The name Ernie Banks won’t mean much to many people today. But for older folks here on the periphery of Chicagoland he is a certain kind of baseball saint, representing the faithful, loyal, joyous-though-suffering servant of a secular god.
You have to know that Banks played baseball for the major leagues’ Chicago Cubs and did it exceptionally well for a long time. He died in January just short of his 84th birthday.
Normally, in high level sports you must be a winner to be remembered. You need championships; in baseball, a World Series win or two. In this case, there was no winning of that kind. The Cubs haven’t even been in a World Series since 1945 and haven’t won one in 106 years. Some long-suffering fans have even referred to them as Chicago’s lovable losers. Ernie Banks, as a part of that story, had to be a winner through character. He had to draw from a reservoir of faith and hope within himself each day to work wholeheartedly with teammates for a victory on the field.
In that, he could be a patron saint of every man and woman who shows up for work grateful for the relationships and opportunity of the day, builds on the talent and skills given him or her in life, and makes the sun shine for others.
The ultimate goal, the heaven of championships or a promotion at work or raise in pay, hovers above all of us as incentive. That isn’t enough, though. We could cut corners if that were all. We could cheat. We could try to cripple or kill the competition, the great “other” who is not me.
Banks did not do that, as most of us don’t, despite temptation. He kept his balance, the wonderful balance of a child who feels the joy of company with others at play. We focus on being our best and let doing our best emerge.
That was probably the way “Mr. Cub” was able to suffer 19 seasons of so-called losing baseball while becoming a widely loved human being.
We should all do so well.
In his book titled “Sacraments and Sacramentality,” first published in 1983, Bernard Cooke suggested that we view “human friendship as the most basic sacrament of God’s presence among us.” All genuine friendship is self-giving, and thus a sign of God, said Cooke, who was chairman of the theology department at Marquette University in Milwaukee before he left the Jesuits. He continued
working and teaching as a Catholic theologian, and years later Marquette brought him back to receive an honorary doctorate in religious studies.
He wrote that marriage, “because of its society-recognized pledge of lifelong fidelity and its creation of new human life,” is the prime model for friendship. However, deep friendship itself, wherever found, is a model for “the personal relationship that marriage should be.” We should all realize, married or not, “that the essence of marriage’s sacramental power, the transforming power of human love, is open to (everyone) in proportion to their mature care, concern, and affection for others.”
Think of that. There is sacramentality, powerful sign of God’s life-giving love, everywhere, especially in honest friendship. We should be alert for such signs as they come up in our experience. It’s the Catholic way.