Unraveling the Baseball
What has been called the U.S. national pastime is an outdoor game called baseball. It evolved in the mid-19th century from an English game called “rounders.” When baseball’s basic rules were set in 1845, the smaller, hard “baseball” after which the game was named replaced the softer ball used in rounders.
The standards for the ball have remained essentially unchanged since 1872. Each of the approximately 600,000 baseballs used annually in Major League games must weigh between 5 and 5.25 ounces and measure between 9 and 9.25 inches in circumference. An official Major League baseball consists of a round cushioned cork center called a “pill,” wrapped tightly in windings of wool and polyester/cotton yarn and covered by stitched cowhide. The pill, now a rubber-cork core encased in black rubber, is the main source of the baseball’s resiliency. It is surrounded by four windings of wool and polyester-cotton yarn. The outside covering of top-grain cowhide from white Holstein cows, which replaced horsehide in 1974 due to a shortage of horses, is precisely stitched with 88 inches of red waxed thread. The only other changes to the baseball since 1900 were to the pill. Initially made of rubber, it was replaced by a livelier cork core in 1910, marking the end of the “dead ball” era. When that proved too lively, a less resilient rubber-cork composite was substituted in 1931. Minor differences between American League and National League balls were eliminated in 1934, and the baseball has been essentially unchanged since.
The manufacture of baseballs has been carefully monitored and scrutinized to maintain the integrity of the game. Baseball just wouldn’t be baseball, and baseball records would be meaningless, if the standards were not maintained.
Much longer than the history of baseball is that of marriage..
The first sacrament, and the natural law/Christian vision of the use of our sexual powers. Marriage’s key elements are mutual faithfulness (sexual exclusivity), permanence, and openness to children. In practice, it involves a compact, tightly wound, mutually reinforcing combination of understandings, laws and customs by which a man and a woman commit themselves to one another for life.
To use the baseball analogy, marriage involves a protective covering of permanence and faithfulness. Inside is the natural relationship between sexual intercourse and the conception of a child, surrounded by a winding of laws and customs purposefully designed to protect the integrity of the process by which children are begotten and raised.
These surround a core, analogous to baseball’s pill, of sexual attraction and sexual activity, that highly pleasurable engine of human procreation. The covering and windings are designed to keep sex in its place; they also give context, and thus meaning, to the sexual act by making it the marital act. All this is intended to protect offspring and their mothers from the vagaries of the fallen male’s strong, unruly, and unfocused sexual desire. In a society formed by this Christian understanding, couples know that you only get to enjoy that core by agreeing to enter the “game” of marriage.
An enduring theme of fallen human history is the struggle to free the pill of sexual activity from the tight constraints of its natural-law marital windings.
The Bible documents that the Jews’ approach was divorce, which Christ explained was contrary to God’s intention “from the beginning.” In the U.S., the traditional Christian view generally prevailed, supported by strict laws against divorce and even the Comstock laws against contraception. In the early 20th century, there were efforts to loosen the threads of the cover by weakening divorce conditions. These finally succeeded in 1960, when California passed the first no-fault divorce law, and all the other states soon followed.
The big opening to unwinding came with contraception. The 1930 Anglican Lambeth Conference ended the universal Christian consensus that contraception was always evil. Despite Catholic efforts (Casti Connubii, 1931, Humanae Vitae, 1968), other denominations followed suit. With that religious lead, science and the law stepped in: first science, with the development of the contraceptive pill in 1960; law followed to ensure contraception’s universal availability.
Within 13 years, the winding that linked sex and conception was totally broken: the Supreme Court threw out laws preventing contraception in 1965 and 1972, and allowed the ultimate contraceptive, abortion, in 1973. The contraceptive mentality continued its inexorably logical development; the Supreme Court opined that if there is no inherent connection between sexual activity and procreation other than a person’s will, homosexual activity must be a right (2003). And if homosexual activity is on a par with heterosexual relations, then gay marriage must also be a right (2015).
On ballfields across the U.S. and in Canada, baseball continues to be played using essentially the same ball used in 1934. Although various rules and conditions of play have been tweaked, the ball has not; it is constantly monitored to ensure that its surface and resiliency are unchanged.
On the marriage front, the old marriage “baseball” lies in tatters.
Because of that the game of marriage is over, except among an apparently decreasing remnant (in 1960, 59% of women 18-29 were married; in 2010, 20%). The effort to shred its remnants further continues as the very notions of male and female and masculine and feminine are being questioned. Thanks in large part to the dominance of the contraceptive pill and related devices and surgeries, the now-meaningless “pill” of sexual activity lies free for all to experience sans constraint.
The sexual revolution that shredded the marriage baseball and freed the pill of unconstrained sexual activity has produced real casualties.
Many who come to Tepeyac are those casualties. They bear its physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds and scars. As part of its mission, Tepeyac functions as one of Pope Francis’s “field hospitals.” Every day Tepeyac sees the wounded, and its staff do their best to bind up their wounds with trained hands and the love of Christ. Like a good hospital, Tepeyac not only exercises its care to heal the wounds, but also tries to limit future damage. Through training and guidance such as natural fertility awareness and natural family planning, the rewinding of the baseball begins–one string, one person or family at a time–to help take them out of the fray that brought them to Tepeyac in the first place.