The Umpire, A Living Voice of Authority
To play the game of baseball you don’t need much, just an open field, a bat, a ball and four bases. The rules are pretty simple: three strikes and you’re out. Growing up I always looked forward to summer holidays at my grandparents when my extended family would get together for a game in the back yard. Even though we were just playing for fun, sometimes it would get quite serious. And the moment the game turns serious and becomes a real competition the one person who you cannot continue without is the umpire. It doesn’t matter how well each team knows the rule book, it doesn’t matter how much knowledge they have of the game of baseball, disagreements will arise, there will be close calls and there needs to be an umpire to have the final say. Without an umpire, as I found even with friendly family games, the game disintegrates into disputes and bickering. The limitation of the rule book is that it is not a living voice, one who can take everything into consideration and apply the rule to a particular situation and make the important call, “You’re out,” or “You’re safe.” For baseball to be played well, there needs to be an umpire who is capable of making the right call.
The Church is a Biblical Reality
In a similar way, in terms of our faith, we too need an umpire. It’s not enough to have a rule book because rules need to be interpreted and applied. Neither is it enough to presume everything will work out, because disputes always arise on “close calls”. The purpose of the Church is to be like an umpire in baseball.
In the first reading today, we have a perfect example of how the early Christians looked to the Church as the authentic and authoritative voice with regards to the teachings of Jesus. In this particular community a dispute arose as to whether men still had to follow the Old Covenant norms of circumcision (no doubt a big deal if you were a man!). St. Paul and Barnabas were staying with this community and not even these two holy Apostles could settle the dispute. So, they told the people that they would go to Jerusalem, to the Church, to see Peter and the other Apostles. It was finally here, where the Holy Spirit directed Peter and the Apostles to determine on this “close call”, that circumcision was no longer necessary as it is replaced by Baptism. This account reveals that already from the beginning Christians trusted the magisterium of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, to definitively decide on important matters, hinting at the idea that God would not allow them to mislead the people in important matters of faith and morals.
A Protestant Pastor Becomes a Catholic
Marcus Grodi is a well-known convert to the Catholic Church. He is the host of a program on EWTN called “The Journey Home”. For many years he happily served the Lord as a Presbyterian Pastor, until he encountered a real crisis. In his own words, this was his dilemma:
Every Sunday I would stand in my pulpit and interpret Scripture for my flock, knowing that within a fifteen mile radius of my church there were dozens of other Protestant pastors, all of whom believed that the Bible alone is the sole authority for doctrine and practice, but each was teaching something different from what I was teaching.
‘Is my interpretation of Scripture the right one or not?” I’d wonder. ‘Maybe one of those other pastors is right, and I’m misleading these people who trust me.’
There was also the knowledge… that… I would be required to answer not just for my own actions but also for how I led the people he had given me to pastor. ‘Am I preaching truth or error?’ I asked the Lord repeatedly. ‘I think I’m right, but how can I know for sure?”
The Church is the Authentic Protector of the Teachings of Christ. She has the Authority given by Christ to Decide Close Calls. She is More than Opinion.
I can understand Marcus Grodi struggle as I too as a Christian and as a Priest have asked these questions too, “How can I be sure that I’m teaching authentic Christianity and not just opinions. What I have found and what Grodi also discovered is that there needs to be an umpire, a living voice of authority to decide on close calls and that Jesus gave us this when he established his Church on Peter with the other Apostles. The Catholic Church is the only Church that can historically trace it’s roots back to Christ as the Church that Jesus founded. It is the same Church that Paul and Barnabas went too with the pressing disputes of their community.
Our Response: Gratitude and Ready Ear to Listen to the Church
In saying this I don’t mean to come across as arrogant or self-righteous. Rather, I say this so that we can give thanks to God for his great foresight. Even though the members of the Church are weak, limited and sinful, and I definitely include myself in this category, Christ the head is perfect, and the teachings he has given us and have been preserved by the Church he established are forever true. Thank you Lord for the gift of the Church!
Secondly, it is my hope to foster a Catholic attitude that looks to the Church for direction and inspiration with regards to the teachings of Jesus, just as the early Christians did.
Baseball cannot be played without the umpire. We cannot live our faith without the Church.