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6 Spiritual lessons from baseball legend Hank Aaron

HANK AARON

KEVIN WINTER | GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA | AFP

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 01/31/21

The great ball player's Christian faith sustained him through trials.

Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron was one of the all-time greats, a Hall-of-Famer who surpassed Babe Ruth’s lifetime home-run record and held that title for 33 years. Lesser known is his lifetime of faith in Christ, a faith that sustained him during trials.

Aaron grew up Baptist in a religious household. As an adult, he became friends with Catholic priest Fr. Mike Sablica and was received into the Catholic Church in 1959.

One of the first Black players in the major leagues, Aaron faced considerable opposition, especially as he came near to breaking Babe Ruth’s record. He dealt with “hate mail, death threats, taunts and jeers.” He credited his faith with helping him persevere and play well through it all.

These 6 spiritual lessons from Aaron’s life reveal the ways his deep and abiding faith strengthened him.

1Trust in God

In good times and bad, Aaron relied on God. He once said, “I need to depend on Someone who is bigger, stronger and wiser than I am. I don’t do it on my own. God is my strength. He gave me a good body and some talent and the freedom to develop it. He helps me when things go wrong. He forgives me when I fall on my face. He lights the way.”

2Acceptance and self-control

Aaron spoke of his “real hero-worship” for Jackie Robinson, the first Black player in the major leagues. “What fascinated me so much was that Jackie was an emotional, explosive kind of ballplayer. Yet during that crucial first year in the big leagues, he didn’t lose his temper in spite of a steady barrage of insults from fans and other players,” Aaron said. “How did he keep control? I learned later that he prayed a lot for help. And he also had a sense of destiny about what he was doing, so much so that he felt God’s presence with him. He learned to put aside his pride and quick temper for the bigger thing he was doing.”

JACKIE ROBINSON
Public Domain

Jackie’s example helped Aaron when he faced similar situations as a player. “I’m not the crusader-type, and there were times, frankly, when I wanted out,” Aaron said. But Robinson became Aaron’s example. “I lost my temper a couple of times last spring when some fans heckled me from the stands,” he said at the time. “Then I’d remember Jackie and what he accomplished with his self-control … I’m learning to do without something I want at the moment … to achieve the bigger thing ahead that is really right for me to want.”

3Spiritual reading

St. Josemaria Escriva was known to encourage spiritual reading, saying, “Reading has made many saints.” Aaron probably would have agreed with him, as he was known for his regular reading of spiritual books:

A Catholic booklet, Venerable Fulton Sheen’s The Life of Christ, became a staple of his glove compartment. Another book, Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, became a staple of his game locker.

4Self-sacrifice

When Aaron skipped school one day as a teenager, his father made clear to him how much value he placed on his son getting an education. Aaron recalled his father saying,

I put fifty cents on that dresser each morning for you to take to school to buy your lunch and whatever else you need. I only take twenty-five cents to work with me. It’s worth more to me that you get an education than it is for me to eat. So let’s hear no more about dropping out of school.

The lesson stayed with his son throughout his life. “You don’t forget this kind of sacrifice by your father,” Aaron said years later. “Herbert Aaron was always ready to deny himself something if it would help his family.” That example of self-denial for a greater good shaped the man Aaron became.

Wikimedia Commons

5Guardian angels

Aaron felt the presence of God and His angels during tense moments in his life. He once said, “When I was in the ball park, I felt there was nothing that could bother me. I felt safe. I felt like I was surrounded by angels and I had God’s hand on my shoulder. I didn’t feel like anything could bother me.”

6Keeping the Sabbath holy

Aaron’s parents taught him to keep the Sabbath, to treat the day as something holy and set apart. “We all went to the Baptist church every Sunday,” Aaron recalled of his childhood. “When I was 15 I was once offered two dollars to play baseball on Sunday afternoon. I turned it down. I knew Mama would never allow me to play ball on a Sunday.”

Aaron continued to honor the Sabbath as an adult, although at times, racism prevented him from attending Mass as he wanted to do.

Back in Milwaukee, Fr. Sablica would remind Aaron to “attend Mass every Sunday” when he left for spring training in Florida. But, according to the 1972 book Bad Henry, Aaron “looked his friend in the eye and answered softly, ‘Down there, they won’t let me go to Mass.’”

His parents’ examples of faith and sacrifice helped their son to live the same way. In turn, he is an example to countless others, not only as a formidable ball player but as a follower of Christ.


Hank Aaron

Read more:
Hank Aaron’s friendship with Milwaukee Catholic priest impacted his life

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FaithMen’s LifestyleSports
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