Unbelievable as it may seem, there are certain routines of the late comedian George Carlin on YouTube that can be seen in their entirety by an audience full of nuns. I was reminded of one of Carlin’s best (and cleanest) comedy riffs about the differences between football and baseball when I found myself sitting in the Center Field Plaza at Dodger Stadium with two Franciscan friars.

Father Casey Cole, OFM, and Father Roberto “Tito” Serrano, OFM, come from diverse backgrounds — Father Casey was raised in Pennsylvania and Father Tito moved around the globe as an Air Force brat. They became fast friends going through the Franciscan formation process together. Besides their obvious connection through their Holy Orders, both share a lifelong love of baseball. 

As if these two priests were not busy enough — Father Casey has a robust social media presence at his website — they decided to merge their mutual love of baseball with their Franciscan charism and embark on an epic “summer vacation.” They are now in the final legs of their pilgrimage to every Major League ballpark in the country.

I caught up with Father Casey and Father Tito at the Dodgers’ first game back after the All-Star break. I found out there was much more to this sojourn the brothers had undertaken than just seeing the sites and enjoying the games. 

The brothers were happy to speak at parishes from coast to coast, but that always felt like preaching to the choir, they said. Their main goal was to preach to those who may rarely, if ever, darken the door of a church, let alone a choir loft. 

They didn’t have microphones, and they didn’t ask fans waiting in line for Dodger dogs if they were saved or not. They just attended this game, and all the others, in their Franciscan habits — present in the public square, modeling what St. Francis himself did when he founded the order. 

If the brothers were approached by a fan, they would happily engage and converse. If they were ignored, or on rare occasions, treated rudely, they would go about their business, watching the game. Their visit to Angel Stadium did result in a strange conversation starter, as several fans first thought the friars were some kind of publicity stunt from the San Diego Padres.

Whereas George Carlin accentuated how different baseball was from football in his classic routine, Father Casey sees greater connective tissue — not between baseball and football, but between baseball and the Faith, especially as it relates to tradition, ritual, and a sense of community.

One can sift through the Vatican archives and read the fourth-century Letter of the Synod in Nicea to the Egyptians, or peruse the actual transcripts of St. Joan of Arc’s trial. The online baseball almanac has more than 500,000 pages, and if you want to know who won the 1878 homerun title, it was Lip Pike, with a grand total of four round-trippers.

The rituals of the sacraments, feast days, and countless devotionals span millennia, and are the lifeblood of the Church, just as the seventh inning stretch, opening day and the World Series connect one generation to the next in baseball. Yes, it is a simple approach, but the Franciscan charism is as simple as it gets — and that is a compliment.

During the friars’ special summer, conversations were generated when a common love of the game turned to other things. People asked to be prayed for, and they are remembered in the priests’ prayers faithfully. Of the hundreds of thousands of people across the country who saw these two “strangely dressed” baseball fans, who knows how many saw them as what they truly were, and began thinking about things other than their favorite player’s batting average.

At the end of George Carlin’s routine (where he manages not to use a single one of the seven words you used to not be able to say on television), he encapsulates the differences by observing how the primary objective of football is to penetrate the opponents’ territory with aerial bombs and a relentless ground attack, but in baseball, the most important thing of all is to be “safe” and at “home.”

During their journey across the baseball country, Father Casey and Father Tito have had the opportunity to meet a lot of people, talk baseball, and share in the joy of the game, and maybe, through their public but quiet evangelization, they have shown a searching soul or two the game plan for the ultimate safe-at-home destination.