Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Lesson of the 2004 Red Sox Season: Faithfulness + Perseverance = Joy!

(Thirty-third Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on November 14, 2004 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Malachi 3: 19-20a; 2 Thessalonians 3: 7-12; Luke 21: 5-19.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-third Sunday of the Year 2004]

It’s no secret that Boston Red Sox fans have been overjoyed since October 27th at about 11:30 PM, when the team finally won the World Series after an 86 year drought. Actually, the rejoicing began when the Sox defeated the New York Yankees in game 7 of the American League Championship Series (avenging last year’s crushing defeat), but it wasn’t capped off until the final out of their 4-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series itself.

And yet, the joy that individual Red Sox fans have experienced in the last few weeks has varied (I hope you realize that); it has not been constant. And it’s varied according to two very important factors: faithfulness and perseverance. Those who have experienced the deepest, most profound joy since the World Series ended, are those who have exhibited both of these qualities—both of these virtues—in their lives as fans.

Take the first: faithfulness. I have a friend who was once a Red Sox fan, but who changed his loyalties many years ago when he was just a young boy. He had gone to Fenway Park to see a game, and he asked Rick Burleson—who was the Red Sox shortstop at the time—for an autograph. Burleson said No. Well, my friend was so hurt—and so angry—that he not only stopped being a Sox fan at that moment, he went so far as to transfer his support to that team from New York known as “the Evil Empire.” And he’s remained a fan of that team to this day.

For obvious reasons, he didn’t have very much joy in his heart the other night when the Red Sox finally won. And that lack of joy was directly related to his lack of faithfulness.

Which brings us to the second virtue, perseverance. Let’s face it, even the most faithful Sox fan has been tempted over the years to throw in the towel and give up hope that this team would ever win a world championship. Here, for example, are a few of the more noteworthy moments of Red Sox history when incredible perseverance was required:

In 1967, the Sox took the Cardinals to game 7 of the World Series, but lost that final contest, 7-2. The “Impossible Dream” year came to a sad end.

In 1975, Carlton Fisk hit a home run in the 12th inning of game 6 of the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Without question, that was one of the most exciting—and emotionally draining—games in baseball history. But—once again—they dropped game 7.

In 1978 the Sox blew a 14 game lead to that Evil Empire team, and were forced into a one game playoff with them at the end of the year. Enter Bucky Dent; goodbye Red Sox.

Last year, Aaron Boone’s home run sent the Yankees back into the World Series and the Sox back home once again.

And, last—but certainly not least—we have the total team implosion of game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the Mets (no, it was not only Bill Buckner’s fault!). That one, I must admit, almost exhausted my perseverance. It definitely took my perseverance—and patience—to the limit! I will never forget being face-down on the floor of my mother’s living room with my head buried in the carpet, pounding the floor with my fists and yelling, “I can’t believe it; I can’t believe it!”

Oh yes, Fr. Ray, believe it!

But I never gave up completely; and, thankfully, neither did many other Sox fans. For us, the joy was incredible when victory finally came to our team a few weeks ago.

I share this will you today, not only to extol the 2004 Boston Red Sox (even though I’m very happy to do that!); I also share it to make a spiritual point.

For followers of the local New England baseball team, faithfulness plus perseverance brought joy—great joy.

With respect to our Catholic Christian faith, the same is true: faithfulness plus perseverance brings joy: a measure of joy here on earth, but—even more importantly—joy in the kingdom of God when our time on this earth is finished. And that eternal joy is more than anything we can imagine! It’s better than winning a million World Series championships.

Our readings this weekend focus our attention on this foundational truth of our Catholic faith.

Today’s first reading from Malachi 3 reminds us that there will be a definite end to this world as we know it; it also reminds us that those who are unfaithful—and who die in that state—will endure eternal punishment, while those who are faithful to the Lord—and who die in that state—will experience eternal glory: “Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all the evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the Lord of hosts. But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”

The message here is both simple and practical: What we do on this earth matters! How we treat one another on this earth matters! That was one of the clear messages of this year’s election, was it not?—Morality matters! (At least to some Americans it does.)

In today’s second reading from 2 Thessalonians 3, St. Paul talks about his own faithfulness and perseverance. These two virtues made him a role model for the Thessalonians and for many others in the early Church. As he says there, “We wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us.”

Could we say something similar about ourselves? Could each of us say to the people we live and work with: “Imitate me. If you want to know what it means to be a faithful, persevering Catholic, then hang around with me for awhile and follow the example I give you.”

That’s definitely a challenging question to ponder. At least it’s challenging for me!

And finally, in this Gospel passage from Luke 21, Jesus deals with two of the many dangers to faithfulness and perseverance that we experience in this life. The first danger is that of “false messiahs.” This includes not only the leaders of false religions; it can also signify the things of this world that sometimes pull us away from Christ: material possessions, power, fame, pleasure, etc.

The second danger Jesus deals with here is suffering—specifically the suffering that comes from being attacked for your Catholic Christian faith. Let me tell you, in recent weeks I’ve definitely come to a deeper understanding of what this is all about. For defending Christian moral principles in the public square, I’ve been verbally attacked even at the gym in the middle of a workout. Thank God I had just finished running on the treadmill; at least I could talk and defend myself! I wasn’t gasping for breath!

Make no mistake about it, it’s not easy to stand firm with Christ and his Church these days—but neither is it impossible! I’m very encouraged when I hear about some of our teenagers who are not afraid to defend their Catholic beliefs in their high school classes, in the midst of almost total opposition from their peers. That takes guts! That takes a persevering spirit! To you young people who are willing to do that, I say, “Remember the words of Jesus at the end of this Gospel: ‘By your perseverance you will secure your lives.’

For true Red Sox fans, faithfulness and perseverance are reaping happy dividends after more than 8 decades of heartache and disappointment. Faithfulness and perseverance have brought great joy—and have led to a celebration that continues in some parts of Red Sox Nation, even as we speak. May that experience encourage us all—even the Yankee fans in the congregation—to be faithful and persevering in living our Catholic faith, because what’s at stake in this lifelong contest is an eternal prize, and a joy that will go on for much, much longer than a single baseball season.