1) Intro

On October 16, 2019, we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Amazing New York Mets winning the World Series.

These memories still have a strong hold on generations of Long Island and Metro New York residents and have a prominent place in baseball history.

Many among the younger generations of baseball fans are fascinated by the story even though it happened years – or decades – before they were born.  Sports and athletic events have an ability to transcend generations.

When the 1969 Mets were honored at Citifield on June 29, 2019, a father of two girls and two boys said: “For someone who was not alive in ’69, I could not help but be caught up in the emotion of the ceremony and all my children were as well.  So many people were cheering and crying. This image could connect with our young people and with Catholics who have been away from the Church for a while and yet who could feel re-energized by a fresh approach to evangelization.”

There are so many memories: the noble leadership of manager Gil Hodges; the acrobatic catches of Ron Swoboda and Tommie Agee; the Al Weis, Don Clendenon (3), Tommie Agee and Ed Kranepool home runs; the masterful pitching of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan; the champagne celebration in the locker room; and the euphoria in New York and across the country.

2) 1969 Mets

The 1969 Mets season did not seem promising in spring training of 1969.

Although Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman were coming off their 16 and 19 win seasons, the New York Mets were far from “amazing.”

The Mets did have #15 Jerry Grote: an outstanding defensive catcher with a strong arm to second base and a gift for guiding young pitchers and building their confidence.

A One-on One Tom Seaver-Dick Schapp interview tells the story of how the 1969 season unfolded.

One day in spring training 1969, Jerry Grote was talking to the young pitching staff that was coming into its own – Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, – and he said to them: “I think we can win the whole thing this year!…I think we can win the whole thing this year!”

This was unexpected coming from  Grote – a steady, reliable player not known for hyperbole or overstatement.

So what was the reaction from the young pitching staff?  Seaver, Koosman and Gentry simultaneously and instantaneously told Grote that he was crazy, absolutely crazy!

However, that solid, steady, reliable catcher Jerry Grote was right. He saw something in spring training that Seaver, Koosman and Gentry did not yet see.  And his comment stuck like a burr in each one of them despite them calling him and his prediction crazy.

Tom Seaver said: “As we went through the course of the season, we as individuals began to get on board.  Maybe Grote isn’t crazy. Everyone started to believe and the thing steamrolled.”   Seaver pinpointed a specific clutch comeback win against the Dodgers in August where he himself began to believe.

When they made it to the World Series after overtaking the Chicago Cubs and sweeping the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs, the Mets faced the formidable and intimidating Baltimore Orioles who had such Hall of Famers as Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Jim Palmer.

The Mets lost the first game to Baltimore 4-1 but as they were coming off the field, Don Clendenon came over to Seaver and said with a confident intuition, “We’re going to beat them!” (1)

As we know, the rest is history.  The Mets swept the next four games.  They beat the seemingly unbeatable Orioles. Tom Seaver became “Tom Terrific” and a baseball Hall of Famer, and the New York Mets, previously known for their constant comedy of errors in the early 60s, became the “Amazing Mets” whose relief pitcher Tug McGraw in 1973 taught us the phrase “Ya gotta believe…Ya gotta believe!”

Can you believe that it will be 50 years in October 2019 since the Amazing Mets won the World Series and turned us all into believers? The “Miracle Mets” still move the hearts and emotions of generations of Long Islanders.

The 1969 Mets won the World Series against all the odds and pre-season predictions. “Amazing” things are still possible in the seemingly diminished world of 2019 in which cynicism, disillusionment, polarization and despair often seem easier to come by than inspiration and hope.

(1) This material is summarized from a One-on-One Tom Seaver-Dick Schapp interview available on Youtube.

3) Sport

Why would a Catholic bishop write a Pastoral Letter on the 1969 New York Mets?

The world of sports is a critical part of the human experience. Look at the struggle and hard work of the athletes and the passion of the fans. It should be no surprise that the masterful preacher and evangelizer St. Paul used insights and imagery from sports in his letters – he spoke of “running the race” and “fighting the fight” (2 Timothy 4:7). He admired the discipline and perseverance of athletes and held them up as a model for Christian discipleship (1 Corinthians 9:24-26).

Pope Francis, commenting on a document entitled “Giving the Best of Yourself. On the Christian Perspective of Sport and of the Human Person” said: “Sport is a very rich source of values and virtues that help us to become better people. Like the athlete during training practicing sport helps us to give our best to discover our limits without fear, and to struggle daily to improve.”   (2)

Sports, the Pope stressed, is a meeting place where people of all levels and social conditions come together to reach a common goal and inspire the community.  The 1969 Miracle Mets achieved just that!

Pope Saint John Paul II said this to a group of athletes in 1979: “In our time, organized sport sometimes seems conditioned by the logic of profit, of the spectacular…it is also to proclaim and to witness to the humanizing power of the Gospel with regard to the practice of sport, which if lived in accordance with the Christian outlook, becomes a ‘generative principle’ of profound human relations and encourages the building of a more serene and supportive world.”

The experience of the 1969 NY Mets has something to teach the Catholic Church on Long Island fifty years later in 2019.

The very essence of our Catholic faith is that there is always a light in the darkness – a light that the darkness cannot understand – and the history of the Catholic Church repeatedly shows that hope can spring from the most unlikely sources.

Drawing on the inspiration of the 1969 Miracle Mets, the Catholic Church on Long Island can experience a new era of Catholic Evangelization and dramatic missionary growth against all the odds and expectations, and even become a model for the country!

Ya Gotta Believe, Ya Gotta Believe – that together we can be the Holy Spirit’s instruments of generating something new and exciting, a dramatic missionary growth that expresses the missionary identity and nature of our Church from Elmont to Montauk and around the world.

In short, Ya gotta truly believe and deeply believe in what we believe as Catholics.  While we acknowledge realistically the challenges of a culture that is becoming increasingly unfriendly to religious views as well as all the challenges of the times, we also acknowledge that to give up on dramatic missionary growth is to forget the power of God at work in our hearts and in the world around us.

The call to proclaim Christ to the world flows from the very nature of the Church, established to share and be the presence of the Lord Jesus Who continues to heal and reconcile the world.

In a sense, each one of us is called to take on the role of Mets catcher Jerry Grote and to see what might appear impossible and know that “all things are possible with God!”

(2) For Bishop Barres’ own reflections on the relationship between Catholic Faith and athletic experience, see the following: 1)Apostolic Athletes: 11 Priests and Bishops Reveal How Sports Helped them Follow Christ’s Call (collected by Trent Beattie). (Stockbridge, MA: Marian Press, 2017), Bishop Barres’ chapter “From College Point Guard to Point Guard for the Church,” 85-106; 2)February 2018 Long Island Catholic column entitled “A Tribute to my CYO Basketball Coach Joe Gallick – and to all CYO Coaches on Long Island,”  3-5; 3)April 2019 Long Island Catholic Column entitled “A Wink from God: an Epilogue to Apostolic Athletes,” 3-5; 4)March 2017 Long Island Catholic issue which explores key dimensions of Bishop Barres’ life.

4) DMG on LI

Each one of us – lay Catholics, religious, deacons, priests and bishops on Long Island -- need to rediscover and re-believe that dramatic missionary growth on Long Island is not only possible, but occurring right in front of us!

Even in these extraordinarily painful times there are so many signs of God’s grace at work.

  • In the June 22, 2019 Priesthood Ordination of Fr. Cody Bobick, Fr. Matt Browne, Fr. Kenneth Grooms, Fr. Nelson Marquez Salvador, Fr. Alexander Turpin, Jr., Fr. Roger Velasquez. In addition to ordaining six new priests, we have eight young men entering the seminary in August 2019.
  • In the third year of Camp Quo Vadis July 7-12, 2019, 100 teens gathered for a dynamic experience of Eucharistic Adoration, catechesis, formation, discernment and a lot of fun.  What a Triple A farm team is to a Major League baseball team, Quo Vadis is to vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
  • In the more than 90 parishes of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, that have set a national record for the usage rate of FORMED, an online compendium of Catholic videos, readings, and audio resources offered by the Augustine Institute.
  • In the implementation of a senior year Catholic Apologetics program in participating Catholic high schools which will prepare our students to witness to their Catholic faith.
  • In the preparations to celebrate the canonization of St. John Henry Cardinal Newman on October 13, 2019 and the evangelizing Newman Apostolates at Stony Brook University,  Hofstra University, Adelphi University and LIU-Post.  FOCUS campus missionaries have arrived with passion and zeal at Stony Brook University and they are already amazing in their effect on the students there.
  • In the vibrant sign of young couples bringing their newborn child to the waters of Baptism to be a living sign to the world of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
  • In the sign of children whose parents and catechists have brought them to the moment of celebrating the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist in First Holy Communion, their first encounter with the Bread of Life that will carry and feed them throughout their lives.
  • In our young people coming forth in an ever confusing and secular culture to give witness to Christ and be anointed to service and full initiation in the Church through the Sacrament of Confirmation.
  • In our parish experiences of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults which enrich not only the catechumens and candidates but the entire parish with the spirit of Catholic evangelization.
  • In the increasing numbers of faithful Catholics who celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly, and those who have returned to the life of faith through that beautiful sacrament in the last year, especially in Holy Week at our Reconciliation Monday celebrations in every parish in the diocese.
  • In the striking witness of our beloved sick who approach Jesus for healing in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick in our homes, our hospitals, our hospices, nursing homes and other senior care facilities.

These are just a few of many examples of how the Holy Spirit is calling forth a new generation of saints, mystics and missionaries in our parishes and in our public squares on Long Island to be instruments and catalysts of dramatic missionary growth.

5) Hope

The pain of our Church and the clergy sexual abuse crisis is very real.(3) It is felt by every bishop, priest, religious and lay Catholic in the Diocese. But it is also true that all dramatic missionary growth in every moment of Church history passes directly through the Cross of Christ.

The bleeding wounds of the Crucified Christ become the glorified wounds of the Risen Christ leading us to our mission of mercy as Catholics, leading us to dramatic missionary growth.  It is happening and “Ya gotta believe”!

In his Exhortation  The Sacrament of Charity,  Pope Benedict XVI made this wise observation about Church history and peak periods of effective evangelization: “Every great reform (every compelling movement of evangelization) has in some way been linked to the rediscovery of belief in the Lord’s Eucharistic presence among his people.”

It is amazing how the rhythm of the sacrifice of the Catholic Mass and devotion to the Body and Blood of Christ set our lives on fire with Christ’s love.  In the Eucharist, we discover and re-discover our purpose in life and our mission in the Church to the World.

So together, we pray for a massive return of inactive Catholics to the Sunday Masses in the parishes of Long Island.  We pray that we could be missionaries, evangelizers and instruments of the Divine Mercy to atheists, agnostics, non-Catholics and to those who have painfully proclaimed that they have “left” the Catholic Church.  We pray too that we could be stronger in our ecumenical and interfaith witness and outreach.

(3) See Bishop Robert Barron’s Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis (Park Ridge, IL: Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, 2019).

6) Action

So we ask ourselves individually and as a Church, do we actually believe what we profess we believe as Catholics? Are our beliefs about the missionary evangelizing nature of the Catholic Church reflected in our daily lives?

We believe as Catholics that Jesus Christ is the unique Redeemer of the World for all peoples, times, cultures and moments of history.  We believe with the Second Vatican Council that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church and that the Catholic Church is “the universal sacrament of salvation”.

Our creativity and innovation in becoming the Holy Spirit’s instruments of dramatic missionary growth express  Pope Francis’ points in Rejoice and Be Glad that the Lord “wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence”  and  that “holiness is the most attractive face of the Church.”

Pope Francis calls us to be confident evangelizers who are so intimate with Father, Son and Holy Spirit that we boldly and humbly witness our Catholic faith with emotional intelligence to a wide variety of people in all the situations and contexts of our lives.

The deeper we pray our Catholic faith and the deeper we believe in the Creed, the Word of God, the Sacraments, our Catholic moral teaching, and the teachings of the saints and mystics on prayer and evangelization, the deeper we will believe  dramatic missionary growth on Long Island is not only possible but is actually igniting in us and around us.

But we are called to even more.  As your Bishop and servant successor of the Apostles, I believe we can be a model of dramatic missionary growth for the entire Church in the United States and help ignite a new era of evangelization around our country.  The Holy Spirit is asking each and every one of us to step up and lead in a heroic and inspirational way to advance the mission.

I believe, as your Bishop, that the spirit of the 1969 Miracle Mets – Manager Gil Hodges, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Nolan Ryan, Tug McGraw, Jerry Grote, Don Clendenon, Ed Kranepool, Al Weis, Buddy Harrelson, Wayne Garrett, Ed Charles, Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee, Ken Boswell, Art Shamsky and Ron Swoboda – can help inspire Catholics on Long Island to believe in the dramatic missionary growth and the evangelizing mission of the Catholic Church on Long Island.

No one predicted that the New York Mets would win the World Series in 1969.  No one is predicting that the Catholic Church could experience a new era of profound and deep evangelization on Long Island and beyond.

But it possible with the power of the Holy Spirit guiding us and each one of us responding to our baptismal call to courageous holiness and mission. We gotta believe!

As your bishop, I echo the words of Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel: “How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction!  Yet I realize that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts.  A spirit-filled evangelization is one guided by the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit is the soul of the Church called to proclaim the Gospel…I implore the Holy Spirit to come and renew the Church, to stir and impel her to go forth boldly to evangelize all peoples.” (261)

Thanks to the People of God of the Diocese of Rockville Centre for the biblical and Eucharistic missionary spirit with which you are evangelizing all of Long Island!  Thanks for your commitment to holiness!

I recently met a woman named Nancy who shared with me her story of how she struck up a conversation with a woman she met in the bread section of the West Hempstead Stop & Shop.  Nancy, with great kindness and cheerfulness, gently convinced the woman to return to the Catholic Church after being away for thirty years.  Nancy was willing to cast the nets of the New Evangelization and dramatic missionary growth in the bread section of a Stop & Shop!

Let’s take our cue from Nancy and the 1969 Amazing Mets.

Let’s deeply believe what we claim to believe every time we profess the Apostles’ Creed.

Let’s surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit and model a Catholic evangelization dramatic missionary growth for the entire country!

In an age of disillusionment, cynicism and despair, let’s tell Long Island, the country, and the world: YA GOTTA BELIEVE!

Sincerely in Christ, 

Bishop of Rockville Centre