Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Baseball and evangelization

The strangest thoughts come to me after I've shut down my computers (yes, the 's' is intentional) for the night. Last night for some reason it came to me that, in a way, there is a lesson to be learned about evangelization from how I'd turned my wife into a red-blooded baseball-lover. Your likely reaction mirrors mine - baseball ... church ... eh?

Way back when my wife and I were dating she came to realize that I am a huge fan of baseball - not just of the Red Sox, but of baseball as a game in and of itself. She, shall we say, had no use for the game. But being the good woman she is, she watched a few games with me. It was never like a switch audibly clicked or her attitude suddenly changed - no, she still couldn't stand the game. Too boring, too slow, too nuanced for her - give her a good ol' game of knock-em-around high-speed football and a bowl of queso and chips and she'd be happy. Baseball, though, is a game that is best understood slowly. The nuances, the quirks, the hidden corners, the nooks-and-crannies are what separate the sandlot guys from the pros and the pros from the future Hall-of-Fame types. It's that little extra thing that makes the difference- avoiding the in-between-hop, seeing the shortstop move just before the pitch, remembering how the pitcher got you out last time. And the time before. And the time before that. Baseball watchers like to say that anyone can hit a straight fastball if they know it's coming - but what about the cutter, the slider, the curve, splitter, changeup, two-seamer, sinker... And the more you know about those things, the more you internalize them, the better you are as a player - and as a fan. Baseball makes no sense as a game - until you know it.

I've found Catholicism to be so much the very same. All the small things - the devotions, the prayers, the almost-never-heard-of Saints, why the priest wears black and the Cardinal red, the difference between transubstantiation and consubstantiation and transignification... Each one of them, if you look at them from the outside without any basis for understanding, seems to reach the hight of picking at nits. Nothing, simply, could be further from the truth. The trick, however, is in picking up those bits when the question arises and helping that question to arise without forcing it. Fides quarens intellectum can also occasionally start with intellectum quarens fide (please, correct my grammar - my Latin book is still waiting for me) - sometimes there are those who in learning come to have faith.

You see, my wife never saw the beauty of baseball until she came to understand the intricate nuances of each play and how, when played well, it almost has an orchestral feel to it. If you're not looking for the notes though, it's just a bunch of overpaid guys whacking around a ball to appease their testosterone. Oh, and a lot of standing around. The Church, the Faith handed down from the Apostles, is much the same. If you don't know what you're looking at, it's just a bunch of disinterested people doing what their parents did and ignoring a bureaucratic, patriarchal and misogynist hierarchy that hasn't been "in-touch" with anything in hundreds of years. Learn a little bit though - feed that infant fides with a little intellectum and vice versa - and they scales fall off and that bread-thingy is never again a "cookie" but Christ the Son of the Living God brought to us at the hands of a priest acting in persona Christi as Heaven and Earth touch. It is, in short, the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven.

To get there though takes small steps. Perhaps that is why St. Augustine took so long to convert - one does not run a marathon in ten easy steps, but in hundreds and thousands of slowly progressing sometimes arduous movements forwards. Does my wife like baseball now - you'd better believe it. She even knows what a "magic number" is and what it means to "work the count". She sees the beauty of the minutiae. So it is with the Church - the more you learn, the more there is for you to love. Each step, taken on its own and explained with proper and due care, bring the soul that one step closer. It's our job, as much as we are capacitated to it by the Spirit, to help facilitate each of those steps for any and every one who needs it. Hey, if I can help my wife to come to love baseball ... "[A]ll things are possible to him who believes. (Mk 9:23)"