The Holy Transience of Baseball

A good subtitle for this post might be “What Baseball Has Taught Me About Heaven.”

I love baseball. Those who know me well know that I dearly love the Detroit Tigers. I freely admit that watching a game at Comerica Park (on a summer evening with a Detroit craft brew in my hand) makes me happier than few other things in this world. Like any good baseball fan, I have my favorite players. For several years (with a particular emphasis on 2012-2014), Rick Porcello was My Tiger. He wasn’t the best player on the team, but he was often a good player. He seems like a good man. This game on my 26th birthday was particularly awesome.

And then about three years ago, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox. I still like Ricky P. But he’s not My Tiger any more. J.D. Martinez became My Tiger. And then he was traded. Before I could really attach myself to my next prospective My Tiger, Alex Avila was traded. And last night, Ian Kinsler was traded.

Now, you will tell me (and rightly so) that such is the nature of baseball. Gone are the days of a player staying with his team for an entire career. This is true. I will find a new Tiger next season. I will love him until he leaves, and then I’ll find a new My Tiger. Porcello will always have a special place in my heart as will Martinez, Avila, and Kinsler, but they’re not Tigers anymore. Baseball is transient.

So is life. We are not made for this world. As St. Therese of Lisieux reminds us, the world is our ship and not our home. We were not made for this world. We were made for heaven. Like baseball players, we are not meant to always be here. We are meant for something greater. We cannot stay in one place and never move forward, never improve as Christians.

“If we are created for royal glory, royal glory will fulfill us.”

-Dr. Peter Kreeft

We were made to be saints. Just as baseball players are meant to play their best, work together as a team, and win championships, we are called to live lives of holiness. This means that we need to move beyond those things that hold us back from God, that hinder us from holiness. We need to lay aside our earthly care and fix our eyes on the King of Kings.

Brothers, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 3:13-14

Is this easy? No, it is far easier for me to let go of J.D Martinez as my Tiger than it is for me to let go of long-held patterns of sin. That doesn’t mean that I can’t let go of those patterns. It simply means that it is hard. I used to hope that J.D. Martinez or Rick Porcello would come back to Detroit. I had loved them while they were here, and I wanted them to come back. I wanted them to be part of bringing a World Series championship to Detroit.

 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

-Philippians 4:8

But their time in Detroit has passed. This is not their place or their home anymore. I have to let go of them. I can support them where they are now, but I can’t try to hold them back. (Not that I ever had any real power to do so anyway) Similarly, I cannot hold on to things that keep me from pursuing God’s call on my life. They might be fun, but I cannot surround myself with things or people that are not life-giving, that do not tend to sanctity.

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…

-Philippians 3:8-10

Now this isn’t some great announcement that I’m leaving something big behind. Rather, it is a reminder that there are things here and there within our lives that keep us from pursuing God with our whole hearts, with our whole lives. I’ll have to find a new My Tiger soon; I have to lay aside my dreams of Porcello or Martinez in the D. (I also have to lay aside my dreams of marrying Rick Porcello; that was always a ridiculous hope.) This is not their home; this place will not help them to become the best baseball players they can be at this point in their careers. They need to seek to be the best athlete that they can be. I need to seek to be a saint.

If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God.

-Colossians 3:1

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A Better Plan

On Sunday, I put my Jesse tree ornaments on my Christmas tree. My flatmate is Lutheran, and I didn’t want to put the ornaments on the tree until Advent had properly begun for all of us.

As I put the ornaments on the tree, I found myself thinking about the people depicted on the ornaments. They are the great heroes of the Old Testament-David, Abraham, Samuel, Miriam, Moses, Elijah etc. They are people who lived their lives with great faith in a God whom they could not see. They were given a promise, but the promise was not fulfilled in any of their lifetimes. But that did not keep them from faith.

As I put up the ornaments, I found myself thinking about Hebrews 12 saying “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us…run to Jesus.” Ordinarily, I think of this in terms of the Saints of the Church-St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. Barbara, St. Cecilia, etc. But as I looked at the ornaments, I realized that these Old Testament figures are just as much a part of that cloud of witnesses. Samuel is no less a member of that great cloud than St. Nicholas. They had a different vision of holiness, but they each lived a life of holiness and sanctity according to the knowledge that they had in their day and age.

And as I kept thinking about that, I found my mind traveling to the end of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” (Hebrews 11:39-40) On this side of paradise, I have a limited understanding of the Divine Plan. I don’t know why exactly the Messiah had to come when and where he came. I only know that it happened because it was God’s plan.

While the timing or the place might not make sense to me, the reason is simple. God had a plan. It was a better plan than a plan to send the Messiah at the time of Samuel or Nehemiah or the Maccabees. It was a plan that somehow included us in a way that another plan would not.

And that’s a really beautiful thing. God sent the Messiah into the world at time that would benefit us. He thought of us. From all eternity, he chose to send the Messiah into the world at a time that would be the best time not only for the people of that time but for the all people in all times. The Incarnation was not for one time or one place. It was for all times and all places. It happened in one time and one place, but it happened in such a way as to impact all that had come before it and all that would come after it. The time was perfectly chosen from all eternity.

I find a great deal of hope and encouragement in this. Like any normal person, I struggle with understanding God’s plan at times. I don’t get why things do or don’t happen. I don’t always understand his timing. I know that his ways are perfect and his times are perfect. But that perfection does not automatically mean that I understand what is happening. A few years ago, I went through a very bitter and confusing season of life. In the moment, I could not understand it. Even now, I occasionally look back on it and wonder why that had to be a chapter of my life. I know that I’ve come out the other side, and I believe that both my life and myself as a person are better for that season. But I don’t fully understand why it happened. Regardless, I know that God had a plan for that season as for all of my seasons.

I don’t have to understand that plan today. I don’t have to understand it next week or next year. I may never know on this side of paradise. But I do know that I was guided through that season by a good and loving God. I know that I came out the other side because of God. I know that while I have plans for my life he has a better plan.

As I’ve been meditating on St. Joseph this Advent, I’ve been struck by that thought. Joseph, a humble carpenter from Nazareth, had some plans. He probably figured that he was going to marry a nice girl. They’d have a few children and grow old together. Instead, he married the Theotokos, the Mother of God. The only child he ever raised was not his biological child but rather the Son of the Living God.

God interrupted St. Joseph’s plans in order to bring about a more perfect plan. He spent much of the Old Testament interrupting Moses’s and David’s plans for a quiet life and elevating them to greatness. God interrupted the Israelites’ plans for a warlike king as Messiah with a humble servant crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem. God will interrupt our plans whether or not we want him to. The great saints throughout history teach us that our only real option is to get out of the way and allow him to act.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

-Hebrews 12:1-2