Ernie Banks died Friday night. For those of you not immersed in Chicago culture and who may not know of Ernie, he was Chicago’s most famous sports hero before Michael Jordan.
He played baseball for the Chicago Cubs (please note these good words are being written by a White Sox fan). He was a league MVP. He was an all-star. He hit more than 500 home runs and fielded flawlessly.
He was upbeat, positive and loved the game he played so well. There wasn’t an ounce of pretense in the man and he always had time to sign an autograph for a fan. Nobody didn’t like Ernie, even those of us on the other side of town.
But this column isn’t about Ernie; it is about the misunderstanding some folks have about Catholics and statues. However, had Ernie not died last week, this topic likely would not have crept into my mind.
There is this great statue of Ernie outside the stadium where he played. (I would mention the name of the place, but there is only so far a Sox fan can go.) It shows him in his beloved batting stance and it is a place where tourists like to have their pictures taken. And the Cubs and City of Chicago are going to transport the statue downtown to Daley Plaza this week so people can pass by and pay their respects.
That’s right. People will stop by the statue and pay their respects. I expect people will doff their hats, maybe say a prayer, enjoy a few memories. Tears are certain to collect in more than a few eyes.
If you ask people why they are visiting a bronze image of a departed man, I expect they will say things like: I just want to do something…it felt good to say hello…I remembered the time he signed my mitt…I know Ernie would appreciate it.
These are the sorts of things that go through my mind when I stop by a statue of saint, although I don’t know of a saint who ever autographed a mitt.
Our parish just ordered a statue of Padre Pio. Our pastor has a special regard for him, as do a number of us in the parish. The statue will be in the main church and I expect folks will stop by, look, say a prayer, remember something Padre Pio said or did and therein be renewed a bit in their faith.
I’m certain that Cubs fans are well aware that the statue of Ernie isn’t really Ernie – just an artistic mass of bronze. Nobody worships Ernie’s statue.
And despite what some people might believe, Catholics really do understand that a statue is a statue – not the actual person it represents. We don’t worship statues. But a statue can serve to trigger our memories, increase our devotion, maybe even help us strengthen our faith.
We Catholic sure could use a few more men like Padre Pio. And the Cubs sure could use a few more men like Ernie Banks.