On Connie Mack and The Catholic Church 

The first time I visited the Baseball Hall of Fame, I nearly ran over Pete Rose. Driving too quickly around a corner, he suddenly appeared at my right front bumper. Slamming on my brakes, I grinned a little and waved at him. He smiled and waved, never missing a step as he continued across the street. Good Lord, I thought. I almost hit Pete Rose. And this wasn’t to be the highlight of that trip to Cooperstown.  

Like most museums, the Hall keeps the vast majority of its treasures behind glass. You can look at Ty Cobb’s famous spikes, or Babe Ruth’s uniform, but you can’t touch them. I understand, of course. As I made my way past all the cases and displays of baseball history, I contented myself with putting my face to the glass, adding my smudges to the scores before me who had come to worship “our game.” Bats, scorecards, baseballs, catcher’s masks, photographs and trophies were all there on display. To look at, but not to touch. Then I turned a corner and saw an old wooden bench off by itself. Above it was a small plaque. I read what was on it, sat down carefully onto the bench, and burst into tears.  

It was Connie Mack’s bench. If you don’t know him, Connie Mack played, managed, and was a Major League owner from 1886 until 1954. His teams won 5 World Series and he managed the most wins in Major League history. As a manager, he’s known for wearing a suit to games and sitting on a bench outside the dugout. He had sat on this very bench. It really wasn’t much to look at, but for a baseball lover like me, oh what it meant. I was touching something touched by a legend of the game. It was, for me, a very powerful moment.  

And it reminded me why I’m a Catholic. Bear with me now. When I was a Protestant, my faith was grounded in Scripture and preaching. It was a solid enough foundation, but I needed more. It seemed to me like the Jesus of the Gospels was being kept all clean and shiny behind glass. We learned about a Savior Who hung out with tax collectors and whores, Who enjoyed good wine and a laugh with His friends. He cured people with spit! But on Sunday mornings, I felt like Jesus was being kept at arm’s length—wonderful to look at, but don’t touch. Like the treasures in Cooperstown, if you’ll allow me to make that stretch. But as a Catholic, I experience Jesus in the most intimate union of all in Holy Communion. My senses are overwhelmed with the scent of incense, the feel of holy oils, the beauty of the stained glass, and glory of the statues of my Lord and His family and friends. My heart is raised to heaven with the ancient and beautiful music of the Mass. And my Lord becomes a part of me in the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist.  

I know it’s asking a lot of you to let me compare Connie Mack’s bench to the Catholic Church. But think of the woman in Matthew, chapter 9 who had been sick for 12 years. She had great faith in Jesus to heal her. She could have just asked Him for healing, but she wanted to touch the hem of His garment. She had faith that that simple touching would heal her. And it did. Because Jesus willed her to be healed in that way. He created us as sensual beings, not as pure spirits. He became a man, like one of us, even though He could have saved us in any way that He willed. Just as he could have brought me to Himself in any way that He willed. He gave us His Church. He gave us the Sacraments,. It was through the Catholic Church that Jesus called me to follow him and His Church continues to nourish and sustain me in all my senses, my intellect, and my will. I live my life in great gratitude for that calling. (P.S. Connie Mack was Catholic, too).  

For she thought: If I just touch His garments, I will be healed.”

           —-Matthew 9:21

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