I enjoy punching priests.
More precisely, I like to try to punch priests. I took up boxing in graduate school at Notre Dame and we have been lucky since then to be around the Holy Cross community of priests in Portland. Several of them also enjoy boxing, so we spar on a regular basis.
Now with small kids in the family, it is challenging to prioritize and actually get away from the house for regular workouts. In the past year, Stacey and I have done a good job of adjusting our morning routine to help make that happen. So on Tuesdays and Thursdays, off and on for the past few months, I’ve been sparring with a Holy Cross priest about my age.
Boxing is a great way to get to know someone—lots of conversation happens in the minute rest between rounds. This is just about the right pace for comfortable conversation for men, I’ve found—it is not all about chatting and it is not all about work. There is a good balance.
The priest I box with has a morning routine to rise at 6 a.m., have a cup of coffee, and say his morning prayers in the liturgy of the hours. We then gather at 6:45 to spar.
My routine is to also rise at 6 a.m. I let the rest of the family sleep for another half hour while I make breakfasts and lunches for the day. This allows enough extra time to have a pleasant morning together as we get ready for the day and leave the house around 7:30.
The good thing about having faith-filled priests for friends is that they are good examples. Knowing that my friend was getting up early to pray inspired me to get more serious about my prayer life.
So, I spend about five minutes when I first get up to read through the psalm and reading for morning prayer in the liturgy of the hours. It is an abbreviated version, though, because I don’t have thirty minutes for silent meditation.
I have started to see my morning food preparation through the lens of prayer, however. I love music playing in the house, but deliberately leave the radio off during that early morning time. I make three peanut butter and honey sandwiches, pack fruit snacks and juice boxes and cheese sticks. I then toast some bagels and put out orange juice and then start the wake up snuggles.
It isn’t as transcendent as contemplative prayer, but I find it to be prayerful nonetheless. Every morning, I have an awareness that I am feeding my family, that the food that I prepare will propel their small bodies into a day of learning and play. Even if they take it for granted that food appears in their backpacks when they are hungry, I enjoy offering that service to them with the knowledge that it connects me to them in an act of love.
Our friendships with those who are ordained have shown us mutuality in our vocations. The religious have disciplines of prayer and celibacy and obedience and poverty to ground them in God so as to offer an availability and generosity to the people of God they serve. In my experience of family life, parents also have disciplines—making sandwiches, folding laundry, mowing the lawn, picking up toys—that ground them in relationship and selflessness, so as to build the kingdom of God at home.
I sometimes envy my friends who are religious for their solitude and independence in how they can spend their time. I would imagine they sometimes envy me for the quiet moments of gratitude when I check on kids as they are sleeping or for being able to make Simon turn pink with tickles under his arms. I think our friendship has helped us appreciate each context as its own path towards holiness, each rooted in the cross.