Akron Rocks Theology mixed things up a bit for the July 18 schedule.
Instead of meeting at a restaurant in Akron, as was the custom, about 50 people went to St. Paul Parish in Akron to hear the pastor, Father Matt Pfeiffer, speak about “The Most Liturgical Sport – The Spirituality of Baseball”. He said the topic was timely with the MLB All-Star hiatus underway. Plus, it was lighter fare than is usually shared with the band, he said, noting that the previous two sessions dealt with the devil and exorcisms.
Keith Johnson, head of parish catechesis at St. Sebastian Parish in Akron, – which is sponsoring the event – served as emcee. He gave the group a brief biography of Father Pfeiffer, a 1997 graduate of Archbishop Hoban High School in Akron who was ordained in 2009. Prior to becoming pastor of St. Paul in 2014, Father Pfeiffer served as parish vicar at San Sebastian parish. and St. Augustine Parish in Barberton.
Father Pfeiffer said he was happy to address the group, but suggested moving the event to St. Paul since he leads faith formation programs at the parish on Mondays. He thanked the parish volunteers who spent part of the day setting up tables and chairs and preparing refreshments.
“I want to do a disclaimer,” he said as he started the program. “I’m not a sports expert, but I love baseball. I’m better trained in spirituality, but I’m still not an expert in it,” he joked.
Father Pfeiffer borrowed from a piece on Baseball and Catholicism written several years ago by John Allen Jr., a Catholic journalist and publisher of the Crux website.
In his article, Allen listed nine reasons why Catholicism is to religion what baseball is to sports:
- Both revere the past.
- Both feature arcane rules that only make sense to initiates.
- Both have a keen sense of ritual in which rhythm is very important.
- Both generate stats, arcana, and lore.
- Either way you can dive in, but for the serious devotee, the liturgy is a daily affair.
- Both are global and particularly important in Latin America.
- Both have been marred by scandal with superstar legacies ruined.
- Both have a complex agricultural system.
- Both reward patience.
Father Pfeiffer shared his thoughts on each point and invited the audience to chime in, which many did.
Regarding the past, he noted that the Church has the communion of saints, shrines, and holy cards while baseball has statues, collectible baseball cards for players, and other memorabilia, including including the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The obscure rules of baseball include things like marking, what is a foul ball, inside fly rule, designated hitter, etc. The way a priest holds his hands during prayer and even the clothes (garments) he wears have been noted. There are also unwritten rules in both, Father Pfeiffer said, including that it’s okay to hit a batter as ‘punishment’, not to cross the pitcher’s mound and curbing the celebration after a big play. Some audience members suggested not chewing gum in church, not sticking it to the bottom of the pew, not arriving late/leaving early, not sitting at the ‘back of the church, “don’t sit in my pew” and a homily should not exceed 10 minutes like some unwritten Catholic rules.
“And Father can’t talk politics,” he joked, prompting laughter from the group.
Baseball affects our lives, he said, noting how some of the terms have seeped into our language, such as hitting .1000, pitching a curveball and hitting.
The same goes for Catholicism, where things related to the Church are found in everyday life, such as bowing your head in the name of Jesus, blessing our food, using holy water, responding to the word/blessing of God and pray.
Reflecting on the previous Sunday’s Gospel, which featured the story of Mary and Martha, Father Pfeiffer said that sometimes people call someone Mary (who sat at Jesus’ feet listening) or a Martha ( who wanted to get things done and was anxious).
He also drew a comparison in the use of sets of three in both baseball and Catholicism.
“In baseball, there are three outs and nine innings, a multiple of three. In Catholicism, there are three persons in one God, the Kyrie is repeated three times (nine times in the extraordinary form) and the Sanctus and Angus Dei are repeated three times. We need repetition; it helps to ground things in our minds,” he explained.
Father Pfeiffer also noted the baseball term “clean inning” in which three is nine pitches and nine hits. And referees can expel a player or coach, which is tantamount to being excommunicated from the Church, he added.
When errors are made in the liturgy – a wrong note, a wrong reading, etc. – the liturgy continues to move forward, he said. At a post-match press conference, players and coaches can talk about the mistakes that were made, how they need to learn and move on.
Patience is important, said Father Pfeiffer, pointing to the patience of saints like Saint Paul who lived in the desert for three years before going on a mission, and Saint Teresa of Calcutta who worked for years among the poor and sick in the slums of India.
“You can’t force loyalty. We must remain humble. In baseball, you don’t try to be a savior because you can hit. In our faith, we are not the savior – Jesus is. We can plant the seeds and let others do the harvesting. Perseverance is paramount in the spiritual life,” he said.
Father Pfeiffer also hinted at the future, noting that baseball has minor leagues while grandparents are like the bullpen providing a way to pass the faith on to future generations. He also said spring training is like Lent, a time to prepare for the “season”.
When asked who would be on his star team of saints, Father Pfeiffer listed Saints Matthew, Edward, Robert, Paul, Sebastian, Augustine, Thomas More, John Vianney, Dominic and Thomas Aquinas, noting that each had an impact on his life.
Another analogy he used was that we don’t go to mass to be entertained. It’s important to put some effort into the liturgy, just like baseball players work their game.
“The main reason we go to Mass is to worship God. We owe it to him,” Fr. Pfeiffer said.
Akron Rocks Theology will resume its normal meeting schedule at 7 p.m. (program begins at 7:30 p.m.) on August 22 at El Rancho Mexican Restaurant, 1666 W. Exchange St., Akron.