My Faith The Greatest Game by John Garabedian Game seven, the bottom of the ninth inning, bases loaded, two outs, down 4-1. The lingering smell of freshly cut grass and Italian sausage blend in an unusual, yet delightful combination that only a baseball stadium can produce. The excited crowd rises from their uncomfortable wooden seats, and suspensefully fixes their eyes on the field. Jackie, even though hitless in the last few games, walks towards the plate under the spotlight of a full moon in his dirt-stained uniform. After making the sign of the cross, he grips his pine tar covered bat firmly and intensely stares down the pitcher. Although his heart beats fast, Jackie is poised. He has practiced all year for this moment. The words of his supportive but challenging coach–who at times he trusts and at other times, doubts–echo in his mind. “Have faith in your preparation. See the ball, hit the ball.” Silence. Pitch. Crack! The ball rifles off of Jackie’s bat and cuts through the crisp October night sky like a firework. He bursts out of the batter’s box running towards first base. The ball rolls to the right-field wall and rattles around like a pinball. The crowd roars. Flying, Jackie touches second base, rounds third and heads on towards home, risking it all, nearly out of breath — three runs have been scored, tie game. Everyone now watches to see whether or not Jackie can score and win the game. The right fielder finally throws the ball to the catcher like a heat-seeking missile. Jackie, as if guided by a divine force, dives headfirst into home plate and time stops. In an instant, memories of the season flash through his head. The ups and the downs, the wins and the losses, the laughs, and the tears. It’s a close play at the plate. Once the dust eventually settles, the umpire calls Jackie safe and in a frenzy, he is rushed by a mob of teammates and his coach – who never gave up on him – in joyful celebration. After Jackie escapes from under the dogpile, with his jersey ripped, and his large crucifix necklace popped out over his chest–like a gold medal prize – he realizes what he just did with a walk-off, inside the park, grand slam and he is now a World Series champion. Focusing on Heaven Amidst the Slumps of Life We’re all striving for something in life and, for us as Christians, we’re striving for a lot more than a World Series championship. We’re striving for eternal life in the Kingdom of God. To receive this gift, we must persevere through daily challenges, practice living a life of prayer and trust that God will help and lead us by his grace. Following Jesus, like baseball, certainly has its peaks and valleys, and like Jackie, we can find ourselves in a slump– a spiritual slump. At one moment, we may experience an indescribable closeness to God where life is over the moon, and we feel his love. And during other times, we experience discouragement and dryness, and God appears silent, and the warm, fuzzy feelings cease. But through all of these alternating periods of life, God never abandons or gives up on us. Jackie’s coach believed in and stuck with him despite his struggles, and God does the same with us. God may allow us to go through difficult times to draw us closer to Himself and teach us the value of perseverance – a crucial skill in baseball and life. Putting in the Effort with Spiritual Workouts The Christian life, like baseball, also requires dedication and practice. To achieve his goal, a player must spend hours working, on and off-season, to refine his skill and improve. He can’t just show up to the field, out of shape, without putting in the time and effort and expect to see good results. Similarly, to know God more intimately, and to be ready to live out the Christian life, one needs to do spiritual workouts regularly such as private prayer, the Rosary, Confession, Mass, spiritual direction, Eucharistic Adoration, and scripture reading. God, Your Divine Coach Along with the individual training, a player must follow, listen, and trust his coach, even when he is tired or thinks he has a better way of doing things. Coaches typically have more experience and in-depth insight into the strategies of the game. They can see the big picture and decide what is best for the team and the individual player to have the best chance of success. The words from Jackie’s coach that played over and over in his head motivated, and prepared him to deliver the game-winning hit. Because God knows what’s best for us, he too is like a coach–the Divine Coach– who challenges, loves, encourages, teaches, and corrects us so that we can grow and reach our highest potential and greatest fulfillment of following His will. God also gives us assistant coaches such as priests, parents, teachers, friends, and mentors to help us along the way. Not only does God direct us on how to live our lives, but also he gives us the means to do so by his grace. Carried Home to New Life At baptism, we are baptized into the death and life of Jesus Christ, and we receive an outpouring of God’s grace. This grace–the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to participate in his life as sons and daughters (CCC 1996-7)–flows out from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. It is through Christ’s death that we die to Original sin. It is through Christ’s resurrection that we obtain new divine life, which makes it possible for us to receive the greatest gift of eternal life. Once we are baptized, we get the grace, but by staying out of mortal sin, we maintain it and remain in friendship with God. God’s grace stirs our hearts and moves us to perform the spiritual workouts so that we might know and understand him more. And when we fail or get spiritually injured in life, we can turn to Jesus, the Divine Physician in the sacrament of Confession, to be put back together. We can dust off the dirt and get back in the game with a clean uniform. Jackie was down but not out. He was redeemed and climbed out from his slump getting the biggest hit of his career. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ in the modern world may be difficult and stressful at times; maybe like trying to win the World Series in the ninth inning, down three runs. But, with perseverance, proper training, and trust in God and grace, it is possible to overcome spiritual slumps and find freedom, purpose, and true happiness in a relationship with God. Although we must do our part, it is ultimately God’s grace and our cooperation with it that we can be saved. In hope, we pray that when we finish our journey around the bases of life, God will guide us by his grace safely into our eternal home [plate]. Then, like Jackie, can point up to the sky and we will be jubilantly carried away by our holy teammates of the angels and saints, to celebrate for eternity the heavenly victory that has been given to us.