How do you become a saint?
This question was once posed to St. Thomas Aquinas who responded, rather bluntly, “Will it!” As terse as it is, Aquinas’ answer is perfect. Sanctity is fundamentally simple in essence – if you choose to do holy things you will inevitably grow in holiness. The problem of course is that many of us struggle to choose the things of God in our daily lives, because it’s much easier to be selfish and lazy. If you don’t believe me, look around. Holiness is hard work and most of us, including myself, are more than eager to dispense ourselves of our commitment to it. For this reason, I would like to turn our attention to America’s pastime, baseball. By looking at the game of baseball, and with a little help from Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, we can begin to understand how we as Christians can overcome our lethargy in prayer and begin to will our holiness.
Hawk Harrelson, the announcer for the Chicago White Sox, knows that the game of baseball is simple. Success in the sport begins with what he calls TWTW – the will to win. If you don’t want to win, you won’t. Just like the saints, great baseball players obtain greatness through a persistent desire to succeed – they will their ultimate goal by choosing to perform tasks on a daily basis that lead them towards their desired end. For the saint the ultimate goal is perfect union with God, and for the ball player the goal is to obtain records, awards, and World Series Championships. In both cases the will plays a central role as the driving force that propels them on towards greatness. But the only way we can truly grow, whether we are striving for the eternal glories of heaven or the immortal shrines of the Baseball Hall of Fame is by practicing the fundamentals of our trade.
When asked how his beloved Sox will win, Hawk inevitably responds that they must catch the ball. As simple as this response is it carries within it an essential truth about the game of baseball; if your team catches the ball and doesn’t commit errors, the probability of your team winning goes up exponentially. But Hawk’s answer also reveals that success in baseball is never divorced from the fundamentals of the game.
Let’s look at an example from the life of the Hall of Fame first baseman Hank Greenberg to help us understand how practicing the fundamentals leads to greatness. In The Glory of Their Times, Greenberg recounts how he became one of the best hitters of his day,
“To improve my hitting, I’d get friends and kids hanging around the park to pitch to me and to shag balls for me…There was no backstop in Crotona Park, which meant I had to hit the ball, because if it got past me I was the one who had to chase it…I got so I was able to hit fly balls within 10 or 15 feet of where I wanted in the outfield, or hit ground balls within a few feet of where I was aiming for in the infield, and whenever a bad pitch came in, I could successfully throw my bat at it and stop it from getting by me. You do this all day long, every day, day after day, and sooner or later you’re bound to get pretty good.”
The work ethic that Greenberg describes in this passage is something to be admired and emulated by Christians. But Christians should also note Greenberg’s commitment to the fundamentals of his game. The fundamentals of Christianity, like the fundamentals of baseball, are simple in essence, and prayer is the one fundamental of our faith that we can’t ignore if we want to grow in holiness. Thankfully, the most difficult part of prayer is not the act of praying itself, but simply showing up. As we know, God will shower us with grace even if our effort is pitiful. For this reason, we should take courage and follow the example of Hank Greenberg and practice the fundamental action of prayer every day. If we were to supply a good disposition when we sit down to pray, the potential for growing in our relationship with God is quite literally endless.
If you’re wondering where to begin praying, try one of these prayers and stick with it every day:
- The Rosary
- The Liturgy of the Hours
- Reading the Scripture (Try reading three chapters a day)
- Pray through the Psalms
- Daily Mass
- Spiritual Reading (Here are some suggestions)
Once you’ve formed a habit of praying one of these prayers every day, see if you can add another one. Hank Greenberg didn’t become a great hitter overnight, he practiced his trade every day. Like baseball, prayer takes time to perfect, so begin your journey of holiness today by choosing to spend some time with God in prayer. If you can make this choice every day you will have fulfilled St. Thomas’ declaration to will your holiness.