Sunday, September 21, 2014

Remembering Sargent Shriver & Celebrating the Baltimore Orioles

I say to my students time and again "For Christians, death is not an end." I believe this is true with my whole heart...but many times, it sure doesn't feel that way. From the perspective of faith, however, when a loved one dies, the relationship has changed, but it hasn't ended. This is why Catholic profess a belief in the "communion of saints" in the creed. 

Richard Heft writes, "Catholics believe in the "communion of saints." Even though people die, we stay in touch with them and they with us. How is this possible? It is possible through Baptism by which we enter into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Even though Jesus died, he rose from the dead, remaining even more present than when he was on earth to all who believed in him. We live in Christ. Those who have died believing in Christ remain alive in him. 

Therefore, whether dead or alive, we are connected in love. So when your grandmother who loved you very much dies, we believe that she now continues in heaven to love who she loved on earth, but with much greater intensity and depth and selflessness."

And in the funniest of ways, despite the pain and loss that accompanies a death I have felt that connection in love in something as simple as...a baseball game. 

When the Baltimore Orioles clinched the AL East on September 16, 2014— for the first time since 1997—I immediately thought of the late Sargent Shriver. "Sarge" founder of the Peace Corps and architect of President Johnson's War on Poverty was married to Eunice Kennedy, the younger sister of JFK. He died in 1991 after a long battle with Alzheimer's. 

I felt as though I got to really "know" him vis-a-vi A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriverwritten by his son, Mark Shriver.  A native of Westminster, MD an outlying community of the Baltimore-Townson area, Sarge was a lifelong Orioles fan—which he made sure to pass on to his children and grandkids. 

Brigid Darrah captures how Sarge made that happen. In Loyola Magazine she writes "Shriver’s memories of the times his father would pile all his kids in the car to race up Interstate 95 to make the first pitch, cutting through alleyways and racing to his secret parking spot near the stadium—all while giving them insight into Baltimore City’s history, architecture, and political scene as he sped through city streets—stuck with him into adulthood."
Three Generations of Shriver: Sarge, Tommy, and Mark
In Part II of "A Good Man," the author Mark—the fourth of the five Shriver children writes:

"Dad loved baseball, he loved Baltimore, and he loved the ritual of fathers and sons and the American game. Even as a boy, I was aware of the transformation that would come over him as we walked down the steps at the ballpark. His face lit up, his step quickened, his eyes fixated on the field.

On that hot day in Baltimore, I was twenty-six. But I still felt like a kid, and I could tell Dad did too—even though in fact he was an aging man and I a newly arriving man. 

We sat behind the first base dug-out, and above us, in section 34, a guy named Will Bill Hagy led beer-drenched chants of O-R-I-O-L-E-S! A Baltimore cab driver, he contorted his beer belly and long beard and cowboy hat into the shape of each letter. 
Dad loved the whole spectacle, from Wild Bill to John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" during the seventh-inning stretch. I always felt like he was more at home here than with the hotshots in DC. It wasn't that he disliked celebrity and power; he just wasn't consumed by it. He engaged with an athlete in Special Olympics with the same attentiveness and devotion as he did with Paul Newman.

But ballplayers were his exception. Dad used to talk about some of the minor league players he grew up watching as if they were Babe Ruth. He remembered plays and players and spoke about them with a vividness and enthusiasm that I inherited."

As I learned more about the "Good Man," I was humbled and inspired by his tireless efforts for the poor and marginalized, especially those who are disabled. And yet, I also loved his devotion to his team. It made him him relatable and real to me. And in a way, it made me sad that he is no longer with us to enjoy October baseball in Charm City. I'm sure his family would agree. 

But our faith prompts us to see things in a different way. The relationship has changed—it has not ended. Maybe Mark Shriver will take his three children to a play off playoff game just like his father did in 1983 to watch the O's sweep the Yankees (in New York!) in the AL Championship series. Perhaps he will drive his family down streets in Baltimore and point out the first "Washington Monument" as his dad loved to do. At the very least, I hope Mark raised a glass when the "Woes" did it— knowing that his dad was most likely doing the same in heaven.

When I play golf, I think of my own grandfather. "Easy Ed" was known for putting. I imagine what pointers he might give to me. When the White Sox succeed, I can't help but say a prayer for my friend Courtney. Her brother Josh died tragically of an asthma attack at the age of 33. As profound as the loss of his life remains, I remain grateful he saw his Sox win a World Series in his lifetime. 

If someone you loved has died, think of what they loved to remain in their love. If it's a white leather ball with 108 stitches, you know where to turn....

Photo Credits
A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver
Fans say Heck Yeah
Oriole goes nuts
Shrivers at Camden
Communion of Saints

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