Dear Brothers and Sisters of St. Andrew the Apostle,
Several parishioners reached out to me this week to report that they watched Trey Mancini reach the finals of the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby in Denver on Monday. Trey Mancini is the Baltimore Oriole First Basemen/Outfielder who sat out all of last year battling Stage 3 colon cancer and battled his way back to playing full-time. His choice to participate in the home run derby was more to draw attention to his story than because of his home run prowess. He does have 16 home runs, which is tied for the lead on the Orioles, but puts him in a tie for 34th in the major leagues and is only one-half of the number of the leader Shoei Ohtani (who also has an amazing story).
So the odds were against Trey Mancini winning the competition. It was just nice for him to be there. He won the first round against Matt Olson, which was surprising. Then he won the second round against Trevor Story, who was playing in his home park in front of his home fans. That being said, it seemed like most people were rooting for Mancini. How could you not? He went up against Pete Alonso in the finals, who seems as if he was born to win home run derbies (he's been in two since he reached the majors and has won them both). Mancini made a valiant effort, far exceeding what anyone expected of him, and while he did not win he inspired a lot of people - both die-hard and casual baseball fans and brought joy to a lot of people.
I must admit that I like an underdog. I think most people do. There's also a lot to be said about being an underdog. People don't think you'll win, whereas if the favorite wins, he is only doing what is expected of him. In 2012, after fifteen years of not playing well enough to make the playoffs, the Orioles reached the postseason. I didn't expect them to make it, I didn't expect them to win any playoff games, and I didn't expect them to return to the playoffs, which they did again in 2014 and 2016. Each one of those events was a surprise, each success an unexpected gift. In some ways, it's easier to be the fan of an underdog. Yes, there are a lot of hard times, but even a minor success feels me with joy, like Trey Mancini reaching the finals of the Home Run Derby.
We're in paragraph four, so I should bring this around to a spiritual message. I don't want people just to read this newsletter for news about the Baltimore Orioles! As Catholics, we are in one way always the underdog, but in another always the favorite. Our Lord tells us, his Apostles, "If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first" (Jn 15:18). As we know, this applies to us. When we follow Jesus Christ, we find that the world sees us as old-fashioned, prudish, and unsophisticated at best; hate-mongers, stupid, and irrational at worst. We're underdogs because, in the eyes of the world, we've lost a lot. Countless martyrs have been put to death for refusing to denounce their faith in Christ. Some form of Christian persecution has continued for centuries. Even our Lord was put to death on a Cross, his ministry ending in failure on Good Friday in the sight of his enemies.
Yet Christ defeated sin and death and rose from the dead. To remain with us always, our Lord formed a Church - HIS Church - on the Apostle Peter and his successors: the Catholic Church which will exist until the end of time, and not even the gates of hell will be able to withstand its victorious charge. We are a part of Christ's Church, and when we remain faithful to Jesus Christ through the battles of this world, we will share in our Lord's victory in the end. We are guaranteed to be on the winning team if we persevere in the faith, so in this way, we are the furthest thing from an underdog. We will be mighty victors in the end.
However, the battle is not done. We who battle the world, the flesh, and the devil still fight, each and every day, for our salvation. This certainly can be discouraging, knowing that the battle always rages on, it must never be a source of discouragement. Our Lord promises to remain with us. He promises us victory. He desires our salvation. So let us cling to Jesus, especially when it seems that the world is against us. Let us unite with Him in prayer, in Scripture, in the Sacraments, especially Mass and Confession. Let us be strengthened by him. Let us place ourselves under His divine authority and service. We are promised victory, even when it looks to the world that we are losing. So let us remain in the spiritual battle with confidence, trusting in Christ's power and glory.
Be assured of my prayers for all of you. Please pray for Fr. Smith and me as well. We're in this battle together. Let us fight alongside each other as we fight alongside our Savior, Victor, and King.