A few weeks ago I ran into a friend in Target who I never see and of course I looked ridiculous. I know, it’s kind of implied. That’s what a trip Target entails, right? But for some reason my appearance didn’t work its I-look-too-absurd-to-carry-on-a-regular conversation power, and I not only didn’t retreat in embarrassed and awkward horror, I ended up having a lovely chat with this delightful woman.
For some unknown reason I ended up telling her two Pope stories, and it wasn’t until we were standing there just a few feet from the checkout line that I realized I have two pope stories.
Here is the first: my son, Dub, will enter seventh grade this coming September. We adore his current school, but wanted to make sure that we fully understood our options before we committed for another year. As part of our research, Dub “shadowed” at our local public school and at two other private schools, one of which is Catholic.
In the course of his shadow day at the Catholic school, Will attended his first mass. Did we prepare him for this experience that was sure to be wholly unlike anything he’d ever seen before? Nah! We just let him navigate his whole day without an ounce of guidance.
When I picked him up he told me about his day.
“We went to math class, we had P.E., then we went in this one building. I don’t know what it was, but the Pope was there. He was like doing all this stuff, burning stuff, saying I don’t know what. I have no idea what was going on. And the guy I was with asked me if I was Catholic. I didn’t know if I was supposed to lie or what so I said, ‘No actually, I’m Protestant.’ And he told me to cross my arms over my chest, but it was too late because the Pope was about to hand me my… whatever. Then at the last second he pulled back. It was so weird.”
Miraculously I managed not to laugh outwardly (inwardly I was downright hysterical) or interrupt or correct in anyway. I so badly wanted the story repeated to Dad entirely untouched, and it was. Of course Dub now knows that the leader of mass was a priest and not THE pope.
But maybe the second pope story informs the first. Last year Will’s baseball coach said they would take a knee and have a player-led prayer before the start of each game. I was stunned when I heard about this, not because I wasn’t all for it. I just was surprised, to say the least. Leading prayer, unlike attending mass, is right up Will’s alley. He’s totally comfortable with it because he’s been doing it at home, school and church his whole life. That first game when the coach asked for a volunteer, Will offered to pray. Although other players prayed too over the course of the season, Dub was evidently kind of the go-to. And his teammates dubbed him “The Pope.”
By the end of the season, the team would gather and take a knee. The coach would say, “Who’s going to lead the prayer?” The players would start chanting “Pope! Pope! Pope!” They won the regular season championship and the playoff championship in 2013, and “The Pope” continues to often lead team prayers this year even though it’s a different coach.
Tonight my lil Pope is spending the night on an island in the Chesapeake Bay as part of a school trip. He gets home tomorrow afternoon just an hour or two before his baseball game. He’ll have new stories to tell, and new prayers he’s prayed. I’m pretty sure, based on the updates I’ve gotten from school, he’s rejoicing over new experiences. And I hope he is giving thanks for it all.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I love this verse, and it often comes to mind, but truly I will rejoice all the more when my Pope comes home.