Saturday, May 20, 2006

The ‘Love’ That Red Sox Fans Had For Johnny Damon, Compared To The Love That Jesus Christ Has For Us

Johnny Damon, in the days when he was "loved" by Red Sox fans.

(Sixth Sunday of Easter (B): This homily was given on May 21, 2006 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 1 John 4: 7-10; John 15: 9-17.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixth Sunday of Easter 2006]

On the evening of May 1, 2006, the signs said it all: “Traitor”; “Judas”; “$ellout” (with a money sign replacing the “S”); “Johnny Demon”.

For die-hard Red Sox fans, no further explanation is necessary. They know I’m referring to center fielder Johnny Damon’s return to Fenway Park, as a member of the arch-enemy New York Yankees.

To put it mildly, the ex-Red Sox player did not get a very warm reception in Beantown. As Damon later said during a newspaper interview, “It was vicious, pretty vicious.”

Oh, what a difference 19 months make!

Back then, in October of 2004, you would have been hard pressed to find a Red Sox fan anywhere who didn’t say that he or she “loved” Johnny Damon! Everyone loved his attitude in the clubhouse; everyone loved the intensity with which he played; and, of course, many female fans also loved him for his hair and looks.

But all that changed on December 21, 2005, when he signed a four-year, 52 million dollar contract with the Yankees. Before the ink had even dried on the paper, Mr. Damon had become persona non grata, numero uno! He had become a combination of Benedict Arnold and Judas Iscariot to nearly every Red Sox fan—even though most of them would have done the very same thing if they had been in his shoes.

And I will admit it—I also jumped on the anti-Johnny bandwagon. Just ask Tom Alfiero, who works out with me most afternoons at the gym. I gave him an earful on the subject many times this past winter.

Which leads to a very interesting question: What kind of love was it? What kind of love did Red Sox fans actually have for Johnny Damon?

Probably the same kind of love that New York Yankee fans have for him right now!—which is definitely not the type of love that Jesus and St. John are talking about in today’s Scripture readings!

The love that fans have for their sports heroes is normally a “worldly” kind of love. That is to say, it’s conditional and without much substance. It’s the kind of love that says, “I want what’s good for you, as long as you give me what I want. If you make me happy and respond to my needs, then I want what’s best for you. If you don’t make me happy and respond to my needs, then I’ve got no use for you. Get out of my sight.”

Worldly love causes us to treat other human beings as objects: if they’re useful to us, we respond to them in a positive way; if they aren’t useful to us or displease us in some fashion, we reject them.

It’s as simple—and as cold-hearted—as that.

Like it or not, this is how most Red Sox fans “loved” Johnny Damon.

Now you might say, “But what’s the big deal, Fr. Ray? It’s only sports. It’s just a game. No one really takes it seriously.”

Perhaps. But here’s the deeper problem: This kind of love is not only found in the world of sports!

It’s also present in families and marriages and friendships—and in countless other interpersonal relationships.

And this is very easy to demonstrate. . . .

Let me ask you this simple question: Have you ever felt “used”? Have you ever come to the sad and perhaps shocking realization that somebody who said they really cared about you was just using you for their own selfish purposes: for their sexual pleasure; to get your money; to climb the corporate ladder; to get a special favor?

It happens all the time.

This is one reason why it’s so important that we know Jesus Christ and have a personal relationship with him.

We need a relationship with Jesus, because we all need a love in our lives that will never fail (even when we do!); we need a love in our lives that is constant and perfect—even when we’re not perfect.

Some people try to find this kind of love exclusively in other human beings: in their boyfriend or girlfriend; in their spouse; in their child; or in someone else close to them.

But that’s a big mistake, because all these other people are imperfect! They’re sinners. And so from time to time even the best of them will fail us, and love us with a worldly type of love.

Can you imagine if Johnny Damon had made the fatal error of basing his happiness and self-worth on the worldly love he received from Red Sox fans during his years in Boston?

If he had made that mistake, he might have had a nervous breakdown on the evening of May 1 when he came to bat for the first time!

In today’s Gospel text from John 15 Jesus says, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” The Father’s love for Jesus, his only-begotten Son was—and isconstant and perfect. It doesn’t change with the weather or with the passage of time.

Jesus says to each and every one of us, “I love you like that—and I always will. No one else on earth—not your spouse, or your father, or your mother or your best friend—loves you in that same way.”

And the one sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the permanent and ever-effective sign of his perfect love for us. As he said in that same Gospel passage, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

St. John says pretty much the same thing in today’s second reading when he writes, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an expiation for our sins.”

Deacon Fran gave a beautiful homily last weekend in which he spoke about the patient and merciful and self-sacrificial love of his mother, Antoinette. A couple of times during the talk he was moved to tears.

That’s because he saw a reflection of this type of love in her. Her love was like Christ’s in many ways. But as great as it was, it was only an imperfect reflection of the Lord’s perfect, unconditional, unchanging love.

And incidentally, the only reason Antoinette Valliere was able to do what she did—the only reason she was able to reflect the love of Christ to Fran and his brothers—is because her life was centered on the Lord. She knew Jesus, and had a living, personal relationship with him.

It wasn’t because she had “good luck” or “good genes”!

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, help me to know you; and help me to know and understand—and experience—your perfect love.

That’s a prayer we should all say at this Mass—and every day.

And so should Johnny Damon—especially if he ever gets traded by the Yankees and then has to go back to New York to face the fans at Yankee Stadium!