Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Lesson Learned At Fenway Park Applied To The Mass: You Can Miss An Awful Lot, When You Leave A Special Event Early!

Mark Loretta being mobbed by his teammates

(Twentieth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 20, 2006 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Proverbs 9: 1-6; Ephesians 5: 15-20; John 6: 51-58.)

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

It was my night off. It was also the hottest night of the year so far. Not the ideal time to be at Fenway Park in Boston, but since I had only been to one other Red Sox game since the early 1990s, I couldn’t let the opportunity go by. So I happily accepted the invitation from Mike Rogers, Sr., and his son, Fran, and I went with them to see the Sox play the Cleveland Indians. Besides, by the time the game started the air temperature had gone from 100 to a “cool” 85, so it really wasn’t all that bad.

We sat in a great spot in the stadium—almost directly in back of home plate. The only negative was that we happened to be sitting two rows up from an aisle, so people were constantly walking into our line of view. A few men and women actually walked by several times during the evening. I wondered whether they were there to watch the game or buy souvenirs and food!

As some of you may remember, Jon Lester pitched that night for the Red Sox and he gave up 3 runs in the very first inning. Not good. But then the home team came back and scored 4 unanswered runs off Cleveland pitching to take a 4-3 lead. That held until the eighth inning when Mike Timlin came in to pitch for the Sox, and proceeded to give up a double and a home run. All of a sudden, it was 5-4, Cleveland, and I was beginning to think that I should have stayed home and watched the game in my air conditioned room at the rectory!

The Sox couldn’t do anything in the bottom of the 8th, nor could Cleveland in the top of the 9th.

Cleveland then sent in its reliever, Fausto Carmona, to close the deal in the bottom of the 9th. And it appeared that he would do just that, after he struck out the first batter he faced in the inning.

THEN IT ALL BEGAN! Immediately after that first out, droves of people stood up and began to leave. Now normally that wouldn’t have bothered me, but as I told you earlier we were sitting right behind an aisle, which meant that there was now a wall of bodies in front of us, such that we could hardly see the field.

At that point, I leaned over to Mike Rogers and said, “Mike, they can’t stay for the end of Mass, and they can’t even stay for the end of a close Red Sox game! Unbelievable!”

And it’s not as if the Sox had never come back from that kind of deficit before. In fact, just two nights earlier, David Ortiz had hit a walk-off home run for a come-from-behind victory in the last inning.

But they left anyway.

The next batter comes up at that point, and he strikes out—and more people leave.

Then Doug Mirabelli steps up to the plate, batting less than .200, and Carmona gets two strikes on him. Needless to say, it doesn’t look good.

But then, amazingly, Carmona loses control and hits Mirabelli with a pitch. Gabe Kapler goes in to pinch run for him at first.

Thankfully, after Mirabelli got on base with the tying run, those of us who were still in the ballpark rose to our feet. That meant Fran, Mike and I could now see over all the people who were walking out. They were no longer an issue for us.

Up comes Alex Gonzales, and he also gets hit by a pitch. The crowd begins to go crazy with 2 men now on base.

Then Kevin Youkilis steps up to bat—and he walks! The cheers get even louder because the bases are loaded.

Finally, second baseman Mark Loretta comes to the plate, and he crushes Carmona’s second pitch off the Green Monster in left field. Kapler and Gonzales score easily, and the game is over. Red Sox win, 6-5!

The crowd that’s left literally goes berserk!

After I had “high-fived” Mike and Fran and everyone else around me, I turned to Mike and I said, “Isn’t it too bad all those people left early? My heart bleeds for them—NOT!”

You can miss an awful lot, when you leave a special event early.

I know what some of you are thinking: “Fr. Ray, I see where you’re going with this. Now you’ll start talking to us about all those rude parishioners who leave Mass early every Sunday.”


Quite frankly, in my old age I’ve decided that most of those people are hopeless—or nearly hopeless. Even if Jesus Christ appeared to them in a heavenly vision and told them to stay they’d still walk out!

My focus here today is on the rest of you who are trying to take your faith seriously; on those of you who are making a sincere effort to live your faith and grow closer to the Lord; on those of you, who want to (as today’s first reading says) “forsake foolishness . . . and advance in the way of understanding”.

You can miss an awful lot, when you leave a special event early. That, of course, does include the Mass. And yes, this truth does apply to all those who walk out right after Communion or sometime before the Liturgy is finished.

But it also applies to the rest of us who stay!

You see, there are two ways to leave a Mass before it’s over: physically and spiritually. And that second way of leaving the Liturgy early is a real temptation for all of us every time we come here, even if our bodies stay in the pews from beginning to end.

We “leave Mass early”, in this spiritual sense, whenever we cease to participate actively in the Liturgy—which means that it’s possible to leave a Mass just as soon as it begins, or even before it begins! And some do! Their minds and hearts are a million miles away, focused on other things.

People like this will often tell you that they don’t get anything out of Mass and that it’s boring.

Whenever someone used that excuse in his presence, Bishop Sheen would normally respond by saying, “Of course you don’t get anything out of Mass! You don’t get anything out of it, because you don’t put anything into it!”—which is simply another way of describing what it means to “leave early”.

Let me share with you now some of the things you miss out on whenever you make the choice to depart from a Mass before you should (this, by the way, is not an exhaustive list):

  • If you leave and “zone out” spiritually before the opening song—or any song for that matter—you miss the opportunity to have your spirit lifted. (And don’t tell me you have a bad voice and that you can’t sing. As the old saying goes, “If God gave you a bad voice, sing and give it back to him!”)
  • If you leave and “zone out” spiritually before the penitential rite, you miss the chance to have some of your venial sins forgiven! Did you know that? Mortal sins can’t be forgiven at that time, but some venial sins can be, depending on our disposition of heart.
  • If you leave before the opening prayer of the Mass, you miss out on having some of your personal prayers answered by the Lord. After the priest says “Let us pray” just prior to the opening prayer, you will notice that he pauses for a few seconds (or at least he should pause). That’s not because he’s lost his place in the book! That’s to give you an opportunity to call to mind the intentions you want to pray for during the Liturgy—your special needs! Then he lifts up those needs to God in the prayer itself.
  • If you leave Mass before the Scripture readings and the homily, you miss the opportunity to have a problem solved, among other things. God’s Word is full of insights, but we have to listen intently to the Word in order to receive them.
  • If you leave early by not actively saying the Creed and the other prayers of the Liturgy, you miss the chance to be an example of faith to others. You also miss the chance to inspire those around you to pray. (I don’t know about you, but when people around me are praying out loud and with great enthusiasm, that inspires me to want to do the same.)
  • If you leave Mass immediately after the Our Father, you miss the chance to be “delivered” from something that’s adversely affecting your life (either anger or fear or depression or some other condition). That’s because the prayer immediately after the Our Father is a prayer of deliverance!
  • If you leave Mass before Communion, you miss the chance to “commune” with the Lord of the universe; you miss the chance to have his life—his presence—grow stronger within you. As Jesus said in today’s Gospel text from John 6, “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”
  • And if you leave immediately after Communion, you miss the opportunity to receive many graces and gifts—including a healing or two! Someone told me a story the other day about a woman who received a physical healing at a Mass right after she received the Holy Eucharist. I’m not surprised.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells us to be wise and not foolish, and to make the most of every opportunity! Each time we come to Mass, we have countless opportunities to experience the Lord and his many gifts and blessings. May we always take advantage of them—by never making the choice to leave early.