One day I made the mistake of asking who Ted Williams is when his name came up at a New England breakfast table. It generated the sort of stares you would receive if you asked a priory of Dominicans who Thomas Aquinas was or a group of Englishmen who Shakespeare was. I did not know, having lived in New England for only two weeks at that point, that I had stepped into their own great tradition.
Both the shocked reaction and the subsequent list of questions I received revealed the depth and intensity of the tradition I had encountered: “Have you heard of Johnny Pesky? How about Dwight Evans? Not even Jim Young? Nomar Garciaparra?” I did finally know the last one, but that’s because he just retired a few years ago.
Red Sox fans have a vital yet weighty sense of history. Long history is often felt as baggage, but it can also propel an institution forward. It’s like standing on the bow of a freighter moving on the sea. The freighter is a massive piece of equipment. It can be cumbersome and hard to maintain, and it runs on so many moving parts, any number of which could fail and cause you to sink. Yet it keeps on moving forward with a relative stability, and it bring a large shipment of cargo to its destination. For baseball fans, the legacy of their team inspires them to support it so that it can carry on the greatness and reach the destination of a World Series championship, or at least a winning season.
When we look to the Church, we see parallels. While she has had to navigate her way through the vicissitudes of human history, her divine institution prevents her from sinking and ensures the greatness of her destination, with a certainty that no baseball team could ever hope for. And a cursory look at her history reveals great heroes—our very own Youngs and Garciaparras, if you will—in the communion of saints that she venerates.
Unlike even the best fans of sports teams, whose loyalty is necessarily limited by the lifespan and location of their team, the loyalty of the Christian faithful to the Church ought not be bound by time nor space. While there is no guarantee of future victories for Red Sox fans, the Christian faithful can depend on the promise of Christ that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church (Mt 16:18). With the assurance of this divine promise, let us pray that all Christians might regard the Church and her tradition with more loyalty and appreciation than Red Sox fans give to their team and its tradition. After all, as wonderful as that World Series championship is, it pales in comparison with eternal glory.
Image: four Boston Red Sox players, ca. 1915