Jesuits Invade Fenway, Remind Boston College of the Heart of the Christian Mission

Walking through Fenway Park’s E Gate from Lansdowne Street, I am overwhelmed by the sight of priests, Catholic priests.  A parade of Catholic priests, primarily Jesuits, each dressed in a white alb and stole. Some smile warmly.  Some fidget with their iPhones.  Others stare off into the distance.  They are all preparing to concelebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit in honor of the beginning of the academic year at Boston College and Boston College High School and the sesquicentennial celebration of the founding of these institutions.

The Jesuits of Boston College came together yesterday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the elite Catholic university.

It’s not as if I never see priests or even a lot of priests at one time.  As a doctoral candidate in the Theology Department at Boston College, I have spent the past several years in daily contact with Jesuits from around the world; I know a lot of Jesuits.  It’s just that I have never seen them all vested for Mass processing through the splashy halls of Major League Baseball’s cathedral.  As I progress through the concourse, I exchange hearty greetings with Jesuit friends from almost every continent. I wave to one of my Jesuit teachers standing at the front of the line, but when I am out of earshot, I can’t resist the urge to giggle.

The image of a cadre of vested concelebrants processing through Fenway discloses a basic reality of discipleship: Christians have a way of standing out in a crowd.  Sadly, Christianity does not always stand out for the right reasons. The failures of the clergy and laity are well known to the public.  Sinners that we are, none of us embody this witness perfectly.  It is through God’s unyielding grace that we are called to love God and neighbor as ourselves. In a cultural context that prizes individual success, often without regard for justice, the sight of someone practicing love of God and neighbor sticks out like, well, a bunch of Jesuits processing through Fenway Park. While most of us are not walking through ballparks in collars and habits, if we are living out our baptismal call, chances are some of the other humans are taking notice.

Why is it that Christians are often identifiable in the world?  It is not because we are better leaders, thinkers, teachers, or community servants than others.  Nor are we less sinful or more ethical people generally.  I speculate that it is because, at our best, our actions answer a fundamental question posed by Jesus to his followers and reiterated by Fr. Michael Himes to the congregants at the Fenway Mass: “Who do you say that I am?” At out best, our actions say something about who Jesus is. If our way of being in the world is one characterized by faith, hope, and love, given as gifts of grace for the benefit of all of God’s creation, then we are bound to stand out from the crowd as embodied witnesses to Jesus’ life saving love. We will preach, pray, teach, learn, give, and receive for God’s glory and not our own.  We will direct every human action to the good of Christ’s saving mission. Our diverse ways of serving will be united by their common testimony to God’s love for all of creation, giving disciples a look of those in the world but not of it.

As the Jesuits took the field, the aesthetic awkwardness of this event transformed into a beautiful celebration of the Lord’s Supper, gesturing to God’s abiding presence in all things. As I exited Fenway to Yawkey Way after the final blessing, I could hear the resounding tones of “Now Thank We All Our God” booming from within the park.  The paradox of this rousing Christian hymn flowing from this temple of professional baseball brought a wide smile to my face that I shared with every person who passed by.  Some smiled back and others just looked at me like I was a little crazy, but then smiled back.  That’s okay, though. Christ’s love has a way of sticking out in a crowd.