(Play Hard, Pray Harder, Pt. 2)
Prayer is also part of another struggle, although perhaps not as dramatic and personal as a vocation to the priesthood.
The Cheshire, Connecticut public high school has a football team that has been struggling to make the playoffs this season.
Some of players from the players from the team, including the star quarterback, Billy Ragone, have revived an old tradition of one of the team’s past quarterbacks. They meet to pray the rosary before each game.
They find that praying together helps unite them and gives them confidence in the struggle.
Our Faith In Action was able to meet these players and ask them a few questions. The interview will soon be posted on YouTube and on our website. Here is some background about their prayer tradition.
The star comes back
Steve Bowman was the star quarterback at Cheshire High in the 1993 and 1994 seasons. During that time the team was undefeated, was state champions both years, and in 1993 was even ranked number one in New England.
Steve is Catholic, and since a young age had always felt that his faith was very important to him. He would never miss Mass on Sunday and tried to pray on his own a bit each day.
He found that praying with Mary before each game gave him a greater confidence and an awareness that, no matter what happened, God was always his friend. He could face winning or losing with that awareness, and was able to focus better on just living the moment.
Steve came back to Cheshire after college and married Alicia, a beautiful girl he had known when they studied together at Cheshire High. He also volunteered as an assistant coach at the school. The school was proud to have the past star back, so as to mentor the new players. One of his jobs is to train the quarterbacks.
Through a lot together
One of the boys he has mentored since he was a freshman is quarterback Billy Ragone. Billy, co-captain Tom Acamora, and senior running back Tim Flood have been through a lot with Steve over the last four years.
Steve was diagnosed with a brain tumor when Billy and his buddies were sophomores. The boys stayed close to Steve during that time and often joined him in prayer. Alicia was also a true rock for Steve during this trial and shared many prayers and tears with him. Yet Steve had great peace in the midst of this trial, a peace he attributes to prayer. After about a year of uncertainty and treatment, Steve was given the heads up: he has been cancer-free for the last two years.
Billy and the team
Meanwhile, Billy and his team have been improving. They have also been getting noticed, especially Billy, but Billy says he is only trying to help the team.
Still, Billy stats are impressive. He plays quarterback, free safety, and, recently, he also does the extra point and field goal kicking. He has scored 23 rushing touchdowns this season, 13 passing touchdowns, with a total offensive yardage gained of 2,952 yards. He also has 9 points on field goals and extra points, and has 4 interceptions as a free safety, and 44 total tackles.
He is considered the best player in Connecticut this year, and is being recruited by a number of major colleges. His dream is to play for an Ivy League school, because he also wants to study business.
Big game This Week
The Cheshire team was favored to win its league this year, but the team had two heartbreak losses in close games at the beginning of the season. Since then, the guys have won every game. Their last game of the regular season is November 26. If they win this one, they have made the playoffs.
Discovering something BIGGER
Will the guys be praying before the game this week? You bet they will!
But it looks like, win or lose, they will keep praying. They have discovered something together. Prayer gives you power. It doesn’t guarantee that you win, but it gives you the power to struggle, confident that God is your friend. And that is the biggest victory.
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”
“As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook.”
“About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened. There was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose. “
“This then is what I pray … so that, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God.”
(Ephesians 3: 1, 19)
“What matters most is that you develop your personal relationship with God. That relationship is expressed in prayer…
Your personal prayer… brings you closer to God and also prepares you to serve others. … We can begin to imagine the path of love along which we must move…
Do you leave space to hear God’s whisper, calling you forth into goodness? Friends, do not be afraid of silence or stillness, listen to God, and adore him in the Eucharist. Let his word shape your journey.”
(Pope Benedict XVI, April 19, 2008, Papal Youth Rally, Yonkers, NY)
2560 Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him.
2562 It is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture most often speaks of the heart. According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays.
2563 The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live. It is the place “to which I withdraw.” The heart is the place of decision. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation; it is the place of covenant.
2567 As God gradually reveals himself and reveals man to himself, prayer appears as a reciprocal, a covenant drama. Through words and actions, this drama engages the heart.
Saints & Heroes
Strength for a New Adventure
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Foundress of the Sisters of Charity of St Joseph
(Entered Heaven January 4, 1821)
Elizabeth was one of those rare girls of delicate beauty and extraordinary culture. She was born an Episcopalian, but prayed her way into the Catholic Church. Her family was on the inside of the early American “aristocracy.” Educated at all the right schools, she moved as easily among New York’s elite as she did among visiting European dignitaries.
She married “well,” as they say, after losing her parents and a sister during her early years. She and her husband William had five children, but financial difficulties aggravated William’s weak constitution. On the advice of doctors, Elizabeth brought her husband to Italy, hoping that the milder climate would do him good. Soon after their arrival, he died. She stayed in Italy a while with a family of faithful Catholics who were financiers of international repute.
The months she spent in Italy gave her an opportunity to experience the beauty of Catholic Mass and prayer, and she began learning about Catholic doctrines like that of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. By the time she returned to New York, she was already falling in love with the Catholic Church.
Of course, this didn’t go over well with her family and friends, nor with her Episcopalian pastor. She entered a period of loneliness and confusion, and turned more and more to prayer and study to discover God’s will for her.
Finally, with her doubts resolved, she was confirmed in the Catholic Church, and soon after began fulfilling her dream of educating the young Catholics of America. She was invited to Baltimore to start her first school and lay the foundations for a religious order that would carry on her work after she died.
She suffered much in those years, especially from the loss of three of her children through painful sicknesses, but now she had Christ in the Eucharist to give her naturally iron willpower a supernatural boost (she was granted the uncommon – at that time – privilege of receiving Holy Communion daily).
Her community, the Sisters of Charity of St Joseph eventually had 7000 members serving parishes, orphanages, and hospitals throughout the fifty states. (Source: CollegeCompass.org)
Not Dead Yet…
St Abraham Kidunaia
(entered heaven sometime in the sixth century)
Abraham Kidunaia grew up in Iran (before it was called Iran). As a young man he decided to leave a promising future and dedicate himself exclusively to God in a radical way. He went out into the desert and lived in a cave with a minimum of possessions. For years he dedicated himself to prayer and sacrifice.
Nearby there was a city inhabited solely by non-Christians who lived very badly. They had resisted every attempt at accepting the Christian message. The bishop of the diocese was distressed about these souls, and asked Abraham to emerge from his hermitage in order to minister to them. Reluctantly, the saint agreed. He was ordained and sent to the iniquitous city.
Of course, no one paid any heed when he arrived, and he was shocked by their abominable practices. He then asked the bishop to have a church erected in the middle of the town, which was done. He spent a night in prayer, and then went all through the city, smashing the idolatrous altars and the vain idols.
The townspeople were furious. They beat him violently and drove him out of the city. That night he snuck back in and was found praying in the church when the sun came up. As the people began their daily labors, he emerged and started preaching in the streets, urging them to give up their false religion. This time the villagers dragged him out of the city, stoned him, and left him for dead.
He wasn’t dead, though. And as soon as he regained consciousness, he went back in and kept on preaching. This pattern continued for three years. For three solid years he prayed and tried to evangelize these stubborn pagans, and for three solid years they violently opposed him.
Finally, however, his patience and meekness wore them down, and God softened their hearts. Eventually everyone in the town was baptized, and Abraham stayed on for another year, instructing them in the faith every day. When they were sufficiently grounded, he sneaked back into his hermitage and the bishop sent other ministers to tend his recovered flock.
God is counting on you to keep on trying. In the end, he will grant the victory in his own wise way. (Source: CollegeCompass.org)
- Do you think Chase would have laughed at you if you told him he would be a priest when he was a boy? What events in his life caused him to go deeper in his relationship with Christ?
- Do you think keeping your faith in college is easy today? What might be some of the challenges to living the faith be in college? How would you handle this? What strategies would you use?
- Do you think going to Chile was a real test for Chase? What elements got him through the change? What did he discover about himself and about God in this new situation?
- Do you think Chase is happier and more fulfilled now that he is living his vocation to the priesthood than when he was playing soccer? Do you think he still likes soccer?
- How does prayer help us to discover a deeper happiness in our lives? What does it teach us?
- Is the work of a priest important? In what ways might the world would be different if there were no priests?
- How does praying with others bring us closer together? Are people that pray together stronger in difficulties? Why?
- Do you ever pray the rosary as a family? Would you be willing to begin praying a decade of the rosary (One Our Father, ten Hail Marys, and one Glory Be) with your parents each day during Advent as a way to pray for strength in your life?
- How can prayer get us through the difficult times in life? What does prayer teach us about our real goals in life?
- Conduct a prayer mission. Split up into groups of two or three and visit homes in your area or visit a mall or a popular local walking trail. Everyone in each group should wear the same t-shirt, maybe with a religious or Christian message, and a cross. Each group can approach a home or a passer-by and introduce themselves as part of a Catholic youth group. They should ask each person they meet to join them in a short prayer for peace in families and homes. The prayer should be very short, maybe the length of one Our Father. They can also write down the person’s prayer intentions and offer a special time when they will pray for these intentions
- Send a text message to your friends once a day for a week, inviting to make five minutes for God today. Offer to pray for their intentions and ask them if they have any in particular.
Debate (Choose one theme)
- Priesthood is stupid. We should get rid of it.
- People who pray are cowards. It only shows weakness and lack of self-confidence.
- Sports are dumb. People should do better things with their time.
- Write a letter to this imaginary friend: One of your friends says she no longer believes in God because she asked God to keep her parents together, but they divorced anyway. Write a letter to her and show her that you care about her and want to always stay her friend. Tell her about your faith in God and how God helps you when there is pain and suffering in your life. Invite her to develop a personal prayer life and tell her what you do in prayer. See if you can find a way to help her take some concrete steps in prayer, like asking her if she would like it if she would like to pray with you sometimes. Share any of your other thoughts on how God is there for us even in suffering and uncertainty.
- Write a prayer to God, thanking him for some of the joyful things in your life. Ask his help to be a person who brings joy to others.
Confidence: firm belief; trust; the fact of being or feeling certain; assurance
Faith: trust in God; personal relationship with God; belief in what God has revealed
Goal: an end that one strives to attain; aim; Our true goal in life as Christians is to know, love, and serve God, and to be happy with him forever in heaven.
Grace: a special virtue, gift, or help given to a person by God
Mentor: to advise or coach
Mission: The special task or purpose to which a person is called in life; calling
Passion: strong or compelling enthusiasm or drive for something
Peace: One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Peace results from awareness of God’s goodness and love; knowing that God is with us and that he makes all things work together for good. Peace is inner calm in the midst of difficulties and trials.
Prayer: the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2559) Respect: to feel or show honor or esteem for; hold in high regard; to consider or treat with deference
Struggle: to make one’s way with difficulty
Unite: to bring together in common cause
Vocation: a call or summons from God to live a certain mission or to enter a certain path of life, esp. a religious one
Resources used for this Lesson:
- ESPN article on Chase Hilgenbrinck.
- Hartford Courant article on Billy Ragone: “Cheshire’s Ragone Does It All”, Oct 16, 2008.
- Cheshire Football website.
- Pope Benedict XVI’s speech to American young people, St. Joseph’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY, April 16, 2008.