(Part 1 of 2)
Prayer and Power
Prayer has power. It can change our lives. It can make us capable of doing what we had never imagined. In this lesson we will look at two examples of prayer and the impact prayer has on our lives.
Giving it all up
He had it all: a promising sports career, a pretty girlfriend, an exciting future. And he has left it all. For God. For others.
His name is Chase Hilgenbrinck. This summer he left his professional soccer team, the New England Revolution, in order to enter a seminary. Chase is preparing to become a Catholic priest. Let’s look at some highlights of Chase’s life and how prayer has opened him up to a bigger mission.
Seeds of faith and sports
Chase grew up in Catholic family in Illinois. When they were boys, Chase and his older brother Blaise were altar servers at their parish. Blaise liked serving Mass. Chase did not.
They both liked sports, however, especially soccer. And they were good at soccer, so good in fact that they had to give up serving Mass, much to Chase’s delight, because they were on travel teams that spent most weekends out of town.
Their parents accompanied them to all the games, but also taught them that God is the most important person in their lives.
Soccer was Chase’s passion. He and his brother improved each year. Yet when he was a junior in high school, something special happened in his relationship with Christ.
He went on a weekend retreat with his parish youth group. God was waiting for Chase in that retreat. Somehow, through the talks, prayer, and activities Chase found a new relationship with Christ. He found Christ as a personal friend. Not everything changed in Chase’s life, but something new was definitely happening.
In high school, Chase made the United States 17-under national team. He began to travel even more.
Chase and his older brother Blaise both ended up playing division 1 soccer in college. Chase played at Clemson University, where he was a three year starter, playing on the same defensive line as future U.S. senior national team fixture Oguchi Onyewa.
The light bulbs come on
Often the values of faith are challenged in college. It was no different for Chase. But in fact college became a time of growth for Chase.
“I was away from my family for the first time. I no longer had to go to Mass, no longer had to practice any faith if I didn’t want to. But just out of habit, I continued to go. And actually, the light bulbs came on, and I realized what my faith was, what the Church was all about. I was paying attention in Mass. I started to have a passion for Scripture. That was the time I truly made the faith my own.”
When he finished college Chase was hoping he would be drafted into a major league soccer team in the United States, but that did not happen. A coach suggested that he could probably play soccer in Latin America, and put him in contact with some teams in Chile.
Chase moved to Chile to try out for a team called Huachipato. He spent four seasons in Chile, with three different clubs, and grew to become a star player.
But the beginning of his professional career was tough. For the first six months in Chile he did not even have a contract. He was unwelcome by his teammates, because they saw him as competing for their jobs. He did not speak the language and had little or no friends.
Strength from passion & faith
But he had passion and he had faith. His passion was soccer. His faith was in God’s friendship. He threw himself into his soccer training, yet he had plenty of free time after the practices and games.
He started to use some of the extra time to go to church and pray quietly in front of the Blessed Sacrament. There he found real peace and true friendship. He started to talk to Christ while he played. He talked with him at other times during the day as well.
Little by little his career began to flourish. He started getting noticed, and he helped lead his new team, a team called Nublense, from second division to first division. Then in first division Chase improved even more and became a key player, well known on the national scene.
He also found a pretty girlfriend and, even though the relationship was not too serious, he started to think in depth about who he was going to marry.
A new horizon opens
But, as he found success on the field and in friendship, something else was happening. He felt the desire to excel in something even greater than soccer. He began to think about bigger goals.
These thoughts scared Chase, but he could not put them away. What mission did he have in life, besides soccer and marrying the girl of his dreams?
The thought of the priesthood started to surface. He immediately put up a lot of mental barriers. Still, the question would not leave him, so he started to bring it to prayer.
For two and a half years he struggled with the question of his vocation, yet the thought of the priesthood kept getting more attractive. He found himself praying about his vocation even when he was playing.
One day he finally realized that all the barriers had come down. He was given the grace to really want to become a priest. The change had happened slowly. God had quietly, respectfully won over his heart.
The other part of finding out
But Chase knew that, even though he had kept his struggle private, the priesthood is not a private vocation. He needed the advice and help of a priest who had experience.
So he contacted the vocation director of his diocese, Fr. Brian Brownsey. After a few, very long phone conversations, they both agreed that Chase could apply for acceptance to the diocese. Chase filled out a series of written answers and required essays about his life and sent them to Fr. Brian. Then he had to schedule a time to visit personally with Fr. Brian and do some in-person examinations.
About that time, Chase reached another goal in his soccer career. American teams began to inquire about him. He decided to move back to the States and try his luck with the MLS.
When Chase went home at Christmas 2007, he met with Fr. Brian and also did the in-person interviews and tests to determine whether he might be accepted. He not only was accepted for entrance to the seminary, but he also was given a contract with an American soccer team while he waited for seminary life to begin.
Chase played for a few months for the New England Revolution, and began to get noticed here in the States. Then came the surprise: he announced that he was leaving soccer to become a priest.
The REAL excitement begins
His announcement made headlines all over the world, but Chase is no longer interested in headlines. He just wants to be a priest, a good priest. The rest was fun, but this is truly exciting. This time, as a priest, he will be playing for keeps. The souls he wins for Christ will be the real winners. They will be with God for all eternity.
Let’s pray for Chase and for all those called to the priesthood. Let’s also pray that each of us lives our own personal vocation to the full. Prayer gives us power to do that.