The church of baseball

faithnightsSo what do you do if you're a religion reporter during the post-season of Major League Baseball? If you're the Boston Globe's Michael Paulson, you write a fantastic feature combining baseball and religion:

Cardinal William H. O'Connell was never much of a Red Sox fan. Despite presiding over the Archdiocese of Boston during a period when the team won the World Series four times, there's no evidence that he used his free pass to Fenway, and he railed against the playing of baseball on Sundays.

His successor, Cardinal Richard J. Cushing, was more of an enthusiast, periodically buying blocks of seats at Fenway and bringing hundreds of nuns, in full habit, to games.

Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros was a real fan, so much so that, on his way into a papal conclave in Rome, he famously asked how the Red Sox were doing. (That was in 1978, a grim year for the Vatican, when two popes died, and for the Red Sox, who lost the American League East division in a one-game playoff with the New York Yankees.)

Now comes Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan friar better known for his affection for foreign films, Spanish literature, and "A Prairie Home Companion," but who showed up at Fenway Park with a group of priests and church officials to watch the Red Sox clinch a wild card berth on Sept. 23.

I love the color about nuns coming to games in full habit as that is one of my favorite sights at ball parks. Paulson puts O'Malley's embrace of the evil Red Sox in context of the larger story:

O'Malley's embrace of the Red Sox has echoes across the nation, as clergy of many stripes endorse, bless, or express support for a variety of sporting events. Some of the gestures are sincere expressions of fandom, others are an effort by clerical leaders to demonstrate their humanity, and others are forms of evangelism with a history that dates back to the mid-19th-century phenomenon of "muscular Christianity," in which ministers embraced sports as a way of trying to draw more men into the pews.

Paulson looks at famous bishop-fanatics and talks about what motivates them. He also looks at bishops who aren't fans or who opposed Sunday baseball. It has hilarious quotes, tons of Boston-specific fan notes, and information on the religious implications of bishops' public support of the game. It's a great piece and you should read the whole thing.

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