For local sports fans, it is the best of times and worst of times as major league baseball gives way to the national football league. The worst season the Royals ever had was in 2005 when we won only 56 games against 106 losses. We’re on a similar pace for the season’s finish this year. But that is juxtaposed with the Chiefs’ return to the gridiron with a top pre-season power ranking after hosting the past five American Football League championships, with three Superbowl appearances and two Lombardi Trophies in that same short span.
Fortunately, the Royals are not as hapless as this year’s Oakland A’s that have remained a few games behind us most of the summer. A friend of mine from Alabama, where national standardized academic scores across nearly every subject were low (ranked around 49th in the country for greatness in most categories) once bragged: “We have a saying in our state. It goes like this—thank God for Mississippi.” I guess we could offer the same grateful prayer for the A’s. And don’t forget the 1899 Cleveland Spiders that, with a record of 21-134, still hold the title for worst ever.
Charles Dickens’ opening paragraph of The Tale of Two Cities finds meaning for every age: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” During the French Revolution, life on either side of the English Channel illustrated his worst and best as it existed in London and Paris several hundred years ago. We know that far beyond modern local sports, the best and worst of life lingers in every lifetime and in numerous ways. The Catholic Church, I think, is going through a worst and best period now, as is The United States of America.
Society and social media have forced us to be much more transparent in the 21st Century than ever before. Technology has made many once-unimaginable advances that enliven and connect us. At the same time, polarizing behavior and wrongdoing among those with authority and influence, coupled with tolerance of attitudes and actions that used to be considered morally reprehensible, contribute to diminish and isolate us. If life is a game, we win some and lose some—individual plays or entire seasons. As the ole adage goes, it’s not whether we win or lose but how we play that matters most. Though we cannot control the outcome, we can control our part, our position, our response to all that swirls around us.
In my lifetime and in my opinion, Catholics have been blessed by the most amazing spiritual leaders from Popes John XXIII to Francis. Probably the most beloved among them was Saint Pope John Paul II. But even he is blamed by some and held responsible by others for the horrible pedophile and leadership crisis that took place under his watch and, according to many, that was exacerbated by his actions or lack thereof in some instances. The same could be said about President Barak Obama by Democrats or of President Ronald Regan by Republicans; they each brought forth glory years, times of Camelot, for the rival political parties—but each was tainted by the worst of moments within the best of times.
There are numerous positives for our young, exciting, competitive Royals team that I suspect will dig out 15 or so more victories before season’s end; and the Chiefs will probably experience challenges and setbacks in the months ahead as they did in the Superbowl victory seasons. Pendulums swing. A decade after the Royals’ worst season ever, they became World Series champs. I guess my message is that if you think some aspect of your life (or some aspect of our nation or church) is the worst it has ever been, don’t give up. And if it is your faith that is suffering most, trust that the Lord can and will lift you up if you take His hand. Beyond the winter of despair is the spring of hope. As Saint Paul reminds us (Romans 5:15): “Hope will never disappoint us.”