Booking our round trip flights to New Hampshire for a campus visit to Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, my seventeen year old son and I selected isle seats for maximum comfort. Through divine providence, those very seats put us in the middle of a sudden death, a new life, and an emergency landing aboard a 747 on our way home to Seattle. Perhaps the seats were divinely assigned to allow us to play our part in the New Evangelization.
In line at the gate to board the flight home, I overheard a fellow traveler fretting over a few members of his work crew who were nowhere to be seen, and about to miss the flight. “That’s what happens when you drink a fifth before you even get to the airport,” he lamented. He was visibly relieved when his companions came stumbling toward the gate in high spirits just before the final boarding call.
We walked down the Jetway together when our section was called, entertained by the antics of the heavily intoxicated passengers whose co-workers shepherded them along. Zachary and I were seated across from each other in row 32. As it turned out, each of us was seated next to one of the members of the work crew, traveling to Washington State for a big project at a Bremerton shipyard. Next to Zachary sat Rick, one of the inebriated workers who had nearly missed the flight. Next to me sat JP, the crew’s leader whom I had overheard voicing his concerns in the final moments before boarding.
Rick staggered onto the plane and fell into his seat, grumbling, “I hate middle seats!” After a few minutes he was asleep (perhaps passed out). Upon learning Zachary and I were mother and son, JP offered to switch seats with Zachary and sit by Rick. Zachary had no desire to give up his isle seat for JP’s middle seat next to me, and so he politely declined.
JP admitted that he hated flying and we struck up a pleasant conversation about our families, hobbies, and some details about his temporary relocation to Bremerton for work. For some reason I was inspired to ask him, “Do you want to know my favorite place in Bremerton?”
“What is it?” JP answered.
“Our Lady Star of the Sea,” I replied.
“Is that Catholic?”
Not quite a conversation killer, but close.
As in flight conversations do, ours bounced around a bit, and after a while, JP told me he had been raised Catholic by a devout grandma who made sure he made it to Mass every Sunday. He told me that when he and his wife decided to marry immediately by eloping, rather than entering the sacramental formation and wait period required for a Catholic marriage, they essentially decided to stop being Catholic. They knew they were being disobedient to Church teaching by not marrying within the Church, and that they should not receive the Eucharist again unless they married in a sacramental way.
JP admitted that it had been over 20 years since he had been to confession, and that neither of his two children had been baptized. Neither had been taken to Church. Their Sundays were spent at motocross tracks and on other exciting hobbies and activities.
I shared my love of the sacraments, and of confession in particular. I admitted that I hadn’t really known what it meant to be fully Catholic for most of my life and that many in our generation lack a basic understanding of our faith due to weak catechesis in our post Vatican II upbringing.
I told JP that Father Lappe, pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea, could frequently be found in the confessional, and assured him that if he made the effort to get to confession he would never regret it. JP shared memories of the freedom and newness he felt after confessions in his younger years. I sensed that he truly desired to be reunited with God in a sacramental way and to bring his family to Church.
I promised to pray for him and for his family, and shared my genuine joy in the hope that he and his family could come back to the Catholic faith and be immersed in the graces of the sacraments. I asked for his email address, offering to send the Mass and confession times for Our Lady Star of the Sea. He accepted my offer and as we exchanged information I encouraged him to visit the Catholics Come Home website.
Knowing that he was up against a formidable enemy, I posed a question for his consideration: “You know who doesn’t want you to return to the sacraments, don’t you?”
“No, the enemy! He’ll do what he can to keep you from making your confession and bringing your family to Church. But someday you are going to meet our Lord, face to face, and you will have to give him an answer for how you lived your life.”
Then Zachary interrupted, alerting JP, “I think there’s something wrong with your friend.”
JP and Zachary quickly switched seats and I took the opportunity to make a move toward the lavatory at the back of the plane. I looked back and saw JP pushing the call button to signal the flight attendants.
His friend Rick had no pulse and was not breathing. His life was slipping away…
To be continued…