Chicago mourned a great man last week: Cubs legend Ron Santo, as his partner on WGN Radio Pat Hughes called him.
His voice was such a constant in my home that Ron’s death seemed like the death of a family member, as it did for many Cubs fans, and yet, it wasn’t until I heard the funeral plans—held at Holy Name Cathedral last Friday—did I know that he was Catholic.
I saw one comment on Twitter that said it was a shame the Catholic Church didn’t use the opportunity of all the media attention to show off the full Mass. As I know because of our recent Sounding Board on eulogies, the funeral also departed from Catholic practice by permitting eulogies. Cubs owner Tom Ricketts (who I know is Catholic because I met him after Mass once!), Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, and Pat Hughes all gave eulogies.
I’ll leave it to the liturgists to argue about these details, but I think the televised funeral did succeed in showing off Ron’s religion in the best light. He lived out his faith, like most Catholics, in a quiet but committed way, treating others as he would want to be treated, as we heard throughout eulogies.
While Pat’s eulogy was perfect and what everyone needed to hear, it merely illustrated the homily, delivered by Holy Name’s pastor, Msgr. Dan Mayall, who explained, “I get to talk today because you’re in my church.”
Mayall highlighted how Ron exhibited three virtues: joy, hope, and courage. Sports offer plenty of opportunities for trite analogies for faith. An athlete’s faith is often shown in shown in prayers in thanksgiving for accomplishment or dutiful appearances at fund-raisers. But this wasn’t the case for Santo.
Rooting for a losing team brings a different perspective to sports and faith. “Cub fans breathe hope,” Mayall said. “No shut out, no blown save, no strike out with the bases loaded, no sweep, no disease, no illness was ever the last word in Ron Santo’s lifetime.”
And Ronnie’s appeals on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation were genuine. He played baseball despite having diabetes, before we had the technology to measure and regulate blood sugar. He lost his legs to the disease in the early 2000. He routinely took time out of his own day to comfort and encourage others with diabetes on a one-to-one basis. He was not too important for anyone.
“Ron Santo was the poster boy for joy. Ron Santo had an overdose of hope, and Ron Santo lived on courage,” Mayall said. And that’s why, despite his untraditional broadcasting, people loved him.
Of course, funerals might be the time to remember somebody at his best, and who know if he was really a saint. Regardless of whether you’re a Cubs fan or a Catholic, however, Ron’s quiet faith is an inspiration.
The homily starts around 18:15 and if you're a Cubs fan, you'll want to listen to Pat Hughes' eulogy as well, available from ABC.