Part of our Catholic tradition involves a concept known as “natural law,” a term used to describe a “right” ordering to the universe. As a life-long Yankees fan I had never had any trouble understanding that concept, especially during the late nineties, where World Championships were like Christmas… they happened every year. It was a “right ordering” of the universe that had never really been challenged: some teams are usually up, some teams are usually down, and no matter how good the Boston Red Sox ever get, they will always play second fiddle to the greatest sports franchise in world history (Manchester United be damned).
So you can imagine my… my… what’s the word… “shock” and “surprise” just seem too soft to describe the experience of having one’s entire universe re-ordered… abject horror when, in 2004 the Boston Red Sox overcame a three game deficit—something NO TEAM had ever done in either baseball or basketball—to win the American League Championship Series (ALCS) against my beloved Bronx Bombers.
But it didn’t make sense to me…. in years past it seemed as though that the Lord Almighty always intervened to ensure that His favorite team on the planet would end up victorious. Jeffrey Maier would make a crucial catch to ensure victory, Derek Jeter would make the ultimate flip play to keep the followers of Moneyball from becoming too haughty, and Aaron FABULOUS Boone (yes, I substituted in my own F-word, deal with it) would clinch victory in extra innings to ensure a World Series berth. I could not shake the feeling that SOMETHING must have happened SOMEWHERE to cause such a radical disordering in the fall of 2004.
Watching my television screen that autumn… it’s like I FINALLY understood the meaning of the Christmas special, “A Year Without A Santa Claus.”
Two years later, my universe was re-ordered again when I entered the Paulist Fathers. During those first few weeks, the novitiate (freshman) class went on a road trip to different Paulist parishes and foundations, and one of the final stops on our trip was a stay at our Information Center in Boston. During this visit, several staff members told us some “fun and interesting stories” about its history; one story in particular caught my attention.
Two years before… this would be 2004 mind you… the Paulist Center in Boston was celebrating Mass on a fine fall day. Manhattan-native-but-otherwise-sports-agnostic Fr. Jim Moran, CSP was the celebrant. It is the tradition at the Paulist Center at the conclusion of all of the Masses to ask if there were any guests or visitors who wished to be recognized. But—as the story was told to me originally—a certain person sitting in the balcony had caught Fr. Jim’s eye, a certain person was giving off all sorts of non-verbal cues that he did NOT want to be recognized. So Fr. Moran INSISTED that Yankee skipper Joe Torre stand up and be recognized for ALL of the Boston faithful to see. Torre sheepishly waved to the crowd and sat back down.
Oh, did I mention that this event happened right before Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS? You know the rest of the story. The Boston Red Sox came roaring back to not only beat the Yankees in the ALCS but sweep the Cardinals to win the World Series, thus forever eliminating the taunt “1917” from millions of New York fans. Whomever this “Fr. Jim Moran” was, I thought to myself at the time, I had a few words for HIM. Paulist superior or not, reordering the universe has consequences.
It is a testament to the kind of human being that Fr. Jim Moran was that when we finally did meet, I ended up loving him anyway. But even more importantly than that, something inside of me trusted him.
You see during my first few years with the Paulists, I was undergoing my own reconciliation with the church. I was asking questions about not only myself but my own beliefs. Questions that made me feel like I would be greeted with the Catholic equivalent of “1917” should they ever become widely known within the priestly class. And it was then when I came to see how reordering the universe in order to let other people in the door was just who Jim Moran was as a person… and as a Paulist.
“You know what Tom, some people may blanch when I say this, but it is a very important point. It is the Holy Spirit who calls those back into the church who have been estranged… but often it was also the Holy Spirit who called that person out in the first place. That’s whom you need to trust in, no matter what direction you are heading.”
We Paulists sometimes get a bad rap… our occasional unconventionality sometimes gets us into trouble with those for whom conventionality and living out one’s faith in Christ are mutually interchangeable concepts. And while we’ve certainly made our fair share of mistakes along the way, the banner carried by Jim Moran was that if we were going to follow the road not taken, it would be to make sure that it was to clear a new path for people to find their way back home. In other words, reordering the universe is not always a bad thing if it lets some new people in the door.
One week ago, I was able to visit Jim before he went home to God. Cancer had whittled away this once stocky Irishman to someone a third of his size, but his spirit and his humor remained intact. So I asked him about his infamous encounter with Joe Torre.
“No, no. It didn’t happen that way. His son was with him and HE stood up, pointed out his father. I was just a passive observer.“
I have to say, I had mixed feelings with this revelation. On the one hand, I could no longer pin the 2004 ALCS on the kind of superstitious event that is so popular in baseball. But on the other hand I didn’t have to hold one of the Paulists I most admired in the community responsible for the defeat of my favorite baseball team. Yet as the testimonials come rolling in, it is obvious that he was far from a passive observer in the rest of his life. Jim Moran’s was directly involved in the reordering of so many other universes; doors were opened to many, many other people who would not have otherwise walked through. His work with the Landings program that seeks to bring people back to the Catholic Church who have been estranged for whatever reason is just one example of this work.
It’s one of Jim’s many examples that I hope to carry on with me… even if I am ever assigned to Boston. Thanks for everything Jim. May you rest in peace.
UPDATE: Patti from the Paulist Center in Boston was actually at the infamous 2004 Mass and filled in some of the details. “Torre was on ground floor, it is true his son was coaxed to introduce him, but Jim’s exact quote at that point was, ‘We really do welcome all and we are glad you are here, but you are not to win any more baseball games this year.’ Red Sox Nation owes it all to Jim Moran and they don’t even know it!”
Oh well, he was a great man anyway. :)