From the moment, his cleats crossed over the foul line on April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson was verbally assaulted and targeted maliciously by fastballs. Racist managers taunted him, his teammates shunned him and opposing players regularly attempted to injure him. Although he was belittled, bruised and I’m sure close to the breaking point countless times throughout his historic baseball career; he not only managed to have a career batting average of .311, win a Rookie of the Year Award, a MVP award and a World Series (stats courtesy of www.baseballreference.com) but he opened the door for men of all colors and from all corners of the earth to play in the Major Leagues.
Jackie accomplished all this because he was courageously meek. He fought racism, bigotry and hatred with a bat and glove; not words or fists. Jackie robbed his critics and opponents of their perceived supremacy over him by stealing bases, not by slandering them in return. The results were not instantaneous and it certainly wasn’t easy. Jackie achieved them because he drew on an inner strength and was in self-control at all times on and off the field. These characteristics coupled with the virtue of fortitude which Jackie possessed defeated the evil of racism.
Baseball has beatified Jackie Robinson for demonstrating incredible resilience by retiring his number, 42, league-wide. Today, we as Young Catholics can learn a lot from Robinson’s successful example of perseverance.
The Catechism states:
“Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes oneself to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of just cause(CCC 1808).”
As young people in the modern church we need to possess this Cardinal Virtue. Strength is required in a world that constantly seeks to throw fastballs at our rib cages. We are targeted by a secular media that entices us to live a lifestyle of instant gratification and organizations that openly promote initiatives to destroy the dignity of the human person. Even some of our more experienced “teammates,” while they may be well intentioned, can dilute Catholic doctrine under the auspices of equality and acceptance.
So what do we need to take the field and beat these odds? First, we need skill. We need to know our Catholic faith inside and out; if you don’t know how to swing a bat you have no chance of hitting a curve ball. We need to have self-control. We have to tactfully use our knowledge. Our responses to the world must stem from unashamed love of God, not unjustified anger. There is an umpire for a reason. Let him do his job; don’t swing at pitches outside of the strike zone, and remember walks also increase your on base percentage. Finally, we need determination. We need to keep practicing the faith despite hardship. You get 3 strikes, so don’t walk away defeated after missing the first pitch of an at bat. The only way we as Young Catholics can be defeated is by forfeiting. If we keep evangelizing, leading by example and living life in grace with joy, the odds of victory couldn’t be greater.
So then, equipped with the knowledge and self-control required to win, let us play with fortitude (or maybe you prefer to pronounce it forty-two).