“Well, at least we didn’t pay $50 to park.”
That was as close to a hymn of thanksgiving as I could muster early Friday evening, as my buddies and I trudged back to the car from Busch Stadium – following a particularly dispiriting loss suffered by our beloved Cardinals.
Dispiriting, because we’d just witnessed a thoroughly unexpected meltdown – a 2-run lead turned into a 6-3 blowout, all within the confines of the 9th inning.
Dispiriting, too, because all summer long we’d witnessed a remarkable heaping-helping of “baseball joy”.
Joy, headlined by the return of Albert Pujols to the club…and his improbable and relentless climb into the record books for career home runs hit. Plenty of ancillary joy, too, as St. Louis fans bid farewell to Yadi and Waino and Albert. As we cheered MVP-caliber seasons by Goldschmidt and Arenado. And as we saw a talented new generation of players take the reins…with the promise of much more “baseball joy” to come.
Surely, another storybook ending was in the offing this October. We were going to make a deep run into the playoffs …and perhaps even capture an NL-record 12th World Series Championship.
If you’re a Cardinals fan, it’s hard not to think of success on the diamond as your birthright. It’s what we expect. It’s what we’ve enjoyed for generations – and in particular, over the past 20 years or so, when the club has been in contention almost every season. I think I read somewhere that El Birdos have played only five or six “meaningless” games during that span. Which is to say, as Cardinals fans, we’re incredibly spoiled. We just assume the team will win, or at least be in contention for a title, year in and year out.
But the Phillies showed they had other plans, and delivered a gut-punch to the Home Team on Friday evening. Then they finished off the deal on Saturday, sweeping all our fantastical fan-dreams right to the curb.
Not much fun, I tell ya. But at least I hadn’t paid fifty bucks to park the car.
A strange sort of gratitude, I admit. And in a sense, it reminded me of the dudes I met in this week’s gospel reading. Ten lepers, begging for a solid from Jesus. Ten lepers, receiving exactly what they asked for – receiving, perhaps, exactly what they expected from the Holy One, the Healer. Still, only one of the ten managed to speak a word of thanks for the gift they’d just received.
I find Jesus’ response to this scenario intriguing. There’s no suggestion that he undid the cleansing of the other nine in retribution for their lack of gratitude. But he does seem to grant the 10th man a little something more than he asked for.
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
Jesus knows our hearts, it would appear. It certainly doesn’t seem to surprise him when, in our human nature, we tend to take good things from God for granted. But he also wants us to know that a spirit of gratitude can transform the way we live our lives. When we recognize and give praise for God’s providence, our eyes will be opened – and eager to enjoy – the profound beauty and grace and salvation that fills the world around us.
Even the curious beauty of a blowout loss in the first round of the playoffs. Yes, even there, because as we hear in today’s Gospel acclamation:
In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.