Most nights after everyone has gone to sleep, I’ll climb the stairs for bed and pass into the soft sound of my childhood: the Baltimore Orioles’ play-by-play men whispering the story of the game from the pocket transistor radio in the bedroom of my 10-year-old son, Sean.
It’s like a summer poem. And for a while, I’ll stand in darkness beside Sean’s top bunk, inches from his soft breath, and eavesdrop in on the late innings. Sean was given the unfashionable radio—the same small, rectangular model I fiddled with 35 years ago from my bunk bed when navigating through the AM static to tune in to a game.
Like U2, Pat Conroy fiction, Irish pubs with low ceilings, and Baltimore’s Little Italy, baseball is a passion that will forever course through my bloodstream. I will never shake these joys. I can’t.
I feel the same about my Catholic faith. No matter the anguish, consternation, or unhappiness it’s occasionally whipped up in me, I will never shake this sturdy and glorious faith. I can’t, because I know it to be true. I know it is the truth because it came from the lips of Jesus Christ. Our first pope passed on these wildly transformative truths and, like 10 of his closest friends, died for it. But skin strippings, upside-down crucifixions, beheadings, and all the rest of the agonies could not put a halt to this budding faith. There was too much glory in it.
So like a world-class, 4×400 relay team, the early Church fathers, martyrs, and a mushrooming band of followers managed to pass it forward. And those very same deposits of faith spread like tentacles throughout a jolted, saucer-eyed world.
Today, these radical, mind-bending truths are burned into our Magisterium and Catechism. These scripturally sound truths are as convincing to me today as Cal Ripken Jr. snapping Lou Gehrig’s streak was for me as a kid.
I remain a Catholic because it saved me.
Minutes from death’s door after unsuccessful brain surgery in 2009, I was anointed by a healing priest and was mysteriously saved. I’ve too often brought distress and worldly concerns into eucharistic adoration only to be consoled and heartened in its aftermath.
I’ve confessed my sins, received graces, and watched my life change in the smallest and most wonderful ways. I am continually floored by the manner in which a simple family rosary will change the entire complexion of my family.
The Holy Spirit works wonders because it has no limitations. And because of our sacraments, this same Spirit booms within the Catholic faith. And as shepherd of my family, I want to sustain this Spirit and Catholic faith within my family. I know I am a substandard dad and husband. I need help.
And things are changing.
Souls at Stake
One night last summer, I took Sean to Camden Yards to watch the Orioles throttle the Oakland A’s 10-1. We sat through a steady drizzle for nine innings until, finally, Orioles’ left fielder Nolan Reimold gathered in an easy fly to end the game.
But at points in the game, I noted that my once-small boy is no longer small. For the first time he asked to leave his seat and buy his own pretzel and soda. (Before, that was my job.) He overheard and commented on the five inebriated 20-somethings seated a row behind us and their choice of vulgarities.
Time is moving on, and my boy is growing older—as are his siblings, 12-year-old Gabby and 5-year-old Shannon.
In our hands, my wife, Krista, and I hold virtual innocence—souls unencumbered by the restlessness, confusion, and pain that run so deeply today. Sean was given the transistor radio partly because, in my own simplistic manner, I’m trying to hold back a dragon. Gabby has a stocked bookshelf because I’m trying to hold back that same dragon: the secular and youth culture.
I think back to my most carefree days, and I recall the same joys most people probably do: flashlight tag, ice-cream trucks, backyard bonfires, and the neighborhood pool. I know my kids’ lives are not fairy tales. Eve reached for the apple, and sin, pain, and evil shot into the world. And soon, my children will suffer because of their unwise decisions. And they may slowly pull away into a world so contrary to their untroubled lives of today.
Souls are at stake here. Today, perhaps more than ever before, we wrap our arms around the unbending authenticity of our Catholic faith and work in piecemeal fashion at passing it on to our kids. This Catholic faith, I know, will help keep them from deep hurts and waywardness.
‘I Will Not Leave You’
In John’s astounding retelling of the Last Supper, Jesus comforts his confused disciples, telling them he will give them an advocate to be with them always. “I will not leave you orphans” (Jn 14:18a), Jesus says hours before his departure for Calvary.
That line has remained with me since hearing it long ago.
This rudderless culture—where immorality is mainstreamed and sacred truths are repeatedly punched in the mouth—will soon be upon them, and it will likely scar them in some ways. As a dad who wants to slay every dragon in sight of my children, I know I’m helpless in preventing it. Its fire spews unbridled.
So I rely on the redeeming graces that my Catholic faith provides to help them feel “unorphaned” as they ease into their teenage years. All I can do is try to shape them and gently burn into their souls, psyches, and memories the gentle reassurances of God’s measureless love and tender care for them.
So, after dinner, I resurrect life lessons from Little Visits with God, a book published in the 1950s, where names like Henry, Frank, and Judy pepper the pages to teach small lessons in morality. And they will laugh and poke fun at me for bringing outdated characters like “Harry the Grocer” and “Pete the Milkman” to our dinner table.
I will laugh right along with them, but I will ask questions about virtue afterward. And these questions will help steer them to question their own morality and decision-making.
Breath of Heaven
On some nights, we’ll pray the rosary. And on those nights—when they’re fidgety, when they can’t wait to get to the sidewalk chalk and the sprinkler, when it’s the third inning of the Orioles’ game—I imagine this rosary will one day become their most cherished prayer.
When they look back one day, this rosary will be the most lasting, rhythmic memory of their childhood. Prayer, they’ll discover if they already haven’t, is their umbilical cord to heaven. It will feed them always.
And on the way to the barn to ride Manny, the old racetrack thoroughbred, their mom will occasionally stop by the exposed Blessed Sacrament at our parish up the street to allow them to share their hearts with Jesus. Mommy will tell them that Jesus is right there in the chapel in front of them, listening to their every word. She will tell them that he loves when you visit him, maybe more than anything else in the world.
We will continually lead them deeper into the mysteries of their faith. Because it’s true, and because it will one day, God willing, lead to the salvation of their souls.
And, really, isn’t that what this is all about?