Major League Baseball playoff games provide quite a pleasant atmosphere for fans. The sights, sounds, smells and more help orient the fan towards the game taking place on the field. Could this aspect of Major League Baseball also help shed light on faith?
Sometimes the outward characteristics point us to the inner reality – the heart of the matter. We see it in sport and religion.
Recently I had lunch with a friend from Pittsburgh. The subject of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball was brought up in our conversation. He mentioned how when he was young his parents took his family to countless Pirate games. One of the other guys who had lunch with us asked my friend from Pittsburgh what he liked the most about these games. His answer tells us something far more important than baseball.
He said that when he was young (5-8 years old) he didn’t watch the Pirates baseball game at all. He and his brothers were interested in the skyscrapers beyond the Allegheny River, the massive scoreboard with music and videos, fetching fries, the roar of the crowd, talking to his family during the game , climb the statues of the Pirates players, smell the food, see the multitude of Pirates fans and, most importantly, the Pirates Pierogies races.
Then something started to change.
He got older and his family still went to baseball games. He told us that without even realizing it, he got very interested in the game of baseball as a teenager. He became fascinated with the players, the stats, the manager’s decision making, who to pitch, the changes in the infield for some hitters, etc. He became very intrigued by what could not be seen, per se, with the naked eye (how players and coaches were thinking and what, exactly, were they thinking). He became fascinated with the real game of baseball.
It is this natural and organic transition of sights and sounds to the actual game of baseball that PNC Park (and every MLB stadium for that matter) seeks to encourage. The Catholic Mass is no different – the external characteristics indicate an internal reality. In other words, the architecture of PNC Park indicates actual play while the architecture of a Catholic church indicates the actual presence of Christ. The architecture in both places tells a story and points us to something … or someone.
Like my friend from Pittsburgh who immediately saw the skyscrapers across the Allegheny River, the person walking near a Catholic church immediately sees a steeple. Then, entering the church, he sees stained glass windows, he hears the music of the choir, the organ and various other instruments. He then sees the positioning of the pews in a certain direction, he notices various parishioners of all ages pointing to the same center and there is something about the altar that is in front, in the center, and raised. He also notices the priest’s movements and hears the words and responses which are geared towards what is happening at the altar.
Like my friend from Pittsburgh, it may take years for us to focus on the external features before we naturally and organically move on to what only faith can see. Be careful, I am not offering a zero-sum game, an either-or. My friend from the Pittsburgh Pirates has never lost sight of his focus more on the game than the sights, sounds and smells of the stadium around him. In fact, it was precisely by these means that he was brought to the center – to the real game of baseball. This is so in the Catholic Church – the images and the sounds are directed towards the altar, towards the real presence of Christ.
Again, we see baseball and Faith handling pretty similar bases.
Ben Daghir is a transitional deacon for the Erie Diocese of St. Marys, Pennsylvania. He pitched for the Elk Catholic Crusaders in 2010-2011 and coached the SM Little League for 4 years. Ben was a pitcher for the 2009 St. Marys Senior League State Championship team. He is currently studying at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. His favorite team is the Pittsburgh Pirates and his favorite baseball players are former pitchers Tim Lincecum and Sandy Koufax.