Sunday, September 19, 2010

"The Ball Was Here... and it Rolled to Here."



Homily from the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C

This past Thursday, something happened at a baseball game that unfortunately is not uncommon; and even more unfortunately, is regarded less and less today in our culture as a problem and instead is seen as “part of the game.” The New York Yankees were playing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Both teams are neck and neck in a race to win the American League pennant and the Yankees were down by a run. Derek Jeter was at the plate for the Yankees and took a pitch that appeared to hit him in the wrist. Jeter yelled in tremendous pain, jumped up and down clenching his arm. He even went over to the team trainer to have his arm checked out. He was ruled as being hit by the pitch and was awarded a free base. So Jeter went to first.

However, the instant replay clearly showed that the ball didn’t hit Jeter at all. Rather, it hit the knob of the bat.

Afterwards, Jeter was asked by a reporter in the locker room where the ball hit. Jeter readily and unapologetically said, “The bat.” Then he said, “What can you do? My job is to get on base.”

A reporter wrote that “batters often try to pretend they’re hit by pitches that just miss; it’s something they’re taught to do.” People will say, “Oh, it’s just part of the game.” Really? Cheating is part of the game? Maybe its been a part of the game, but that doesn’t make it right.

If we teach our children that it’s OK to reach first without merit, what are we teaching them? Are we teaching them that “As long as you don’t get caught, it’s OK”?

Jesus tells us today, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.”

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there’s been a lot of cheating in baseball recently. Nearly every big hitter in baseball over the last decade has admitted to, or is strongly suspected of, using illegal drugs to give themselves an unfair advantage.

I don’t think anyone jumps from being squeaky clean to using steroids. Just as no one goes from being pure of heart to being an adulterer. Big sins don’t just show up. Everything starts off small. And uncorrected, sin grows and grows and grows.

If we allow ourselves to “skim a little off the top,” what are we training ourselves to steal next? If we say, “Its O.K. to look, but not touch,” how long will it be before the look no longer satisfies and what will we seek next?

There’s a book called, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” You know what? I think we need to sweat the small stuff. Because (and you’ve heard this phrase before and its true) it’s the little things that matter.

Mother Theresa once said, “If we deliberately allow venial sin to become a daily bread, a moral anemia, the soul becomes weak all around, the spiritual life begins to crumble and fall apart. God preserve us from any deliberate sin, no matter how small it may be. Nothing is small when it means going against God.”

There’s a great scene in a favorite movie of mine that illustrates the right thing to do when tempted with, what seem to be, only very small matters. The movie is “The Legend of Bagger Vance” and it’s a fictional story about a golfer named Junuh who climbs out of the dumps and is given the chance to play against the two best golfers of his day: Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. And Junuh, unexpectedly takes a one shot lead heading into the 18th hole. There’s only a couple shots to go and Junuh will win the match.

So Junuh is lining up his approach shot to the 18th green, and he sees a tiny twig lying close to the ball and he reaches down to move the twig so he can have a clear shot. And as he pulls the twig away, the ball moves… about a half an inch.

Junuh freezes and mutters, “The ball moved. It moved. I have to call a stroke on myself.” No one else saw the ball move but Junuh, his young caddy Hardy, and his coach Bagger Vance.

Hardy pleads with Junuh, “No! Don’t do it! Please don’t do it. Only you and me seen it and I won’t tell a soul. Cross my heart. Ain’t nobody gonna know!” Junuh replies, “I will Hardy. And so will you.”

Hardy runs to Bagger and begs him, “You’ve got to tell him not to do it, Bagger! It’s just a stupid rule that don’t mean nothin’” And Bagger says, “That’s a choice for Mr. Junuh, Hardy.”

No one wanted the penalty assessed, not even Junuh’s opponents. Bobby Jones says, “Maybe you’re mistaken Junuh. Maybe the ball moved before you touched the twig.” Walter Hagen says, “Might not have moved at all. The light plays funny tricks this time of day.” Everyone is giving Junuh the opportunity to avoid the penalty.

And the field judge reads the rule: “A ball is deemed to have moved if it leaves its original position in the least degree, but not if it merely oscillates and comes to rest in its original position. Did it move? Can you be certain? Sometimes a ball will shudder and then settle back again, Junuh.”

Junuh answers, “The ball was here… and it rolled to here.” The distance the ball moved was so very little... a very small matter. But Junuh’s duty to play by the rules, to not resort to cheating, to do what was right, was a very great matter indeed. It's a very great matter for all of us.

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