Actor John Mahoney passed away a few days ago. I used to love watching the show, Frasier, where he was the slightly cranky but lovable foil to his more erudite and sophisticated sons. In reading of his demise I came across this snippet from Cathleen Falsani Possley’s book  “The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006).

John’s focus on kind living evolved over time. “I was very, very self-centered when I was young,” he says. “I thought the world revolved around me. It even affected my work when I became an actor. I used to think about how great I had to be and how wonderful I had to be on that stage instead of honoring the playwright or honoring the screenwriter and becoming a part of something that was wonderful.”

While he can’t put an exact date on it, John believes his mind began to change when his heart did, around the time he had what he describes as an “epiphany” in a Roman Catholic church in downtown Chicago around 1975. “I was in the Loop, and I went into St. Peter’s and went to Mass, and it was just about the most emotional thing that ever happened to me. I don’t know where it came from, I just had a little breakdown of some sort, and after that, made a conscious effort to be a better person, to be a part of the world, and to try to revolve around everyone else in the world instead of expecting them to revolve around me.

“I think maybe it was the intercession of the Holy Ghost,” he continues. “I’ve always prayed to the Holy Ghost for wisdom and for understanding and knowledge. I think he answered my prayers when I stopped in the church that day. My life was totally different from that day on. I saw myself as I was, and I saw into the future and saw what I wanted to be. And I sort of rededicated myself to God and begged him to make me a better person. It wasn’t fear of hell or anything like that. I just somehow knew that to be like this, like what I was, wasn’t the reason I was created. I had to be better. I had to be a better person. 

St. Peter’s in the Loop in Chicago

What struck me about this was two things. The first is that St. Peter’s Church in the Loop holds a special place in my own heart. In the first few years after graduating from college, I found myself in Chicago quite a bit. Sometime during this period, I had something nagging at my conscience that just wouldn’t go away. The problem was that despite the tradition and repeated assurances of the Church that the seal of the confessional is absolute – priests have been known to go to jail rather than share what was said during the Sacrament of Confession – I just couldn’t bring myself to confess these sins to a priest that I knew. So one day I actually drove to Chicago to visit St. Peter’s in the Loop which was known far and wide for staffing their confessionals all day long. That visit profoundly lifted a

How many thousands of souls have been healed here? 

burden for me and made me less afraid of this  sacrament of healing. Since that time, I have visited St. Peter’s at every opportunity and have often sat in that Church thinking about the hundreds of thousands of souls that have sought healing within those walls.  Who knew that one of my favorite tv character actors also found St. Peter’s special place! Kinda cool.

The second connection is the experience he had in the church. I had a similar experience, though it did not happen in St. Peter’s. As I read his description (and in my head I read using his distinctive voice), he attempts to describe something almost  indescribable.  Someday, I may write more about this, but John Mahoney, I know exactly what you mean!  In fact, I suspect that a good many committed Christians have become committed Christians by experiencing something like this.

I’ve never done this before because when I write blog posts I just assume that very few people will ever read them, but if anyone has a special connection to St. Peter’s in the Loop or has had a similar experience to John’s and mine, I’d be interested to hear about them in the comment box below.

RIP John Mahoney. Amen.