You have to live in Boston to truly understand. Things are different here now. People are smiling. Strangers are hugging. People who walked hunched over have their heads up high.
For those who didn't follow the baseball season that just ended: the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1918, ending the famous "Curse of the Bambino" that began when Boston traded Babe Ruth to the archrival New York Yankees in 1920. We've been dominated and humiliated, year after year, by the powerful and wealthy Yankees ever since. Until this year—the beautiful year, the curse-breaking year, when the Red Sox not only beat the Yankees in the American League championship series, but went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in four games to become 2004 World Series Champions.
So what, you may say? Really, who cares? Blasphemy! It's not just a game for us. It's serious business and we take it very personally. Our obsession with the Red Sox crossed gender, language, and socioeconomic barriers, drawing in even "girly girls" (ahem) who don't usually pay attention to this kind of thing. Office workers popped timid heads out of cubicles to discuss latest developments, daring to whisper, "Is this the year?" The contest took on biblical proportions—words like "curse" and "miracle" were glibly thrown around. The psychological effect of repeated defeat began taking a toll on us. After a crushing playoff game defeat, the Boston Globe ran a front page article detailing the physical symptoms Bostonians could expect to experience as members of a continually losing team. I could see these symptoms on the faces of my weary neighbors.
Scanning the crowd, I saw a Red Sox fan holding an enormous sign that said, simply, 'Believe.'
This certainly didn't seem to be "the year." We lost the first three games of the championship series against the Yankees-and rather humiliatingly at that. In the middle of game three, as the Yankees approached what would turn out to be a degrading 19-8 victory, I flipped off the television in disgust.
I turned it on again only at the beginning of game five, after we had somehow managed to hold on for an extra-innings victory in game four. Scanning the crowd, I saw a Red Sox fan holding an enormous sign that said, simply, "Believe."
Believe? Now? No one had ever come back from a zero-to-3 deficit in a seven-game series. Yet here was someone who chose to declare publicly that he was unequivocally with the Red Sox, believing, until the end. I was humbled by this person's sheer perseverance in the face of repeated defeat.
My only question is: why is it that baseball fans are the ones showing the world what it means to hope, love and persevere? Why are they giving more meaning to the words "miracle" and "believe" than we are, as the Church?
The fact is that we as the Church often don't even give our faith the attention—or hope—we do to spectator sports. How many of us have been on our knees praying "Believe!" during the humiliating season of the Boston church scandals, or as embryonic cloning marches forward, or even just attending church week after week amidst the general apathy in our pews? Or do we rather, like myself, flip off the Church in disgust, shake our heads, and say we'll be on board again once things start turning around?
I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I would have rejoiced more had I risked more in the believing.
You can still be a Christian—and a faithful one, even—though you've stopped cheering in bleak times. After all, I was still a Red Sox fan, really! But I had been so defined by prior defeat that I could hardly bear to even watch, much less cheer. Full of grumbling and complaining, I wanted mostly to protect myself from disappointment. I longed to cheer but did not dare. I longed to hope even in the final inning, with one out left between us and victory. But I couldn't. I couldn't until it was completely over and the victory was ours. But by then, I had protected myself for so long it hardly felt like "ours." I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that I would have rejoiced more had I risked more in the believing.
The Church is not a spectator sport. We are a body, not a twenty-five-person team with a bunch of fans. Every one of us is accountable and has a role to play. Sometimes, though, we're not the ones at bat, and our role is to be on the "sidelines" and root for the team. We either can be on the sidelines grumbling and criticizing—or cheering, believing, and praying. Unlike the Red Sox fans, our praying actually is part of the task. It's exciting to root for a team that will eventually win. It is all the more exciting to pray for something that will be realized, knowing that the prayers are, in the mystery that is God's economy, actually helping to bring about that victory.
How much more is cheering needed when things look bleak, than after the winning pitch has been thrown? Who was greater encouragement to the ailing Red Sox? The fan proclaiming "Believe" in the midst of the direst circumstances, or me, critical, frustrated, and dismissive, angry at the players for their foibles and only ready to jump in and believe after the very—and I do mean very-last pitch had been thrown?
The Red Sox victory belonged most to those who truly believed, who had waited longest to see this day. An elderly man in a Boston suburb started to cry when he saw the front page announcing the victory, recalling his long years of frustrated hope. Sons and daughters brought Red Sox banners to gravesites of family members who had passed on without seeing the day. Those who had believed and hoped were vindicated. They knew the day would come, and it did. They held on to their hope. How much more should we, who have been promised the return of our Lord, and the restoration of his kingdom?
How many of us were on our knees praying 'Believe!' during the humiliating season of the Boston church scandals?
One greater than Babe Ruth is here. Our day is approaching when all wrongs will be righted and all those who are mocked for their belief will rejoice. Those who labor under a curse will be free. Unlike Red Sox fans, who had no assurance that the curse would end—we have been promised. Let us hope, pray, and believe now, while the night is here, because the Gospel parables remind us not to wait until He returns. Now is the time to hope, now is the time to cheer, now is the time to hold up the sign that says "Believe." Blessed are those who persevere under trial, for the Game seven victory will be theirs. I believe.