Can I pray for my team to win?

I’ve always been a slow riser in the morning, even as a child. But on October 10, 1968, I popped out of bed as soon as I heard the rolled-up St. Louis Post-Dispatch hit the front step. I rushed downstairs to grab the newspaper before my brothers got to it. I found a pair of scissors on my mother’s sewing table and flipped the paper open to the sports page. I cut out the special score sheet that the Post was printing each day of the World Series. Today was the final day of the series, against the Detroit Tigers, and the St. Louis Cardinals had won “Game 7″ in every World Series they had ever played. I got ready for school, and Mom drove my brothers and me to St. Gerard Majella, where I was in the third grade. My classmates were as antsy as I was, and there wasn’t much in the way of formal education that was happening that day. After lunch, the good sisters finally gave up and rolled black and white televisions into a few of the classrooms. It wasn’t a big sacrifice for them. They were of the Immaculate Heart of Mary order, and [...]

Anybody can pray—even if you don’t know how

This time of year always reminds me of the little boy who was saying his prayers before bedtime as his mother and grandmother looked over him. “Dear God,” the boy prayed, “Please bless Mummy and Daddy and all the family and please give me a good night’s sleep.” Suddenly he looked up and shouted, “And don’t forget to give me a bicycle for Christmas!” “There is no need to shout like that,” said his mother. “God isn’t deaf.” “No,” said the little boy, “but Grandma is.” Sometimes we fall into a pattern of thinking of God as a spiritual Santa Claus. We may not ask for bicycles. But we tend to ask for a lot of other stuff. If God delivers, we’re happy. If God doesn’t deliver, our prayers “weren’t answered.” For most of my childhood, I thought of prayer pretty much like the little boy in the story. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized prayer is a conversation. And it’s even more than that. Prayer is everything you do to grow your relationship with God. Think of someone you love. All your conversations, hugs, arguments, meals, celebrations, surprises, silences, and so on with that person [...]

How I learned to pray

I can’t remember when I learned to pray. It seems like I’ve always known the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Bless Us O Lord prayer before meals. Other Catholics know more prayers by heart, but those are the ones I know. When I was in grade school, the nuns taught me to write JMJ at the top of my papers as a prayer to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. When I was in fourth grade, we had a laywoman for a teacher—Mrs. O’Toole. Mrs. O’Toole had an Irish accent and a passion for teaching. When she was feeling exasperated, she’d shake her head and say, “Saints preserve us.” Which roughly translates to, “Would you kids please settle down and pay attention?” Almost every day, Mrs. O’Toole would ask all us kids to pray for her because, she told us, God listens to the prayers of children. I remember that sometimes after Mass, my mom would take us up to the racks of votive candles and we would light one of them. We would then kneel at the communion rail and she told us to “say a prayer for your father.” I didn’t know a “prayer for my father,” so I [...]

A little too excited about Christmas?

I didn’t get quite this excited about presents when I was a kid, but close! You can read about my Christmas memories here.  

Why Jesus was born

I was the first one up. A light dust of snow had fallen during the night. I woke my two brothers, and we tore down the stairs. I slid, knees first, half way across the hardwood living room floor, stopping just inches from the tiny thatched-roof manger scene under the ornamented, blinking Christmas tree. I reached for the biggest present and tried not to show my disappointment. It was tagged for my brother: “To: Greg. From: Santa.” I handed it off and quickly grabbed the next box. It was smaller, but heavier. Yes! This one was marked for me. I remember a lot of Christmas mornings like that. When I was little, it was difficult to keep in mind what Christmas was really about. As a child, I was focused on the gifts. Children still are. Even so, my mother and my Catholic school teachers kept trying to keep at least some of the attention of the season on Jesus. When they were successful, what I heard about was the birth of the Christ child. But the birth is not the whole story. The real story of Christmas Growing up, most of us learned what we think of as the [...]

Jesus is love; Jesus is God

I met Alice, the year I turned 14, at the community ice skating rink. After that night, I would beg my mom to take me to the rink every week. I didn’t do much skating that winter though. I spent most of the time in the warming hut, talking with Alice. I remember trying to sound adult and sophisticated. I wanted to say a lot of things, but I couldn’t quite say them the right way. I remember wanting Alice to get me. And somehow, she did. And I wanted to kiss her. I’d never kissed a girl before, but I knew this was the girl I wanted to kiss. When we were together, I’d talk and talk and talk—somehow hoping to talk myself into a kiss. But I was way too nervous and just couldn’t work up the courage. The winter wore on and my fervor for Alice grew. Every time I saw her, I felt like my heart was on fire. I’d begin to sweat even though it was freezing cold at the ice rink. And soon, the skating season was drawing to a close. I resolved that I was going to show my love for Alice. I [...]

Born to manifest God’s glory

In this clip from Akeelah and the Bee, 11-year-old Akeelah is asked by her potential mentor, Dr. Larabee, to read a quote from Marianne Williamson that hangs on his wall. In part, it reads, “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.” Larabee is trying to get Akeelah to recognize the God-given potential that lies within her, and to overcome the fear of being everything God has created her to be. Jesus When we think about Jesus, we sometimes forget that he used to be 11 years old. Jesus was not born knowing his full identity and mission as the Son of God. He was born as an ordinary child to ordinary parents in the first century—what the Bible identifies as “the time of King Herod the Great and the emperor Caesar Augustus.” His mother was a young girl, maybe a teenager, who was not married when she got pregnant. When he was still a young man, in his early 30s, he was executed by the Roman government, allegedly for crimes against the state. There is more to his biography, but the point is that there is a biography. Jesus was a flesh-and-blood human [...]

The Mass that changed my life

On a muggy Thursday in June, I was setting up microphones and readying vessels and vestments for weekday Mass in the chapel at Notre Dame University. (To call it a “chapel” is an understatement. You can see a picture of it here.) It was the summer of my freshman year in college, and I’d been invited to a Study Week on Liturgy. Room, board, and admission to the study week in exchange for all the grunt work that needed doing. At 8:00 a.m., the musicians were in place, the presider and the servers were ready, and the readers were set to go. And then”¦nothing. Everything was beyond still. It was like the silence before the final, tie-breaking putt on the 18th hole at the Masters Golf Tournament. Then the music started. In slow motion at first, like the golf ball starting toward the hole with just enough movement. Then gathering speed, nearing the hole, faster now, closer, right to the lip and then hanging on the edge. Everyone holding their breath. Will it fall? Will it score? Will it win the day? The rest of the liturgy was on that edge. On the tip of wonder. Suspended in time. The [...]

Finding faith at the Dairy Queen

This story starts one night when I was working the closing shift at the local Dairy Queen. A group of kids pushed open the glass door, jangling the tin bell, just as I was about to flip on the neon “CLOSED” sign. I cursed under my breath as I crushed the mop head into the bucket wringer and squeezed the brown water out of its cotton threads. I washed my hands in the aluminum sink and dried them on the stained terrycloth towel that hung from my apron string. “Can I help you?” I asked. “Sure can!” said the blond girl, too perky by half. “I’d like a single chocolate dip!” I silently cursed again. “I’ll have to refill the soft-serve. I’ll take a few minutes.” “That’s okay,” the girl said. “We’re in no hurry, are we guys?” I took the rest of their orders before disappearing into the walk-in. A moment later, I was dragging a carton along the floor. I took a box cutter out of my back pocket, sliced off the top of the container, and hoisted the 20 pound plastic bag of white goo onto my shoulder. I undid the latch and lifted the lid of [...]

The reason to be Catholic—Jesus Christ

Are you considering joining the Catholic Church? Or maybe you are already Catholic and you have questions about your faith. I was baptized as a Catholic when I was a baby. We went to Mass every Sunday, and when I was old enough, I went to Catholic grade school. When I was in high school, I considered leaving the church. The reason I wanted to leave was not because I didn’t have faith. Just the opposite. In high school, I discovered the whole point of having faith—knowing Jesus. I felt let down and a little angry at the Catholic institution for never having quite got that across to me. But I didn’t leave. I realized everything I needed to know had been right there all along. I’m not sure why it hadn’t clicked before. Maybe it was me. Maybe it was my teachers. Maybe it was the turbulence of the times (this was in the 1960s and 70s). Whatever the reason, in high school, I got it. A light clicked on. I was on the beginning of a path to understanding not “why” we have faith, but “who” we have faith in. What I want to share in a series [...]