Sunday, November 10, 2013

Spiritual Lessons from the 2013 Red Sox


(Thirty-second Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on November 10, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Maccabees 7.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-second Sunday 2013]


The other night at youth group I spoke with the teenagers about some of the spiritual lessons we can learn from the wonderful—and pleasantly surprising—2013 Boston Red Sox.

(Well, at least they were pleasantly surprising to some of us!)

Today I’ll share a few of these lessons with all of you, since they can also be found in this weekend’s first reading (in that text we just heard from the Second Book of Maccabees). 

But first, a little historical background is necessary for that particular reading.

In the 4th century before Christ, Alexander the Great conquered the Holy Land—and a lot of other places in the known world.  In fact, when his empire was at its largest point, it stretched all the way from Greece to modern day Pakistan.  Then Alexander died.  After his death, his generals divided up his empire.  One of those generals was named Seleucus.  He began what historians refer to as the Seleucid Empire.

Eventually the Seleucids took control of the area we now know as Palestine.

Well, in 175 B.C. a descendant of Seleucus named Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to power.  King Antiochus, unfortunately, was not what you would call “a nice guy.”  In fact, he was just the opposite—especially when it came to his relationship with the Jews.  In 168 B.C., for example, he invaded the holy city of Jerusalem, desecrated the Temple, and instituted laws that prevented the Jews from practicing their religion freely.

Those who violated those laws and who tried to remain faithful to their Judaism were immediately put to death—like the 7 brothers we heard about in today’s first reading.  This, incidentally, is the “abridged, PG version” of the story.  If you want all the gory details of the horrible things they did to these 7 boys—and their mother—you’ll have to open your Bibles later on and read all of 2 Maccabees 7.

Which brings us back to the Red Sox.  As I explained to the teenagers the other night, God speaks to us in many ways, one of which is through the events of our lives—and sometimes that even includes events that involve our favorite sports teams.

We aren’t always attuned to those insights—but, as Christians, we should try to be.

For example, here are some of the spiritual lessons that we can learn from the current World Series Champions:

  1. You need to have the right goal in life—and you need to stay focused on that goal.  It’s very clear that this group of Red Sox players had the goal of winning a championship from very early on in the season, and they stayed focused on that goal even when very few of us thought they could actually attain it.  Which leads directly to the second lesson . . .
  2. Don’t let other people (even your friends) keep you from reaching the goal.  Let’s be honest about it, back in April and May, if the Red Sox had listened to the majority of their fans and to most of the sportswriters in the local news media, they wouldn’t have won anything this year!  Many fans and journalists were predicting that this team would have a hard time staying out of last place in their own division.  As for the World Series, that wasn’t even on the radar screen!  But . . .
  3. They persevered in pursuing their goal by working together, and by inspiring and supporting one another (which is yet another spiritual lesson we learn from this team!).  This is one thing, incidentally, that made them very different from the 2012 Red Sox—a team that did finish in last place in the A.L. East!  The 2012 Sox were a disunited group of individualists; the 2013 team was just that—a team: a team made up of guys who cared about more than their own personal stats and paychecks!  As Dustin Pedroia and so many others have said, these players cared about each other both on and off the field, they cared about helping the team win, and they cared about helping the people of the city of Boston find some joy after the horrible terrorist attack that occurred there in April on Patriots’ Day.
  4. And through it all, the team had the right leader—the right EARTHLY leader (which is the final lesson from the Sox that I’ll mention in this homily).  To say that John Farrell was the right guy to manage the Boston Red Sox in 2013 is like saying that the Pope is Catholic: it’s merely stating the obvious.  In fact, I would say that, without his effective and inspiring leadership, this team—with all its talent—probably wouldn’t even have made the playoffs!

So how do all these lessons apply to the story we heard in today’s first reading from 2 Maccabees 7 and to our own lives?

Well, take the first lesson: You need to have the right goal in life—and you need to stay focused on that goal.  The ultimate goal of this earthly life is not to win the World Series; the ultimate goal of this earthly life is to get to heaven.  This mother and her 7 sons believed that, and they acted accordingly.  Even though they didn’t understand it fully, they were convinced there would be an eternal reward for those who persevered in their faithfulness to God and his law.  And so they persevered—all 8 of them—even in the face of suffering and martyrdom.

They made the right decision—the decision not to compromise their faith—because they remembered the goal.  Quite oppositely, the reason so many people in the modern world make the wrong decisions in their lives is because they forget what the ultimate goal of life really is!

Or they treat a lesser goal (like getting a good job or making a lot of money) as if it were the ultimate goal of human existence.

That’s a big mistake.

Then there’s lesson 2 from the Red Sox: Don’t let other people (even your friends) keep you from reaching the goal.  If you read all of 2 Maccabees 7, you see that King Antiochus desperately tried to get these 7 sons—especially the youngest one—to deny the Lord.  Antiochus promised the youngest one that he would make him rich and happy and give him a high office in his kingdom, if he would simply deny his God by eating a little pork. 

Pardon the pun, but the boy didn’t bite!  None of the 7 sons did.

But many people today do—in their own way, and in their own circumstances.  That is to say, they let other people—even their so-called friends—lead them into sin and, ultimately, away from the kingdom of heaven.

We call that, for lack of a better term, “peer pressure”—peer pressure of the NEGATIVE KIND!

These boys didn’t cave in to the pressure put on them by King Antiochus largely because of the encouraging words of their own mother.  How many mothers would encourage their children to remain firm in their faith, knowing that if their children do remain firm they will suffer terribly?

Well, this mother did!  Listen to her words to her youngest son: "Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age.  I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things.  In the same way humankind came into existence.  Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with your brothers.

The 2013 Red Sox attained their goal because, as I said earlier in lesson 3, “they persevered in pursuing their goal by working together, and by inspiring and supporting one another.”

These 7 sons persevered and attained the ultimate goal of life in large part because of the inspiration and support and encouraging words of their faith-filled and incredibly strong mother.

Do we encourage the people around us—our family members, our friends, our co-workers—to obey God and the Church and to make the right decisions in life, or do we do the opposite?

That’s an important question to reflect on today.

I’ll conclude now with a reference to that final lesson I mentioned earlier.  This mother, because of her faith and hope and love—and holiness—was the right “earthly leader” for her children.  She led them even better—and in more important ways—than John Farrell led the 2013 Red Sox!

As Catholics, our earthly leader is supposed to be the man in Rome who’s been in the news so often lately, Pope Francis.  We call the Holy Father, “the Vicar of Christ” because we believe that when he speaks officially on matters of faith and morals, he speaks with the authority of Jesus.

That means if we follow him, we are sure to win the ultimate prize: the prize won by that mother and her 7 sons; the prize that will last far, far longer than any—and every—World Series title.

May we all win that prize by living the lessons taught to us by this mother, and her 7 sons—and the 2013 Boston Red Sox!