“The one constant through all the years … has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”
This is a famous quote from a favorite movie, “Field of Dreams.”
Baseball is America’s sport. It’s called our national pastime. Even without fans in the stands this season.
For those who love the game of baseball (and I’m one of them), we see the divine in its construction. And the divine in the perfection of its precision. The perfection of a home run hit off a wood bad. The perfection of the perfect pitch for strike three. The perfection of a double or triple play.
Baseball has a special place in the hearts of many Americans.
But where would baseball be without the umpire? Where would baseball be without the authority who makes the final calls, the decisions at the plate, or at first base, or along the foul lines?
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the umpire’s job is to keep the game from devolving into chaos.
This authority is human and prone to human mistakes. There’s nothing perfect about the umpire. But there is something perfect about the game of baseball.
And so it goes with he Catholic Church. God is perfect. Humans strive for perfection.
This week, Jesus is doing something that will reverberate throughout Christianity for thousands of years. He’s establishing an umpire of sorts by giving authority to one man, Peter, and Peter’s successors to make the final calls for the Church.
Jesus settles the question about who will take over once he’s gone, and settles an even bigger question for the future of the Church: Who has the final authority to interpret the Word of God?
Martin Luther challenged this authority in the 16th century, advocating “the priesthood of all believers” had ability interpret the Word of God without the need of a Papal authority.
He advocated the plain sense of the bible would be obvious to everybody who read it in their own language.
But when put into practice, Protestantism has devolved into 30-thousand denominations around the world today enforcing their own rules, their own authority and their own interpretations about things like church, church/state, Eucharist, sacraments, etc.
This is a problem in light of Jesus’ great prayer that all of his disciples, all his followers, might be one.
Sadly, it is our penchant for human divisiveness that prevents this unity from happening.
Bishop Robert Barron says, “Somehow it seems to me we do need a voice finally that can determine for us the truth of things when there is this tremendous disagreement.”
This is why the Catholic Church employs an umpire of sorts in Papal authority. The Barque of Peter has served as our umpire for two thousand years of our Catholic faith.
Sure, you might say, mistakes have been made by these human Popes throughout the centuries. And you’d be right. Even Peter made mistakes after being told by Jesus that “upon this rock I will build my Church.” He betrayed Christ in his hour of need. But Peter was that rock.
Peter’s successor is that rock, the living voice that determines the right and the wrong of essential matters in the Church today.
We like to boo umpires in baseball games. But I had the honor to work directly in front of umpires (men and women we called “Blue” due to their blue uniform) during my decade playing competitive hardball as an adult. I was a catcher for most of my time playing the game.
Some umpires were good (even excellent). Some not so good. But ultimately the game needed an umpire or our weekly contests around the baseball diamond would likely end in chaos.
I loved my place right in front of the umpire. It allowed me the space to respectively question the strike zone and some of the calls that “Blue” would make.
Bishop Barron agrees with the umpire analogy in making tough calls, saying, “without the umpire, without that living voice… the game will soon devolve into bickering. If you love the game and you want it to go on, you reverence the fact that there is a voice, a clear voice, a living voice, that can determine fair or foul, right or wrong, ball or strike.”
And so it is with our Church.
Bishop Barron reminds us, “A referee isn’t playing the game. The referee isn’t the whole game. A mistake you can make is to become too referee focused. The game is about the play. It’s about the team… The referee intervenes from time to time.”
Barron says this also the appropriate role of the Church’s authority, “not to be brooding over the conversation of the Church’s life, but to be intervening when it has to.”
Pope Francis currently holds the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven in his role as Holy Father. He has chosen to employ the synod of Bishops (informed by the people of God) to provide this authority, this umpire, during his Pontificate.
In many ways, Pope Francis has put into place the leadership structure proposed by Vatican II.
What a blessing for our Church moving forward.
What a beautiful way to lead, guided by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
This, my sisters and brothers, could become our field of dreams if we choose to live into this new reality for the Church. To do this, we must express our concerns to the Bishops and support them when make the right calls.
This is how we serve Christ in unity with the Holy Spirit.