by Mr. O'Connor
As we look East to the Risen Son and beautiful weather sets in, hope springs eternal!
One sign of this hopeful season for me is always Opening Day of the baseball season. No, not because my Cubs are always the favorites to win the World Series (although that is indeed the case this year, just sayin’). For me baseball and the Easter Season is a perfect match. Both point to eternity. Easter for obvious reasons, but baseball is the only sport not modeled after war. It’s timeless and boundless (no clocks, with an endless field of play). The goal is not to conquer the enemy’s territory, but to go on an adventure and make it home.
I enjoy many sports, but something is different about baseball. I’ve attend games in the home stadium of 27 of the 30 MLB teams. In 2000, my dad and I took the ultimate father-son vacation, attending 9 games in 8 different ballparks in 10 days, plus visited the Hall of Fame. On Father’s Day we enjoyed a silent game of catch in the (old) Yankee Stadium parking lot with giddy grins on our faces and tears in our eyes, with no need to speak of a bond forged in our backyard ballpark dreaming of such an occasion. Baseball and other sports helped give us a strong relationship, and a strong relationship led us to God. For the Trinitarian God is a relationship Himself. We are made in the image of God; therefore, we are made for relationship.
It’s safe to say sport is popular in America today, but unfortunately its eternal power is usually missed or even worse, reversed, especially when it comes to youth sports. Sport will train our youth for eternity, but whether that means heaven or hell depends on how it’s directed.
Last week I spent 3 days of my spring break in Cincinnati learning how to direct sports towards heaven. I attended the first ever SportsLeader Catholic Sports Ministry Conference. The keynote address was given by Dr. Santiago Perez, Head of the Vatican’s Office of Church and Sport (pictured with me at right). Yes, this office exists! Does the Church care about sports? Pope Pius XII asked, “How can the Church not be interested in sport?”
In the first century St. Paul addressed a culture obsessed with sports in Corinth, and compared the athletic life with the Christian life. He knew it was a natural fit. Fortitude, perseverance, sacrifice, solidarity, justice, etc. are needed for both the victory of the trophy and the victory of heaven.
Most often, coaches (myself included) don’t even come close to harnessing one of the most powerful evangelization and relationship building tools at our disposal. We must do more than simply reject bad sportsmanship and cheating. Even if coaches foster bland secular values but don’t ever mention Jesus Christ, we perpetuate the distortion in our players’ minds that separates general and religious culture. And we must be systematic in our cultivation of virtue (not “values”).
This conference reinvigorated my passion for infusing sports with the Gospel and gave me lots of new ideas. Mr. Beach and I look forward to strengthening the Lions’ Den beyond “Play Like a Champion.” May God give us this grace.
And may this historic 2016 Cubs season give my sons and I plenty of opportunities to bond and be drawn to eternity!