Everyone who grew up watching baseball remembers Tom Emanski's commercials with all-star Fred McGriff. Heck, I had that commercial memorized. Yet, all Tom Emanski and his videos did was teach the fundamentals of baseball with drills and techniques that were to be repeated ad nauseum until the little leaguer repeated the desired result without hesitation.
What most of us fail to understand is that those basic drills that are taught to little leaguers are continued throughout the career of a professional baseball player.
For instance, Ozzie Smith, the greatest defensive shortstop of all time, practiced fielding, throwing, footwork, etc. all the way up until the last day of his career. He had every excuse to not work on his game, but he always did and he won 13 straight Gold Gloves -- the most ever by a shortstop.
Furthermore, if you ever get the privilege to attend practice at a major league stadium, you will see players working on the most minute and seemingly trivial aspects of the game. Pitchers work on footwork. Infielders take ground balls. Outfielders work on crow hops.
They spend hours working on skills that they might use for seconds in a game.
Certainly to become a big league ballplayer, one needs to be given special gifts and talents, but failure to work on and hone those gifts results in a squandering of talent and the decline of one's ability.
The path to sanctity is in so many ways like the path to the big leagues. God gives each of us special talents and graces, but it is the day-in and day-out work on the fundamentals of our faith and spiritual life that separate the saints from the rest of us.
We have to work on our salvation, though God's grace. The innumerable times we pray the Rosary, the hours we spend before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Hours, the silent meditation with Scripture, going to Confession regularly, attending Mass every Sunday, praying the Divine Office, these are our fundamentals, this is our practice, this is our salvation.
Ozzie Smith spent hours taking grounders for every grounder he fielded in a game. Venerable Fulton Sheen used to say that he spent hours in front of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament for every minute he preached. However, our work for the Lord is markedly different than the work on the infield dirt.
St. Paul tells us:
So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work. Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But, even if I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you. In the same way you also should rejoice and share your joy with me. (Phil 2:12-18)
Our work for God is inspired by God and leads us to God. By devoting our lives to the prayer and sacramental life of the Church as well as to performing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, our minds and our hearts are conformed to Christ and we become orthodox.
Orthodoxy, it must be admitted, is a dirty word to some people. They often conflate orthodoxy with scrupulosity and pietism; comparing, odiously, "Orthodoxy" with "Pharaseeism." Orthodoxy, however, is simply living, praying, and thinking with the mystical body of Christ, the Catholic Church. One, therefore, can never be too orthodox, just like a baseball player can never be too prepared for an opponent.
Orthodoxy is conforming one's heart and mind to the living Heart and Mind of Christ which is passed down through Scripture and in the Sacraments and Magisterium of Holy Mother Church. Thus, a man who is truly orthodox is a man of deep humility, penitential, prayerful, and all-loving. To be otherwise shows a lack of conformity of heart.
Furthermore, being orthodox is like being a big leaguer. The hard work and dedication which you put meshes with the talent and grace that God has given you to make you the best possible version of yourself. Furthermore, it demands that we ask the most out of our brothers and sisters and encourage them in every possible way to become spiritual big leaguers.
Be wary though that if we, like a ball player, ever stop putting in the work and availing ourselves as often as possible to God's grace and mercy, we can begin to fall away, become proud, and lose touch with the Church and Our Lord -- a most unfortunate, regrettable, and undesirable predicament.
Yet there is still beauty in this. I grew up playing baseball with my older brother in the backyard dreaming of one day pitching or hitting for the Cardinals, but I truly was not a good baseball player. I have also dedicated myself to the life of the Church through the regular life of prayer, study, ministry, and community of the Dominicans, but I truly have not come close to mastering that. My hope is to one day be that orthodox clean up hitter for the province and I know that all God asks of me is to try and rely completely on his grace.
I take succor knowing that Pope John Paul II did not become a saint because he a nice guy who overcame adversity; St. Francis of Assisi because he was poor: St. Thomas Aquinas because he was intelligent. These men became saints because they lived and worked at being orthodox Catholics by conforming their lives to that of the Church and now they live forever in the company of the Triune God.
Aspire like that kid in the backyard to be a Hall of Famer in the spiritual life.