What the Cubs Taught Me About Faith

By James Monahan 11-04-2016
Image via /Shutterstock.com

I’ve told people for years that I’m a Cubs fan because I’m a Christian. (Or is it the other way around?) I always thought I was kidding until this year. Now I might actually mean it.

I grew up in Central Illinois, right along the Illinois Central Railroad, where the train called “The City of New Orleans” passed through twice a day. (Steve Goodman made that train famous with his cover of the folk song of the same name. He also wrote the Cubs victory celebration song, “Go Cubs Go.” You see what I’m getting at?)

My parents spent a lot of their courtship attending Cubs games in the summer of 1963. The team was actually ok that year: They finished 82-80, with future hall-of-famers like Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and — dare I mention him — Lou Brock. But their favorite was an aging knuckleball relief pitcher named Barney Schultz. For reasons that aren’t exactly clear, he became a favorite of my parents and their friends, who called themselves, “The Barney Schultz fan club.” They’d hang out in the players’ parking lot after the game and excuse their way past Ernie Banks and Billy Williams to invite Barney Schultz out for a drink. My dad says he joined them once. (Once.)

And I can’t possibly think of the Cubs, or my childhood, without remembering my great aunt Mary. She was three years old when the Cubs beat the Tigers to win the 1908 World Series. And she died 94 years later, without seeing them win another one. Any visit to her house between April and September would begin with the sound of Harry Caray and Steve Stone announcing a Cubs game.

I was 10 years old in 1984 when the cubs had a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series — only to drop the next three games against the Padres. I’m sure I cried myself to sleep after that. I can still remember my dad telling me, “We’ll get ‘em next year.”

But we didn’t get ‘em next year. Or the year after that. And until last year I don’t know if it ever really seemed like we would.

And what does all of this have to do with faith? Pretty much everything, I think.

In Hebrews chapter 11, we are reminded that, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

That sounds a lot like the Scriptural version of, “We’ll get ‘em next year.”

James says, “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters; when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

I feel sorry for those poor Yankee fans. What do they know of perseverance and struggle? What adversity have they had to overcome? But hope, patience, and perseverance — not bad qualities for a Christian, or a Cubs fan, to have.

I teach a class on Catholic Social Teaching for high school seniors. One of the main obstacles I have to overcome every year is to convince the students that it is possible for us to eliminate hunger, poverty, and injustice. I say, I know it hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen, right? We are Christians. We believe in miracles.

Things seem dark now, with concerns about safe and fair voting after a grueling election season, and fears of each other running high. But with courage and hope — the opposite of fear — things will be OK. When Jesus walked across the water to meet the disciples, the first thing he says is, “Take courage; do not be afraid.” Their boat was stuck out in the sea, being buffeted about by the wind and the waves. It was a dark night for the believers. And Jesus’ first instinct is to offer them both comfort and empowerment. Relax – he says. I got this.

Saint John Paul II once said, “We are an Easter people, and ‘Alleluia’ is our song.”

My dad would say, “We’ll get ‘em next year.”

And so this spring I’ll do some of the things I always do in the spring. I’ll re-read W.P. Kinsella’s novel Field of Dreams and wear my arm out playing catch with my sons. I’ll be able to tell you who the Cubs play on opening day and who the starter will be. And I’ll hope that this will be the year when peace and justice, truth and kindness, compassion and charity will reign.

And who knows? Maybe the Cubs will get ‘em again next year.

James Monahan teaches high school theology at Bishop McNamara in Forestville, Md. He lives in Cheverly, Md., with his wife and two sons.

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