By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published June 21, 2007
It turns out that there is crying in baseball. Or at least from former baseball players.
Darrell Miller, a former player for the California Angels, emotionally recounted his journey to the Catholic Church to approximately 600 young adults gathered for “Revive,” the young adult track of the Eucharistic Congress held June 8.
Miller joked about his sensitive side.
“I’m supposed to be this strong black man. I took a bunch of players over to Rome, and everywhere I went I was crying. I took them to St. Peter’s, I was crying. I took them to St. Paul Outside the Walls, I was crying. Here I am, just crying all over the place. But I guess they liked it because they all became Catholic,” he said with a laugh.
Miller, who played for the Angels from 1984-1988, comes from a “very athletic family.” His brother is former NBA star Reggie Miller, and his sister, Cheryl, is also a former college basketball star, coach and now commentator.
He grew up “hating Catholics,” he said and spoke of one experience at age 15 when he first “received Christ as his personal savior” at his church. The next Sunday, he also stepped forward to receive Christ, and did so the Sunday after that.
“I wanted to receive Christ every Sunday. By the fourth Sunday when I went to stand up, my mother grabbed me and told me I was embarrassing her.”
Miller called himself the “best anti-Catholic you could find.”
But God had other plans. He was called up to the big leagues, and met a girl who was Catholic. For a long time, they would go to two church services. She would come to his church, and he would go to Mass with her.
“I kept thinking I could rescue her, you know?” he said. “I would go to Mass and say ‘what is this? You don’t even have a Bible study here.’”
So they talked to the pastor, who was overjoyed.
“The priest said ‘Oh! I was just praying that someone would volunteer to start a young adult ministry, and here you are!’ And I was like ‘wait a second! I’m just here to complain!’” Miller said.
Eventually he joined the RCIA program at the church and said he was the “bad RCIA guy,” still trying to talk himself out of it.
“But there was one thing I knew without a shadow of a doubt. I wanted to receive the Eucharist. I was starting to become spiritually dry,” he said.
The first time he went to confession, he was overwhelmed.
“I was 35 years old. I had really, really sinned a lot. I was nervous about confession. I had prayed. I had been on my knees, and I had prayed for forgiveness and had hoped that God had heard me,” he said, his voice heavy with emotion and tears rolling down his cheeks. “But that day, I knew that God forgave me. When the priest absolved me, I was a new man. I knew then I had to become Catholic.”
He encouraged the young adults to know their faith. As an anti-Catholic, he had spoken to many who didn’t truly know their faith and talked them into joining other churches. It was easy, he said.
“Why are you Catholic? Know your faith. It’s too easy for jerks like me to get in there and take you away if you don’t know what you believe,” he said. “There’s a battle for our hearts. We have to guard our hearts. Satan wants us to let our guards down just for a second. We have to watch and be ready—all of us.”
Miller’s talk seemed to especially touch the young adults in the audience.
Joey Grone, an upcoming sophomore at the University of Notre Dame, said he always enjoys hearing conversion stories and that Miller’s was especially poignant.
“It kind of provides an outside perspective and gives you a greater affirmation of your own faith,” he said. “He hated Catholics so much, but then you see him turn toward the church and now he loves it so much. It affirms that there is something special about our faith.”
Mark Homer, 33, a young adult from the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, also was moved by Miller’s talk.
“One point he made that really stuck out in my mind is that when (you’re) evangelizing, forget all the theology stuff and tell your story,” he said. “I know from talks that I have given that nothing is as powerful as your personal conversion story. You never know how what you say may hit home with someone else and get them thinking, ‘I know exactly how he feels. I am going through something like that now.’”
Miller was the last speaker of “Revive,” which also included emcee Danielle Chodorowski, musician Matt Maher and Father Leo Patalinghug, a priest from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Father Patalinghug, who holds a third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and Arnis (the Filipino art of hand, foot and stick fighting) and is a former break dancing champion, is also the host for a new PBS TV show, “Grace Before Meals.”
Father Patalinghug, to the delight of the crowd, took off his jacket and began his talk with a short break dance.
“You know, John the Baptist was the first break dancer. In Elizabeth’s womb, when he felt the presence, he just had to get all jiggy with it,” he said.
Most of his talk centered on the importance of the Eucharist.
Jesus’ greatest teachings have come “when he’s feeding us,” Father Patalinghug said. The Eucharist is Christ’s greatest gift and also his greatest lesson.
“Are we willing to take Christ in us and become more like him? It’s like my mom always said—you are what you eat.”
Later, the huge room became completely silent as Father Patalinghug brought forth Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Dorothy Polchinski, director of young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, was pleased with the turnout.
“This year the attendance at ‘Revive’ doubled. I was really impressed with the energy level and enthusiasm of the young people in attendance,” she said. “Our speakers, musicians and emcee were a perfect combination for our young adult audience. Their love for the Catholic Church was evident in their words and music, and yet they related to the young adults in a very real, down-to-earth way. I am so thankful to the archdiocese for allowing us to have a young adult track at the Eucharistic Congress. Our emcee commented that she hasn’t seen a young adult gathering like this anywhere else in the country. The feedback from this ‘Revive’ has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve heard several times, ‘This has been the best “Revive” ever.’”
Homer said he feels called to attend the Eucharistic Congress every year and is always nurtured because of it.
“I keep coming back to ‘Revive’ because it is a great opportunity to share in praise and worship with other young adults in an environment that was specifically created for us,” he said. “It seems each year there is something new to be learned from the speakers, something that speaks to my life at that particular time. That’s why I think God keeps calling me back. He always has something to say to me through the talks that are given.”