The very title of this blog entry contains the name of two of my heroes and a baseball team that for years has tried the patience of many and disappointed more than a few. Ben Zobrist is my favorite baseball player in the major leagues for a myriad of reasons. I was broken-hearted when the Rays traded him, even more so when it was to the Oakland Athletics. Last week I delighted in seeing Ben shining once again on the diamond like a diamond. From midseason with the Kansas City Royals, Ben proved his staying power and then hit the home run in the final game with the Blue Jays his first time at bat, often coming through in the clutch. Throughout the playoffs, Ben Zobrist was the consummate utility player, capable of playing at almost any position on the field, save catcher, and doing it well. He has always been and remains a player for all fans.
He and his wife are deeply devoted and committed Christians. They believe in God, live each day by God’s law and embrace the person of Jesus Christ as their savior. They make no bones about their Christian faith but they never boast or brag about it. Rather they live it. While among us here in Tampa, Ben visited the classrooms of children in what we now refer to as ” failing schools”, giving them encouragement and hope. He could be seen from time to time at All Children’s’ Hospital spreading his message of mercy, hope and happiness. His priorities were always in this order, his faith, his family and baseball. Now he is off to the Big Show, baseball’s equivalent of the Catholic Church’s just now completed Synod on the Family. Read the book written by he and his wife, Julianna, (Doubleplay) and you will immediately notice the comparisons. The Zobrists live a family life lived with an abundance of mercy and forgiveness.
He reminds me in some ways of Pope Francis who had the courage to call these last two synod meetings to discuss both the family and family life in our day. This Pope understands the challenges of living in the real world and the necessity of the Church moving to understand, embrace and support those most in need of our presence and help, precisely as Church. Six weeks of his time in the past thirteen months have been spent listening to bishops from around the world describe the challenges of marriage and the family, from Africa to Asia to the Americas and all points in between. He listened, spoke only rarely but when needed forcefully, and I believe the Pope received from the assembled exactly what he wanted: namely enough room to take on some of the more challenging aspects of marriage and family life in our day in the months ahead. He did not ask for, want and probably would not have countenanced doctrinal change. Rather, he asked those present to hang out the dirty laundry of living marriage in this age and increasingly secular society and instead of condemning it, give him room to apply his two fold commitments to the applications of mercy and forgiveness.
I wasn’t there and most of the world’s bishops were not there either. No one who was there from the United States, nor did our national episcopal conference, ask for my guidance or that of the body of bishops as to how we felt about the problems and their possible solutions, but the Holy Father did in 2013. Yet I believe the innermost longings of my heart for my Church were spoken and heard. I have been on a three-week high just because that reality was finally being discussed and dissected. Who could ask for anything more?
Pope Francis is a utility infielder capable of playing any position which will help his church race across the three pastoral bases: mercy, forgiveness, healing which will ultimately end in a home run for God’s people. And the Church today, Sunday, October 25, 2016 is like the New York Mets. Good things do come to those who patiently watch, wait, renew, rebuild, change managers, and eventually make it to the previously unthought-of – in baseball, the World Series, and in ecclesiology adapting to the present without forsaking the past.
Here are some take-home words from our manager as he sent his team home this morning, leaving to himself how to take advantage of all the possibilities and openings the Synod has given him:
This is the temptation: a “spirituality of illusion:” we can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes. A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of the people remains arid and, rather and oases, creates other deserts.
Moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy. Today is a time of mercy!
Pope Francis is an incredible leader. He has the serenity of a man who does not worry about petty bickering but places great trust in the presence of the Spirit in all people, friend or foe. He got precisely what he wanted from these two gatherings – an opening to further his and our ministry of mercy, which is I believe, precisely what Jesus would want of his Church. I am in charge of the triage unit in these five counties and together with our priests, deacons, religious and laity, we shall step up our desire to stop the bleeding, heal the hurting, and show all that the Church is like the Mets, rising to the national championship of kindness, compassion, forgiveness and mercy. It is what the “emergency room” doctor, Pope Francis, asks of us at the end of the listening.
We are a family, sometimes dysfunctional but also desirous of welcoming more and more back, or for the first time to the family table of the Eucharist. The Synod was merely grace before meals for the Church family. Bless us O Lord for these your gifts, which we have received through your goodness and through Christ, our Lord.