Baseball is a game of witnesses. There’s personality, humor, character and quotes. Think of Yogi Berra – “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” Babe Ruth – “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” Pete Rose – “I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.” There’s something about these players that just captivates us.
Consider Joe DiMaggio’s beautiful quote, “I played my best every day. You never know when someone may be seeing you play for the first time.” DiMaggio knew that the game of baseball wasn’t just for his entertainment. He understood that there were little eyes watching him play. DiMaggio also realized that he and his teammates represented a generation – The Greatest Generation.
Every time I read DiMaggio’s words I can’t help but think of one of my spiritual role models – Pope St. Paul VI. He was pope from June 1963 to August of 1978. Paul VI and DiMaggio both understood the power of seeing another person in action (whether it be a baseball player or a believer in Christ). Paul VI wrote, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” He stated this in 1975, but it’s even more relevant today.
I’m not convinced every young ball player is interested in the rules, the drills, the analytics, and the specific techniques of baseball. But, I firmly believe every ball player was interested in the game of baseball when watching DiMaggio’s remarkable swing. And, these young kids sprinted home after seeing DiMaggio play at the stadium, picked up their bats from inside the garage and played baseball. These young kids unknowingly entered deeper into the rules, drills, analytics, and techniques of baseball. DiMaggio’s witness spoke to them and sent them on mission.
The same follows in the Christian life – not everyone is interested in the doctrines, dogmas, papal documents, and history of Catholicism. But, everyone is engaged with the witness of Mother Teresa’s charity in feeding the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India. Everyone is attracted to the witness of Pope St. John Paul II when he forgave the man who tried to assassinate him. Everyone is intrigued by the witness of Pope Francis kissing the forehead of a severely disfigured man. Witnesses speak.
And, like the young ball player who picks up his bat in the garage after seeing DiMaggio play, the Christian picks up his cross with a renewed focus after encountering a witness of Christ. Like the ball player who unknowingly enters deeper into the rules, drills, etc. of baseball, the Christian also enters into the great tradition naturally, beautifully, and powerfully. Such is the power of witnesses – they send us on mission. DiMaggio said, “I played my best every day. You never know when someone may be seeing you play for the first time.” The same goes for the Christian – you never know when someone may be seeing an authentic Christian for the first time.
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