//From “SWEET JESUS GET ME OFF THIS PLANE” to Frequent Flyer?


Here is my homily for June 28, 2009, the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/062809.shtml – Thanks for reading and all of your feedback. Fr Jim

I hate flying….

Well maybe that’s not the best way to describe it. I have an incredibly irrational, (yet very real in my mind) white-knuckle fear of flying – and when you add that with my desire to keep away from things that make me that nervous and anxious, flying would not rank high on a list of things I like to do. This fear/hatred has made me outright reject considering travel opportunities for years.

It started about 15 years ago. My best friend from grade school was graduating from Boot Camp at Parris Island, South Carolina when he became a United States Marine. His parents had invited me down to his home in Virginia to surprise him when he arrived home. So my parents reasoned with me that it made much more sense to fly down rather than to drive – especially since I only had a few days before I had to return to start my senior year of college. And flying down was great. We were up in the air, down, nice quick 45 minute flight. I couldn’t believe how easy it went. That was great – that would have taken me easily 9 hours to drive and I was there in 1 . . . piece of cake!

The return from Norfolk to Newark that was quite a different story. You see, going down it was this big plane that was going to Florida and just made this quick stop in Norfolk. Going home, I was on a small little plane that had those propellers on the side. I think there might have been 20 people onboard. It was rainy. We never even got above the clouds. We hit turbulence. So I was growing more and more nervous and anxious the entire flight. At one point, I looked out the window and the propellor to the plane stopped. It really did. The plane made some noises. I started to freak out. The stewardess very mater-of-factly said to me, “It’s okay sir, we’re just gliding right now.” Sorry, that wasn’t much comfort. At which point, I just started praying/freaking out as I started saying out loud over and over again, “Sweet Jesus get me off of this plane . . .”

I made it home alive (obviously) – kissing the tarmac, looking whiter than I ever have in my life. I swore to my parents when we got in the car that I would never fly again. There was nothing out there that I needed to see. Our relatives had left Italy to come here, why would I want to ever go back there? We live in the NY-metro area, it’s basically the center of the universe (at least we seem to think so) – what’s the point? And basically, I have never flown again.

This past week I made 4 flights in a matter of 2 days. My good friend Fr. Bill Sheridan (who is a campus minister at another college) and I had been invited to go to University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois, to meet the teams that would be working on our campuses this coming year. These are members of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) and they are recent college graduates who make a 2 year commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church to serve college students by doing peer-to-peer ministry, Bible studies, witnessing that you can be a young person and passionate about your Catholic-Christian faith. So they’ve been out there for about 6 weeks praying, studying and preparing to come to our campuses in a few weeks.

I’m so excited that they’re coming to our campus this year (as is Fr. Bill) – but when I got the invitation to come and meet them in person, I began to freak out a little bit. I went to Map Quest to see how long it would take me to drive (about 18 hours) – which Fr. Bill told me there was no way he was doing (I suppose I’m a little lead-footed in driving). For some reason the train was going to take the same amount of time – it would have sent us to Atlanta, then to Chicago then to Champaign – it was crazy. And because there was a limited time we could spend with them, and because both of us had obligations and responsibilities back here, it really was becoming more and more difficult to plan this trip. It came down to either we had to fly out there – or – not go.

And I really considered not going. Fr. Bill and I couldn’t coordinate our schedules to go out together, so it would mean I’d have to fly alone on top of everything. We were on the phone and the computer sites for about three hours a week or two ago trying to figure this out. And it really came out to that choice – either to fly or send word to these kids that I was sorry I couldn’t make it, but looked forward to meeting them in August.

That’s when it really hit me. Here these 5 young people are sacrificing their lives to serve Christ and His Church, His people. Is it inconceivable to think that since they’re coming from all over the country that maybe they’re a bit anxious to come to big old, crazy New Jersey, to this chaotic NY metro area? The Lord’s called me to be a priest, he’s called me to be their spiritual father, don’t I have a responsibility to get over this irrational, fear – if not for my own well being or my own interests – than for His and the people He’s sent me to serve?

And so I went. And so I survived (obviously). And you know what, it was still an awful, awful experience. Every flight had some issue – one plane they couldn’t get the door shut. They had maintenance come on, where this guy kept slamming the door and couldn’t get it to remain shut (as he shrugged his shoulders and scratched his head) – but for some reason after an hour it seemed “OK” and we took off. Another flight, it looked like the same exact plane I took that first inspired my fear with the propellers on the side, and because a 10 year old kid was scared to be responsible to open the emergency door on the wing (in the VERY unlikely event of an emergency) – they asked me, the priest sitting two rows behind if I would mind switching with him (which I ended up doing more out of the embarrassment of saying I was just as scared as he was than anything else). Another flight, we ended up sitting on the tarmac for about 2 and a half hours before take off.

Yeah, I still don’t like flying much. But here’s the thing… I really didn’t feel the incredible fear I did on Monday when I was going to the airport. It was okay. And of the many things I am grateful for this week, I realize how the Lord continues to challenge me and challenge all of us as to move beyond our fears and to trust in Him.

That’s what this Gospel is all about. You have Jarius – his daughter is deathly ill . . . you have this woman, she’s been suffering with these hemorrhages for 12 years. Two great, amazing stories. Jarius as a synagogue official had to know that going to Jesus would not be looked on well by his fellow colleagues of the synagogue who were (at the very least) skeptical of this Jesus. What does he do? He moves beyond that fear of, “What will my friends and relatives think if I go to Him?” – He moves beyond the fear of being mocked when those friends and relatives tell him, “Your daughter is dead, what’s Jesus going to do for you?” – His faith moves him beyond all of those, and no doubt many other fears, to have this encounter with Christ.

The woman who’s been ill for 12 years – she’s been told by all the doctors and experts – look there’s nothing you can do – you’re unclean. It’s too bad. Keep away from everyone else, lest you make them unclean. And so physically, emotionally, spiritually she’s been isolated. Her faith moves her beyond the fears of, “What will the crowds do if they see me out in public?” “What will Jesus’ reaction to me be?” – and so she had this encounter with Christ.

And so my brother’s and sisters, Jesus is calling out to us. What is it that’s holding us back from having that deeper relationship with Him? That’s holding us back from the “imperishable life” that God created us to have that we heard about in that first reading – how God created us in his image – that’s not an image that gives into fear.

This one meditation I was reading about this Gospel said, “‘Do not be afraid – only have faith.’ If we really learned this one lesson, it would revolutionize our lives. Do not be afraid of what other people will think of you: follow the way of Christ. Do not be afraid of failure: following God’s will is the only path to everlasting success. Do not be afraid of changing your personal plans in order to follow God more closely, His plans are even better. Fear, confusion, lack of trust in Christ – these are the kinds of things that tie our souls into knots, causing untold needless suffering and keeping us from experiencing the life-giving power of God’s grace.

As I was reminded of this important lesson sitting on various runways this past week, that didn’t mean Jesus would magically protect my plane from something bad happening or that each flight would be smooth sailing (or smooth flying) – that’s dependent obviously on a lot of other factors and people. What Jesus was able to make me see was that I needed to move beyond my fear. Not simply to do something He was calling me to do, but to let go of something that has limited my life experiences and made me pass up many great opportunities.

What fear is holding you back from what Jesus is offering you? What will you be able to accomplish, if only you’re willing to trust him?