“It breaks your heart. It’s designed to break your heart.”
So says former baseball commissioner Bart Giammati, in a classic essay about our national pastime
He reminds us that a season begins in the spring, when nature emerges new again, then blossoms in the summer; but with the darkness of fall, “just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”
The season fosters an illusion that there is something abiding, something enduring amid the corrosive course of life. It elicits hope until the very last out. But then it ends, as it did for Phillies’ fans on Saturday night.
Win or lose, the end comes every year. It’s meant to break your heart.
It’s true. (Everything is true of baseball.) And it’s life. Its end can break our hearts.
That’s why the Gospel story proclaimed on what should have been the day of game seven of this year’s World Series matters even more.
What’s going on there is not simply an academic debate between Jesus and the Sadducees. As a group, they deny the resurrection; for them, there is no real life after this one. Their question about seven husbands and one wife tries to show the absurdity of thinking that this life continues beyond death.
In one sense, they are correct: this life does not continue unabated beyond the boundary of death. Where they go afoul, however, is in thinking that this life is all there is.
Jesus insists there is a next life, a resurrected life beyond our familiar experiences here and now. The reason: because the Almighty is “not God of the dead but of the living.” After all, if death brings human existence to its end, then God would have no one to be God for, and they would have no reason to believe in God.
Jesus preaches convincingly that God is God of the living.
Jesus proves it personally when He, Himself, is raised from the dead.
Jesus promises boldly that “to (God) all are alive.”
But none of that matters unless fans of faith actually believe it. It makes a difference only when we can say that this God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this God and Father of Jesus, is OUR God, too.
That faith remains the key to our existential game. When we decide, now, to embrace the truth of the resurrection embodied in Jesus, everything in this season of life changes. Instead of breaking hearts, the design of resurrection enlivens and emboldens them
Pope Francis explains this powerful change of perspective at the core of Christian faith: “It is not this life that will serve as a reference point for eternity … rather, it is eternity – that life – which illumines and gives hope to the earthly life of each one of us!”
From our perspective, the season of life seems to move from beginning to end, from life to death. But Jesus upends that outlook. As a result, says the pope, death stands behind us, not ahead of us. “Before us is the God of the living.”
Beyond the recurring season of defeat, of sin and of death, the God of the new and eternal covenant awaits us with “the beginning of a new time of joy and of endless light.” And, thanks to the grace of the Holy Spirit, “already on this earth, in prayer, in the Sacraments, in fraternity, we encounter Jesus and his love, and thus we may already taste something of the risen life.”
The pope’s conclusion assuages the void in our experience. “God’s love is eternal, it cannot change! It is not only for a time: it is forever! It is for going forward! He is faithful forever and he is waiting for us, each one of us, he accompanies each one of us with his eternal faithfulness.”
The pope may not know baseball. He may not realize that it breaks our hearts, because it is meant to do so. He doesn’t have to wait with us until next season to cheer again.
But he does know that people of faith don’t have to wait for God. For we who believe, the God of the living is still with us, really present to us in his holy word and in the blessed sacrament each time we come together at Mass. There we joyously ring the bell – to celebrate the resurrected one who will bring us home eternally.
Oblate Father Thomas Dailey holds the John Cardinal Foley Chair of Homiletics and Social Communications at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.