Monday, June 18, 2007

“Champions of Faith”—the St. Monica Date

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.
–the prayer recommended by the deacon from Cameroon who gave the homily at the lead-in Mass to my St. Monica's talk—coincidentally the lead prayer in my book "Champions of Faith"

This past Saturday, the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I was speaking at St. Monica's Parish in Duluth, Georgia (just outside Atlanta) on one of my favorite topics, the connection between sports and faith. While it was true that many trivial things went wrong, I have to say that the talk went off without a hitch due to the prayers of my fine hosts, who, like their patroness, interceded me through my every difficulty.

Communication between me and my St. Monica connection, the McCusker family, grew difficult when first their computer was flooded by 4,000 spam e-mails, and second, when my Comcast phone and Internet power went out the day before the talk.

But we somehow got through and made the necessary arrangements and I was on my way—only to get detained at O'Hare Airport. I was pulled aside and my luggage searched, but after my shaving cream was confiscated in the name of Homeland Security, it was determined that I was an innocent Irishman rather than a conniving terrorist, and I was allowed to board my flight just in time.

Ah, yes, there were other things ... my Champions of Faith book did not arrive to the parish on time (although I did manage to smuggle in five of my own), another church group had "borrowed" the podium, so I had to walk back and forth to a table during the talk to review my notes, and St. Monica's associate pastor, Fr. Pavol Brenkus (sort of a holy Borat), so botched the message of my presentation at the lead-in Mass that no one had any idea what he—or I—was talking about. And if that wasn't enough, a couple tough looking characters who DID buy tickets warned me, "We don't like Holtz," plus "You're in SCC country now," not only threatening to change the tone of the talk, but left me to wonder if I'd get pelted with tomatoes if I even mentioned the name of Notre Dame.

But not only did none of that stuff happen, but my speech was as well received as it ever was. As usual, several Notre Dame fans emerged from the crowd (there were Domer grads from both '49 and '59 plus several subway alumni and a share of youthful Irish fans as well) to spur me on, but even the non-Irish contingent laughed and cheered when the talk turned to the Lady on the Dome. Yes, things were thrown, but by ME; Miraculous Medals to as many kids in the crowd as could catch them, in hopes they will raise their voice to Our Lady (and all true Catholic teams' #1 fan) early and often. From the looks in their eyes, I'm betting they will.

I give special thanks to my host family, the McCuskers, especially Kathleen, who from the Notre Dame cookie left for me at the hotel desk to the Irish rosary engraved with my children's names, made me feel special. Thanks also to her husband, Patrick, who chauffeured me around and showed me the town and to their kids Josh and Jimmy, MaryKate and baby Joseph. Yes, Jimmy, I would have liked to visit with you for longer too (there's always e-mail) and Josh—at twelve, it's great to see you're a baseball All Star—but I can't wait 'til you're a "Champion of Faith." You know, Josh, the deacon from Cameroon had no idea that the prayer he recommended at Mass Saturday was the same one I recommended in my book. It may not be as cool of a coincidence as "The Chicken Runs at Midnight"—but it's still pretty neat.

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