a long evening at his father’s gravesite listening to the radio broadcast… of a baseball game.
A baseball game! Of course, you know this wasn’t just any game. This was Game 7 of the World Series, featuring a team whose loyal fans have suffered through more than a century-long purgatory. And like no other sport, baseball gives us hope for eternity. It is timeless (no clock) and eternal (without boundaries). The battle’s object is to navigate an adventurous path filled with perils and dangers, but not without its zones of consoling safety, all to successfully reach the place for which we were made: home. The goal is also to help your brothers make it home, even if it means sacrificing yourself.
On the same day the postseason started, the Vatican opened the first Global Conference on Sport and Faith. In his opening address, Pope Francis said, “Sport is a human activity of great value, able to enrich people’s lives.” This echoes Bishop Carlo Mazza’s introduction to his summary of the Church’s teaching on sport: “The Church recognizes the role that sport can play in perfecting the human person with its potential to moderate human instinct and its capacity to gather people together towards a common goal, promoting fellowship, solidarity, and peace…”
Oh my, this game on Wednesday “gathered people together” alright. Days afterwards people are still gathering along the outside brick wall of Wrigley Field and chalking the names of loved ones with whom they weren’t able to experience this game. I can relate to this emotion. Before the game I had to call my 92-year-old grandmother. She expected the call and had to tell me how worried she was that the nursing home staff would try to make her go to bed before the end of the game. I also had to text my hometown buddies to tell them how much I wished we were able to watch this one together. After the final out, my wife and I shared a time-freezing glance of ecstatic shock before hugging and all three of us leapt for joy (including the baby - maybe we should call him John?). A few minutes later I looked at my ringing phone and read the words “Call from Dad,” and the floodgates opened. I answered but could not say a word.
Why? What causes such joy and emotion? What causes a man to drive 600 miles to listen at his dad’s gravesite to the 4-hour live report of a bunch of men wearing baby bears on their shirts while trying to hit a yarn-wrapped cork stitched together with cowhide? It’s about relationship. This glorious victory was beyond emotional because of the human bonds that had been formed, in part, by a lifetime of disappointment and heartbreak over a failed “common goal”. It’s about the solidarity we feel with fellow humans. And this is what we’re made for! We’re made in the image of God, and God is a Triune relationship of love and communion.
Even though our culture’s obsession with sports can sometimes twist the soul into an unhealthy disorder. I think the root of this passion is a desire to experience communion. Because to do so is to experience a glimpse of heaven. Not a single Cubs fan wanted to watch that game alone. May this passion inspire us all to hunger and thirst for the fullness of communion and a humanity fully alive, which is possible only through Jesus Christ.
The Chicago Cubs Baseball Club has taught several generations of fans powerful lessons in loyalty and perseverance. On Wednesday millions of the long-suffering faithful were granted a taste of heavenly glory. It finally happened! And of course it happened on All Souls’ Day.